[Marxism] Exchange on Venezuela

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 27 11:53:43 MDT 2004

CJR, May-June 2004
Did an acclaimed documentary about the 2002 coup in Venezuela tell the 
whole story?

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Filmed and Directed by Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain

In September 2001, two young Irish filmmakers, Kim Bartley and Donnacha 
O’Briain, arrived in Venezuela with plans to make a low-budget, 
fly-on-the-wall documentary about the country’s flamboyant president, 
Hugo Chávez. A former army officer, Chávez had attempted a coup d’état 
in 1992, spent a couple of years in jail, and was elected to the 
presidency in 1998. His followers revere him as a revolutionary, 
struggling to bring justice to the poor in the face of savage attacks 
from a local oligarchy backed by Washington. His adversaries call him a 
dangerous demagogue who has ruined the economy, polarized the nation, 
and is steadily dismantling a forty-five-year-old democracy. Bartley and 
O’Briain belong unabashedly in the former camp.

In today’s Venezuela, it is hard, if not impossible, to find an 
impartial observer. Most of the country’s private news media have openly 
joined the opposition. State radio and TV are crude cheerleaders for the 
government. Bartley and O’Briain, however, while rightly criticizing the 
former, ignore the sins of the latter.

Seven months into their project, persistence and good fortune brought a 
scoop: they were inside the presidential palace when Chávez was ousted 
by a military-civilian uprising. The resulting documentary — 
underwritten by the BBC, Ireland’s RTE, and other European broadcasters 
— is as thrilling a piece of political drama as you’re likely to see and 
has won armfuls of prizes, including Britain’s top documentary award, 
the Grierson. It has aired repeatedly all around the world, has been 
shown in movie theaters and at film festivals, arguably becoming the 
prevailing interpretation of the continuing Venezuelan political crisis. 
The Chávez government, which had 20,000 copies made in Cuba, has been a 
tireless promoter and distributor of the film.

“It is probably one of the best documentaries I have ever seen on 
television, and undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of journalism 
within living memory,” gushed Declan Lynch, a television critic for 
Ireland’s Sunday Independent, in a fairly typical review of Chávez: 
Inside the Coup. “The plot was classically simple: Chávez gets 
democratically elected, to the chagrin of the evil oil-barons and their 
good buddies in the Bush administration, who express ‘extreme concern’ 
that Chávez ‘doesn’t have America’s interest at heart.’ Chávez gets 
ousted by these malign forces, spirited away amid scenes of chaos 
orchestrated by them. But Santa María! his palace guards remain loyal, 
and amid scenes of total consternation, Chávez is brought back, the coup 
is declared null and void by the good guys on state television, and the 
evil oil-barons flee to Miami, having duly emptied the safe in the palace.”

That engaging narrative is, unfortunately, somewhat at odds with the 
complex, messy reality of April 2002, when a mass march on the 
presidential palace in Caracas ended in a massacre and a short-lived 
change of government. Bartley and O’Briain are entitled to their views, 
but a close analysis of the film reveals something worse than political 
naiveté. Constructing a false picture of a classic military coup devised 
by an allegedly corrupt and racist oligarchy, they omit key facts, 
invent others, twist the sequence of events to support their case, and 
replace inconvenient images with others dredged from archives. (A 
version of the film in Spanish is called La Revolucion No Sera 
Transmitida: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.)

By the time of the coup, Venezuela had been embroiled for almost six 
months in a severe political crisis. The lid blew off when Chávez moved 
to rid the state oil corporation, Petróleos de Venezuela, of its top 
managers and directors, whom he perceived as inimical to his self-styled 
“revolution.” Chávez recently admitted that he deliberately provoked the 
showdown: the result was that oil managers, business leaders, and large 
segments of organized labor called a work stoppage, backed by millions 
of Venezuelans, particularly the country’s increasingly impoverished 
middle class. Disaffected military officers, angry at Chávez’s drive to 
place the armed forces at the service of his political project, were 
also involved.

full: http://www.cjr.org/issues/2004/3/gunson-docu.asp


Who's Right? The Filmmakers Respond

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Filmed and Directed by Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain

Phil Gunson admits it is hard to find anyone in Venezuela today who is 
balanced about the events of April 2002. He should include himself. The 
key points he raises are themselves issues of dispute in Venezuela and 
they continue to divide opinion. His criticisms are conveniently 
identical to those outlined in a politically motivated petition against 
our film, led by elements in the Venezuelan opposition, seemingly 
determined to have the documentary discredited.

