[Marxism] Skewering Marc Cooper

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 3 03:56:32 MST 2006


This was a comment by Justin Delacour in response to Cooper's article on 
Hugo Chavez that appears on Bob Scheer's website at: 
http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/200512_venezuela_chavez/

---

Marc Cooper has done the best he could do in writing this article on 
Venezuela, given his weaknesses. First, his knowledge of the subject matter 
is limited. Second, he has a deep and bitter hatred of Chavez, his 
supporters, and even those who have defended democracy in Venezuela since 
the April 2002 coup. He has described Hugo Chavez as a “thug” and a “third 
world tin-pot dictator,” and “a cartoonish imitation of Fidel Castro with 
absolutely not a trace of any of the redeeming qualities one can find in 
the Cuban lider maximo.”

So, although Cooper’s Truthdig article assumes the form of a standard news 
analysis piece, and Cooper makes an effort to tell “both sides,” in that 
Time Magazine way, he cannot escape his deep prejudices and lack of 
knowledge. Reading it, I was reminded of the comedian Lenny Bruce’s 
imitations of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s trying to learn how to say the 
word “Negro.” He kept saying “Nigro.” Cooper cannot keep his prejudices 
from bubbling to the surface. The editors of Truthdig have to share some of 
the blame for this. Would they ask Ann Coulter to write an article about 
the Clinton years, and then leave it to random comments from readers to 
clean up the mess? I would expect better from a web publication that 
intends to be a notch above the mainstream media.

One of the funniest parts of Cooper’s essay is his quote from Aleksandr 
Boyd, whom he allows to describe himself as someone who “identifies neither 
with the government nor its formal opponents.” This is like introducing 
Bill O’Reilly as a man who “says he is neither Republican nor Democrat, and 
that he broadcasts from the ‘no-spin’ zone.” Literally. Just go to Boyd’s 
blog (http://www.vcrisis.com/index.php?content=home ) and see for yourself. 
It will take you about 10 minutes of browsing to see that this guy is from 
the conspiratorial lunatic fringe of an opposition where the average person 
lives in a bubble and actually believes that, despite the certification of 
the August 2004 referendum by the Carter Center and the OAS, that the 
opposition really won and the 59-41 pro-Chavez vote was the result of a 
huge electronic fraud.  Boyd says this, too, and more: he calls for the 
violent overthrow of the Venezuelan government 
(http://www.vcrisis.com/?content=letters/200412071531). Of course the 
O’Reilly analogy isn’t exactly right: O’Reilly is much more rational and 
has a large following. Boyd is just a lone nutball with a blog, living in 
self-imposed exile in London. What was Cooper thinking when he chose Boyd 
as a source? Was it just ignorance or does he really see Boyd as someone to 
turn to for a description of Venezuelan reality? Not flattering to Cooper 
either way.

In this regard it is worth noting that Cooper was almost alone (with the 
exception of the Wall Street Journal editorial board) in suggesting that 
the August 2004 recall referendum was actually stolen (see his “Chavez 
Again – Did Uncle Jimmy Get Duped”—http://marccooper.com/chavez-again- 
did-uncle-jimmy-get-duped/ ) , where Cooper quotes approvingly from a 
grossly flawed study alleging a massive electronic fraud in the referendum. 
The Carter Center later appointed an independent panel of statisticians, 
who found that the study was flawed and concluded that there was no 
evidence of electronic fraud (see references at 
http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/2/17334/7970 ). So maybe Cooper really 
does feel at home with the conspiracy nutters.

