5 Feb 2008

Chavez's cocaine slur refuted

Thanks to Venezuela Information Centre for this...huge disinformation campaign, just like the one that propelled the second Iraq war...Observer supported Iraq war I seem to remember..

On Sunday 3 February The Observer devoted a double page spread to a story claiming that President Hugo Chavez’s government is colluding in the Colombian drugs trade. The article titled “Revealed: Chavez role in cocaine trail to Europe”, was rehashed from an earlier publication in El Pais on 16 December 2007 and was a blatant piece of negative anti-Chavez propaganda. It was based on a series of unsubstantiated claims, distortions and interviews with unidentified sources, in which not a single allegation was backed up by hard evidence. It clearly forms part of a renewed, co-ordinated media campaign against Venezuela and it follows from the recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme (where Martin Bright said that Hugo Chavez colluded with narco-terrorists) and the BBC’s Panorama programme (where Alex James reported from Colombia).

It is difficult to find one single corroborated fact in the article. Indeed, despite all the claims and spin in the piece, and its headline, it is forced, even by its own standards, to admit that there is no such role: `No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug-trafficking business.’ However this has not stopped The Observer from being the latest to make a clearly political intervention aimed at furthering the anti-Chavez agenda. This intervention is taking place amidst a background of Venezuela’s recent successful role in freeing hostages in Colombia and in promoting a negotiated peace there. The only possible ‘rationale’ for such a journalistic effort must be to attempt to reverse and distort the positive effects of Venezuela’s contribution to this process. Venezuela is continuing to pursue a policy aimed at assisting the peace process and freeing the remaining hostages.

This type of reporting – based on opinion, hearsay and devoid of facts – has to be challenged, both at the level of the standard of journalism (particularly in a serious Sunday weekly such as The Observer) and on the bare facts. Carlin’s piece does not qualify as journalism and is simply anti-Chavez propaganda.

We reproduce separately on our website other articles making these points, such as Toni Solo’s excellent piece from www.venezuelanalysis.com which is a particularly effective point by point rebuttal and effectively demolishes any pretensions to responsible, factual or objective reporting. The `claims’ contained in The Observer article have indeed been strongly rejected by the Venezuelan government. Such attacks alarmingly come against an ever increasing background of tension in Venezuelan-Colombian relations and US aggression towards Venezuela, which President Chavez recently raised strong concerns over. There are fears that the ground is being laid for some kind of military intervention against Venezuela, with such fabrications used as a pretext.

Indeed, John Walters, Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), during his visit to Colombia in January, asserted that Venezuela has become `a haven’ for shipments of cocaine manufactured in Colombia and that Venezuela was refusing to act against the traffic. The Venezuelan government has rejected these claims, pointing out that Venezuela's levels of international co-operation with other nations against drug trafficking have significantly increased. While Venezuela has been accused of non-compliance in the war on drugs by the US following its expulsion of US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers 3 years ago, Venezuela continues to meet its obligations within the UN drug control regime and respects all international counter-narcotics conventions.

The Venezuelan government, far from being complicit, has actually increased its successes in combating the illegal drugs trade, and has won acknowledgement for this internationally, including from the UN. The article’s main claims are that there is collusion between the government of Venezuela and the FARC, yet the only sources quoted to support this are anonymous, former-FARC members and other unnamed individuals. No evidence is provided, other than uncorroborated hearsay. The article aims to throw mud, which it hopes will stick. However, the facts on Venezuela’s record are clear.

Venezuela’s government under Hugo Chavez has a clear policy against drug trafficking. Moreover, the country finds itself in the unenviable position of being between Colombia -- the world’s largest cocaine producer (approximately 90 per cent) and the US – the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. In fact, Venezuela is a victim of the failure of the wider ‘war on drugs’, specifically, the fragmentation of traditional trafficking routes out of Colombia through the English speaking Caribbean, Colombia’s Atlantic coast and through Mexico. ‘Successful’ counter-narcotics operations in these regions have not ended the cocaine traffic out of Colombia, merely made other countries (including Venezuela) vulnerable to the reorientation of routes to lucrative US and European markets through new transit posts in west Africa.

According to Venezuela's National Anti-Drugs office, drug seizures increased from 43.2 tons in 2004 to 60.3 tons in 2006. In 2007, 52 tons of drugs were seized and more than 4,000 people arrested. Some 11 laboratories where drugs were manufactured were destroyed. Isaias Rodriguez, Venezuela's Attorney General, last year reported some 10,147 accusations of drug trafficking between 2001 and the first quarter of 2007 and that the number of resolved cases had increased by 71% during that period. Some 204 tons of illegal drugs were destroyed.

Venezuelan government officials have also pointed out that since the US Drug Enforcement Agency was removed from the country after a series of abuses (a move criticised by the US and others as evidence of non-compliance, and quoted in The Observer article) Venezuela’s ability to combat illegal drugs has actually improved. For example in 2004 (the last full year of co-operation with the DEA), 43.2 tons of drugs were seized in Venezuela. In 2005, 77 tons* of drugs were seized by Venezuelan authorities. In 2006, 60.3 tons of drugs were captured.

The article also criticises Venezuela for its failure to co-operate at an international level. However the opposite is true and is borne out by the facts. Venezuela remains firmly compliant with the UN measures of drug control. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2007 World Drugs Report reported that in 2005 Venezuela seized 59 metric tons* of cocaine, the third highest amount in the world and an increase of 88 percent from the previous year (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/wdr07/WDR_2007_executive_summary.pdf)

The 2006 Annual Report for the International Narcotics Board (an independent body which monitors the UN’s international agreements on drugs and drug trafficking), reported important steps forward by Venezuela, which it said was fully participating in international, regional and sub-regional initiatives against drug trafficking. The report highlighted the fact that in Venezuela, `the total volume of cocaine seizures increased in 2005 by 8 per cent, to 58.4 tons*,’ and that Venezuela had recorded `the most significant increase in the volume of heroin seizures’.