Gunson accuses us of propaganda and suggests that we failed to 
understand the complexity of the Venezuelan situation. We spent nearly a 
year in Venezuela researching and filming this documentary, and were 
eyewitnesses to the coup.

Gunson may obsess about de-contextualized details. He fails, however, to 
ask the key questions any journalist would ask:

Did elements in the military threaten force in the effort to make Chávez 
resign? They did. Did Chávez resign? No. Were the people who illegally 
seized power representative of some of the most retrograde political 
tendencies in Venezuelan society? Yes they were. The first action of the 
Carmona regime was to abolish the democratic institutions, including 
parliament. These facts are simply glossed over, or worse, omitted by 
Gunson. Some further points:

--The fact that not all the military were involved — as is the case with 
most coups — is irrelevant. By late on the night of April 11, the coup 
plotters did threaten to unleash an attack on the palace. The infamous 
Vice Admiral Ramírez Pérez even stated that night, on privately owned 
TV, that “Either he [Chávez] takes this opportunity, or we’ll launch a 
military operation.” Were they bluffing? Who knows? Did those who 
remained inside the palace fear an attack? Yes.

--The idea that Chávez supporters in 2002 were broadly poor and 
dark-skinned and the opposition broadly white and middle class may seem 
simplistic but it’s one we share with a number of commentators including 
the Guardian newspaper (December 10, 2002), Professor Dan Hellinger of 
Webster University in Missouri, and indeed Gunson himself. (See The 
Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 2002.)

--On one of the most crucial events — the shootings of April 11 — Gunson 
is guilty of omission and inaccuracy. Nowhere in the film did we say 
that only chavistas were shot on April 11. Nobody can say with certainty 
who orchestrated the shootings that day. Our focus, rather, was on the 
way the private media rushed to judgment, without any corroboration, 
stating as fact that the chavistas who were filmed on the Llaguno Bridge 
were shooting at the opposition march. These alleged shooters 
subsequently were tried in a court of law and absolved of all charges; 
indeed the court established that they had been firing in self-defense 
at snipers and police. This fact, important to any understanding of 
these events, is conveniently omitted from Gunson’s article. That the 
opposition march did not pass below the bridge is attested to by many 
eyewitnesses, including the deputy editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, who 
was on the bridge that day. The documentary Anatomy of a Coup, broadcast 
on Australian TV (SBS) in October 2002, came to conclusions similar to 
our own. Again these key testimonies are omitted from Gunson’s own 
constructed narrative.

He tells us nothing of the evidence, commonly known and presented in the 
same SBS documentary, which suggests that the violence that day was 
provoked and choreographed. That documentary quotes a CNN correspondent 
describing how on the evening of April 10 he was invited to film a press 
conference at which Vice Admiral Ramírez Pérez denounced Chávez for the 
deaths — this before the shootings had even taken place. (See also The 
Battle of Venezuela, published by the Latin American Bureau)

As for Wolfgang Schalk’s so-called “shadow analysis”: it is surely not 
insignificant that Schalk has led the well-resourced campaign, linked to 
the Venezuelan opposition, to discredit and suppress our film. His claim 
that the high shot of the empty street was filmed before the march ever 
neared the palace is untrue. The footage is contemporaneous with the 
exchange of fire between chavistas on the bridge and snipers and police.

Gunson goes to great length to suggest that we twist reality to fit a 
pre-ordained theory. We reject this outright. Yes, a limited number of 
recent archive images were used in the documentary to set the scene at 
the pro- and anti-Chávez gatherings on the morning of April 11, before 
the core narrative of the coup takes off. We could not be everywhere 
filming at all times. But Gunson’s claim that we used archive shots to 
deliberately mislead the audience is false and grotesque. It is easy to 
cite a few isolated images out of context in an effort to discredit the 
documentary as a whole, but in fact we present the reality as witnessed 
by us and others and as supported by the facts.

That private, non-state-owned TV stations in Venezuela are unanimously 
anti-Chávez is fact. On the night of the coup we were in the palace and 
witnessed how Chávez’s ministers were prevented from broadcasting to the 
nation because the government TV signal was taken off air. 
Opposition-led forces did in fact take control of the station, a fact 
corroborated by such bodies as the International Federation of Journalists.

We do not claim that our film is the definitive or only narrative of 
what happened during the coup. It could not be. To suggest that it is 
propaganda, however, tells us more, perhaps, about Gunson’s own 
ideological prejudices than it does about what happened in Venezuela in 
April 2002.


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