Cooper makes other weird mistakes with regard to sources. He says that 
“[t]he case for Chavez is passionately made, for example, by journalist 
Christian Parenti, writing in The Nation,” but anyone who reads that 
article will see that it is actually quite critical of the Chavez 
government; Cooper doesn’t get that because he is more used to “balanced” 
discourse from wackos like Aleksandr Boyd.  Also, at least Parenti, who had 
little prior knowledge of Venezuela, went there and talked to people in 
order to write his article in the Nation.  Has Cooper been to Venezuela 
since Chavez has been in office? Did Truthdig even ask him if or when or 
how many times he has seen the reality that he is describing, when he 
invites his readers to “dig a little deeper” and take a look at “what is 
happening inside Venezuela?” This is important because while it would be 
perfectly okay for Cooper to pontificate about U.S. foreign policy without 
ever getting off his ass in Los Angeles, it is another matter to write 
about what is happening in Venezuela under Chavez without going there. And 
given this and other writings by Cooper about Venezuela (e.g. his 
error-ridden op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 2003 ), it 
really looks like he has not been there. Truthdig should inform its readers 
if this is in fact the case.

Also, Cooper erroneously describes the opposition-led oil strike of 
2002-2003 as a “general work stoppage.” Less than one percent of the 
country’s labor force actually participated in this strike, not even the 
majority of blue collar workers in the oil industry.

Cooper also quotes someone he describes as “liberal policy analyst Michael 
Shifter” arguing that Chavez is anti-democratic, without telling us that 
Shifter – a former National Endowment for Democracy director for Latin 
America – also has quite a passionate hatred of Chavez, referring to Chavez 
in the media as a “strongman” and an “autocrat” rather than an elected 
President. A nexis search of the word “strongman” reveals hundreds of uses 
of the word to describe Afghan warlords, dictators such as Pinochet and 
Saddam Hussein, but no elected presidents. Interestingly, Cooper has a long 
quote from one of Shifter’s absolutely worst op-eds ever (Financial Times, 
April 8, 2005), which was thoroughly debunked by Julia Buxton, an academic 
who – unlike these pundits – is actually an expert on Venezuela. From her 
response:

“It is most extraordinary that Shifter thinks it possible to draw parallels 
between [the Chávez government and] the bloody and ruthless juntas that 
controlled countries like Argentina and Chile until democratisation in the 
1980s . . .

So why does the Venezuelan military play such a central role in the 
administration and political system of the country? To understand this it 
is necessary to look beyond the immediate question of Chávez’s background 
and examine (briefly) Venezuela’s recent political history. This highlights 
one of the key weaknesses of Shifter’s analysis. As all the recent academic 
literature of Venezuela shows, the actual quality of the democratic system 
that was in place from 1958 until 1998 was questionable. The two leading 
parties of the period, AD and COPEI operated in a clientelist manner. They 
politicised and degraded state institutions and they restricted the 
autonomy of civil society to such an extent that the Venezuelan electorate 
opted for a radical alternative that promised to sweep away the old system. 
The first issue then is that it is mistaken to argue [as Shifter argues] 
that Chávez does not come from a tradition of fighting for democracy. On 
the contrary, the Chavista movement is a product of the lack of democracy 
in Venezuela between 1958 and 1998, a product of the social, economic and 
political exclusion that prevailed throughout that time and a product of 
massive disaffection with corrupt and politicised state institutions. We 
may not be enthralled by the type of democracy Chávez is seeking to build, 
or the manner in which he has chosen to do this, but it is important to 
note that the Chávez government has brought marginalised and excluded 
people into the political process and democratised power.

The second big lesson from Venezuelan history is that there is no 
administration or functional mechanism for delivering policy initiatives in 
the country. The Chávez government has sought to overcome institutional 
sclerosis and decay, in addition to the direct blocking of government 
initiatives by opposition placements, by bypassing the state 
administration. In the absence of any other body or organisation capable of 
delivering social policy and infrastructure repairs, the government has 
employed the armed forces. The military has consequently become a 
significant actor by default, (the absence of a neutral, meritocratic and 
functioning civil service due to the legacy of state politicisation by AD 
and COPEI) and by design.” 
(http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1428 )

Cooper’s description of the U.S. role in the coup is also flawed. Cooper 
notes that the CIA had advance knowledge of the coup (see documents at 
http://www.venezuelafoia.info/ciac4.html ), and quotes Peter Kornbluh 
correctly stating that “this intelligence was distributed to dozens of 
members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup 
plotting.” Now the important part: When the coup actually took place, both 
the White House and the State Department publicly maintained the coup 
leaders’ version of events, maintaining that it was not a coup at all, but 
rather:

“We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this 
crisis.  According to the best information available, the Chavez government 
suppressed peaceful demonstrations
 The results of these events are now 
that President Chavez has resigned the presidency.  Before resigning, he 
dismissed the vice president and the cabinet, and a transitional civilian 
government has been installed
”

That was Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, the day after the coup.