In Europe, Venezuela has two agreements with the European Union and co-operated with France and Spain in 2005 to process satellite images to detect illegal airstrips and planes carrying drugs. In addition the French government is giving training to Venezuelan officials specifically to intercept drugs at airports. Venezuela is a party to numerous bilateral and multilateral drug control agreements, including with some 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In relation to Colombia, there has been increased anti-narcotics co-operation in recent years between the two governments. A pact signed in 2005 agreed support for drug control authorities and joint enforcement mechanisms against drug trafficking. The two countries recently agreed a programme, Operation Sierra, supported by the UN and OAS, targeting the eradication of coca, marijuana, and poppy crops in the Perija Mountains along the common border.

The British government has also made a number of acknowledgements in relation to Venezuela’s positive role. In a written answer on 23 May 2006 Geoff Hoon said “We have an active relationship with Venezuela. We work together in several areas of shared interest, including counter-narcotics and energy. Venezuela is the third biggest market for the UK in Latin America”.

On 3 September 2006 Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said Venezuela’s approach showed `tremendous co-operation’ in combating the international drug trade. A further House of Commons answer to Jon Trickett MP on 25 July 2006 saw Minister Geoff Hoon, state: “We have an active commercial relationship with Venezuela and work closely with the Venezuelan Government on many issues, particularly in the fields of energy and counter-narcotics.’ In an earlier written answer, Kim Howells, said `The UK co-operates closely with the Venezuelan authorities and law enforcement agencies at all levels as well as with other international partners to combat drug trafficking and strengthen institutions in the fight against illicit drugs and international organised crime. UK support for Venezuelan anti-narcotics operations has recently led to several seizures of illicit drugs and associated arrests”.

The British government (Foreign Office minister Kim Howells in the House of Commons, 8 March 2006) has also commended Venezuela’s anti-drugs efforts in stating that “we have co-operated closely with the Venezuelans" in attempts to end the drugs trade. A House of Commons written answer on 16 January 2007 in response to a question from Colin Burgon MP, saw Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon state: “We continue to engage actively with the Government of Venezuela …..It is in the interests of both our governments to work together on issues such as police reform and combating the illegal drugs trade”.

A second plank of The Observer’s attacks, the allegations that the Venezuelan government is allowing FARC in its territory, are also highly questionable. Specifically, there is a 1,400 miles permeable border which is not controlled by the Colombian government. One can question how the Venezuelan government is expected to effectively prevent FARC or other armed groups from crossing and setting up camp in Venezuelan territory, if the Colombian government itself does not even exercise control. Moreover, it is the military strategy of the Colombian government to push the FARC back toward the border with Venezuela as part of its campaign to destroy the movement by military force rather than negotiating a peaceful resolution to the country’s civil conflict.

Moreover, the policy of the Venezuelan government has not been one of support for the FARC, but of support for a peace process. Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez, has in fact worked with the Colombian government to capture FARC officials and some have been handed over to Colombia. President Chavez’s contacts with the FARC were encouraged by Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who invited his Venezuelan counterpart to mediate a humanitarian release. The reality is that the role of the government of Hugo Chavez in relation to Colombia has been one of advancing a peaceful settlement to the civil conflict, and specifically the role played in negotiating the freeing of hostages. This is the first significant advance for peace in Colombia in many years.

Despite President Uribe’s decision to pull out of the talks in December 2007, the Venezuelan government persisted and succeeded in freeing two hostages in January. It seems likely that three more may be released imminently. This has met with huge support in Latin America and in Europe including from President Nicolas Sarkozy and the families of the captives. The families of the captives reject President Uribe’s preferred solution of freeing the hostages by military force. This strategy has been condemned as a ‘death sentence’ by the families as FARC combatants are under instruction to execute hostages in the event of attempted rescue.

So, what is clearly a political agenda, at a time when Venezuela is playing in reality a very positive role, has to be challenged, in particular at a European level, where there is a concerted media campaign. VIC will continue to publish the facts and counter the media misrepresentation. It is important that ‘serious’ newspapers, like The Observer are challenged. Venezuela is a democracy, with a president who is legitimate and who is pursuing policies of extending peace and international collaboration. The violence, drugs trade and conflict in Colombia has negatively impacted on Venezuela, which has provided a home for thousands of displaced Colombian people. Venezuela has a vested interest and stake in a Colombian peace process.

Such unsubstantiated attacks on a democratic head of state by a serious newspaper should not go unchallenged and should be exposed for what they are, corporate media anti-Chavez propaganda which supports a neo-conservative agenda.

This Observer article has descended to new depths in the current onslaught of negative corporate media coverage of Venezuela. Its entirely unsubstantiated banner headline is highly inflammatory and its absence of any factual basis or balance is aimed at causing maximum damage to President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian process. It is imperative that we do everything possible to counter this.

What you can do:

Letters of complaint can be written to the editor of the Observer, John Mulholland at: j.mulholland@observer.co.uk
Letters for publication can be written to the Observer at: letters@observer.co.uk (deadline for publication is Thursday lunchtime).
Join VIC’s Media Action Network by contacting info@vicuk.org
E-mail VIC with any examples of stories and misinformation which you consider require a response.
Please copy all letters and e-mails to VIC.
*The drug seizures figures for 2005 are based on official statements and, although they differ slightly, they all agree on the fact that there has been a massive increase in seizures.

Venezuela Information Centre



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