US intelligence is making systematic efforts to energize the political opposition in Latin American countries deemed unfriendly in Washington. The strategy encompasses the radicalization of the existing political parties and groups plus the creation of new ones pursuing ever more aggressive agendas, and the formation of a network of seemingly harmless NGOs ready to launch massive attacks against the regimes in their respective countries whenever their sponsors and curators chose to unleash them. It is a reality that newspapers and electronic media in Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela shower their audiences with allegations that the ruling populists are completely unable to tackle the problems of corruption and drug-related crime or to modernize the economies of the countries where they are at the helm.
Estimates show that at least 80% of the media in ALBA countries are slamming the nations’ leaders in a permanent information warfare campaign and providing a propaganda backing for pro-US and pro-Israel NGOs. In fact, the standoff between the ALBA governments and their opponents – the Washington-controlled fifth column and the NGOs – is in many regards a unique phenomenon. While Latin American populist leaders Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, and Hugo Chavez strictly abide by their countries’ constitutions, the camp challenging them does not recognize legal constraints in principle, especially when the situation holds the promises of a color revolution. For most of them, the escalation of a revolt into a full-blown civil war appears to be the optimal scenario since a bloody conflict would provide a pretext for a US military intervention.
Rafael Correa who constantly takes hammering from NGOs and the media which eagerly relay their invectives, sued the El Universo paper over an opinion piece where he was referred to as a dictator and charged with ordering to open fire on a hospital crammed with civilians and innocent people. The above was El Universo’s interpretation of an episode which took place during the September 30, 2010 police riots organized by the CIA in Ecuador. At the time, Correa who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt was for several hours forced to take shelter from sniper fire in a hospital building. Moreover, the column which Correa condemned as “defamatory libel” carried a thinly veiled threat at the Ecuadoran leader – it said “the dictator” should be mindful of the possibility that the next president would order to put him on trial for ordering to fire on civilians without “prior notification”. Three court probes were held as Correa, determined to get a formal ruling on the case, brushed off calls from various free-speech advocacy groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Press Association, the Ecuadoran Business Committee, etc. which in concert tried to coerce him into dropping the suit. The court eventually issued a criminal verdict slapping a $40m fine and a three-year jail term on the owners of El Universo and the author of the opinion piece. The latter promptly requested political asylum from the US, and the whole crew fled to Miami to avoid punishment. Correa stressed that the verdict set a key precedent for the entire Latin America and made it clear that free speech must be a right enjoyed by everyone, not only by those who have enough money to run a newspaper business.
Since September 2009, the Ecuadoran National Assembly has been debating a mass media code praised by Correa as the most progressive and top-democratic in the Western Hemisphere. According to Ecuador’s leader, the new legislation reflects the broadest interests of the nation, should put an end to the concentration of the media resources in the hands of the chosen few, and will shield the media from corruption and the pressure of big money. In contrast, the opposition and the NGOs accountable to the US embassy say the new law is a gag intended to silence free speech and to cause journalists and media owners to exercise self-censorship. Critics maintain that the law will enable Correa to dictate the rules of the game in the information sphere, that personal control over the government-run media would open opportunities to smear the president’s opponents, and that the threat of multi-million fines would be used to intimidate independent media.
Actually, the informational dictate that the opposition pretends to discern on the horizon is what Correa seeks to eradicate. The plan is that the government, private, and public media would be subject to the same set of regulations and that disputes would be submitted to an independent media council for arbitration. Part of the council’s mission will be to build a barrier in the way of media materials calling for violence, containing pornography, or offering discriminatory perspectives. It is a cornerstone of Ecuador’s upcoming media that no outlets can be closed based on administrative decisions, which means that the opposition’s argument to the effect that Correa is going to assign censorship functions to the media council makes no sense. The Ecuadoran criminal code includes an article on crimes committed by media outlets which establishes that, apart from authors’ responsibilities, editors and publishers are responsible for libel, the punishment reaching three years in jail. It should also be noted that an important line on Ecuadoran government’s list of priorities is occupied by the task of tightening the oversight of the NGOs which proliferate in the country at a breakneck rate. Correa and his closest co-workers evidently count among the key short-term risks the possibility of a coup attempt in which, in line with a US scenario, NGOs receiving additional financial infusions on the occasion would be supposed to guarantee the involvement of large numbers of protesters.