Perhaps an analogy will make this clear. Imagine that Ken Lay tells Marc 
Cooper that he is going to commit a major accounting fraud, and then he 
does so. Lay then announces that there was no fraud, but just an honest 
mistake. Imagine that Cooper, with full knowledge that the fraud was 
planned, writes a news report stating that no fraud took place, but rather 
there were some accounting mistakes. Cooper would then be complicit in the 
crime, regardless of the legal ramifications. Similarly, the White House 
lying about the coup when it occurred, and trying to convince the world of 
the coup leaders’ version of events, is a form of actual involvement in the 
coup.

Thus the Bush Administration’s involvement in the coup has been 
demonstrated by its own documents, and is not, as Cooper describes it, a 
matter for speculation.  Furthermore the State Department’s own internal 
investigation, which was mostly a whitewash that did not interview a single 
Venezuelan, acknowledged that “it is clear that NED [the National Endowment 
for Democracy], Department of Defense (DOD), and other U.S. assistance 
programs provided training, institution building, and other support to 
individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the 
brief ouster of the Chavez government.”

Also, the New York Times reported that both Mexican and Spanish government 
officials, including the Mexican foreign minister at the time of the coup, 
Jorge Casteneda, stated that the Bush Administration tried to get other 
countries to support the coup.

So we have not only hard documentary evidence demonstrating U.S. 
involvement in the coup, but additional circumstantial evidence as well. 
All this is important because it helps explain why not only Chavez but many 
other Venezuelans are so angry at the Bush Administration. These people 
actively helped the effort to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected 
government and install a dictatorship.

But Cooper concludes that we just don’t know, that only “Chavez defenders” 
see a direct hand in the coup, and that “less partisan analysts” see 
something more ambiguous.

Cooper has little to say about what the Chavez government has actually done 
for the poor: 40 percent getting subsidized food, millions with free health 
care for the first time, 1.5 million taught to read, etc. He gets the 
economy wrong too: unnamed “critics suggest that Chavez’s success is a 
temporary bubble inflated by high oil prices and that underneath his 
revolutionary rhetoric he is more of an old-fashioned populist buying 
constituencies with lavish handouts. . . [W]hen and if oil prices fall, 
Chavez’s projects could collapse.” Actually, the government is running a 
budget surplus, an enormous trade surplus, has a whopping $29 billion in 
reserves, and has budgeted for oil prices (in 2005) at about half their 
realized price. So the idea that it could all come crashing down with a 
drop in oil prices is a more of an opposition fantasy. Also just turning 
the economy to positive growth for its 6 years in office is a major 
accomplishment for the Chavez government, in a country that saw a 35 
percent fall in per capita income from 1970-1998, one of the worst in the 
world, and despite oil prices in the seventies that were even higher than 
they are now.

There’s more but that’s probably more than this article is worth. As noted 
above, it’s probably the best that Cooper could do, given his limitations. 
Next time, Truthdig should dig around for someone with a better shovel, and 
one that is not so prone to spread horseshit around.


Sources

White House press briefing, April 12, 2002. Available online at: 
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/04/200204 12-1.html

“A review of U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela: November 2001 – April 2002,” 
Report 02-OIG-003, July 2002, 
http://www.oig.state.gov/documents/organization/13682.pdf

“Documents Show C.I.A. Knew of Coup Plot in Venezuela,” by Juan Forero, New 
York Times, December 3, 2004 





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