Bolivia is the country where drastic steps were taken to tame the political influence of media tycoons. In July, 2011, the country’s congress passed by a convincing majority the legislation which introduced a 33% cap on the share of the private sector in the broadcasting industry (originally, the share used to climb close to 90% of the market). Media licenses were handed out in the process of the reform to Bolivia’s Indian communities, trade unions, and public groups. The government believes that the new media law will guarantee better quality and diversification of reporting and help take into account the interests of the Bolivian indigenous population. President Morales rejects the opposition’s view that those were cited as a pretext for giving him a stronger grip on the media. No doubt, unbiased coverage is what the Indians of Bolivia have been lacking over the past decades, considering that over the period of time they had been treated as the key target audience by myriads of specialized NGOs. Currently the government led by Morales has to keep in mind that the US embassy in Bolivia has a serious potential to draw the Indian communities into protest activities.
The Bolivian plan for media modernization will continue to unfold through 2016, the deadline by which most of the previously issued licenses expire. In particular, its implementation will serve to reign in the media sway of the Roman Catholic church which at the moment runs over 800 (!) broadcasters in the country. Private TV channels in Bolivia will similarly see their share of the market shrink. As of today, much of the Bolivian media activity emanates from the chronically oppositional Santa Cruz province. As a result, the media fuel hostility towards Morales’s government, uphold separatism and racism, and almost openly advertise terrorism as an acceptable means of resisting the regime. The new law authorizes the government to impose sanctions on the media, including those based in the Internet, for putting national security in jeopardy, playing the coordinating role in subversive NGO games, or espousing racial discrimination.
Over a hundred private broadcasters and a host of private TV networks function completely uncensored in Nicaragua, bombarding the Sandinista government with mostly unfair criticisms. Daniel Ortega, a leader with a personal record of having been denied access to media in the epoch when he championed the opposition to neo-liberal governments, was obviously prepared to pick up the challenge. The network of Sandinista radio stations expanded after his ascension to power, plus an extra TV channel – Channel 13 headed by Ortega’s children Camila, Luciana and Maurice – became the third Sandinista TV outlet. The channel is expected to evolve into the leader among the Nicaraguan media, one of its priorities being to unmask the NGOs waging CIA-inspired anti-government campaigns. The NGO’s strive to undermine the prestige of the Sandinista regime, press for the closure of the programs of international aid to Nicaragua, and churn out negative coverage of Nicaragua’s cooperation with ALBA countries, China, and Russia. By the way, Russian human rights activist Ilya Yashin toured Nicaragua recently as an NGO representative with the likely purpose of swapping experience with his peers in the country.
Venezuela enacted a Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination in December, 2010. The legislation was in fact long overdue in the country where foreign intelligence services and US foundations have created a pervasive network of NGOs synchronously bracing for a replay of the April, 2002 coup which made it abundantly clear that the groups’ activists were ordinary agents hired by external forces and ready to sacrifice without remorse the lives of their countrymen. The objective behind the Law is to make it impossible to pour money into Venezuelan NGOs from abroad. At present, all forms of foreign support for Venezuelan NGO’s are outlawed, and those are confronted with the requirement of absolute financial transparency. NGOs guilty of illicit funding face fines in the amount twice that received from outside of the country, and the preamble of the law explains unequivocally that the punishment must be administered to Venezuelans and foreigners for infringing upon the country’s sovereignty and stability or for disrupting the functioning of its legitimate authority.
By the law, Venezuelan NGO leaders caught getting money from abroad lose the right to engage in political activities for a term of five to eight years. The right to take part in electoral campaigns can be revoked or serious measures of fiscal character are applicable for repeated offense. The law includes specific provisions – a combination of large fines and deportation – for foreigners invited to Venezuela by NGOs and publicly expressing disregard for the Venezuelan government institutions or statesmen.
It is unlikely that the legislative steps taken in ALBA countries would make the groups and media which de facto operate as foreign agents on their territories completely give up their subversive jobs, but a message is sent legibly that nobody can hope to stay immune to law and no type of enemy activity will be tolerated.
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