As US Media Mangles Venezuela Coverage, Maduro Calls for 'Peace Conference'

As violence continues to threaten Latin American country, US media continues to replace nuance with familiar anti-Chavista narrative

As street protests continued in Venezuela this week, President Nicolas Maduro has called for a "peace conference" on Wednesday in order to defuse the violence, though it remains unclear which, if any, representatives of his opposition will agree to attend.

Maduro has said that he supports the right of his opponents to take their message wherever they like, but said the accompanying violence--especially given repeated efforts to undermine the democratically-elected Chavista government from within, including a U.S.-backed coup attempt in 2002--would not be tolerated.

"I guarantee you the liberty to do it," Maduro said. "But if you're going to go out and burn and destroy, I won't permit that."

Provincial Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro in last year's presidential election and remains a key member of the opposition, has yet to declare whether he will accept the invitation to join talks. On Monday, however, Capriles refused to attend a larger meeting where Maduro met with the nation's other governors to discuss the ongoing political crisis.

On Tuesday, in what seemed like retribution, the U.S State Department announced the expulsion of three Venezuelan diplomats from the country. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Venezuelan envoys First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo have 48 hours to leave the U.S.

"Venezuela needs to show seriousness for us to be able to move forward," Psaki said referring to relations between the two countries.

"Recent actions," she said, "including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult."

Also on Tuesday, Maduro signaled that he was prepared to move on that idea by appointing a new envoy to the U.S., though it was not clear who that might be or whether much traction could be made under the current circumstances.

As most western media continued to the paint the situation in Venezuela as one in which President Maduro used security forces to put down a populist revolt, more cautious analysts say that though the Venezuela government is far from perfect and that the financial troubles and earnest critiques of many citizens are not to be ignored, the mainstream U.S. media coverage is no place to look for nuanced perspective.

As Lauren Carasik, a law professor and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University, wrote at Al-Jazeera America on Tuesday:

Headlines in the United States broadcast unchallenged narratives of widespread discontent with mounting economic woes and denounce the ensuing repression by an unpopular and discredited administration barely clinging to power. But the reality in Venezuela is far more complicated and nuanced than what the media and the U.S. government spin suggests.

According to Rebecca Hanson, who lives in Venezuela while studying the nation's politics as a graduate student, one of most notable things about the protest movement is where it is not occurring. Writing on the blog of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Hanson explains:

These protests have not engulfed the entire country or even the entire capital, despite coverage and photographs that might suggest otherwise. Recent articles in Ultimas Noticias have declared the western side of the city, which normally grabs headlines for its high homicide rates, as tranquil and quiet in comparison to the east.

I live and conduct research in Catia, a massive grouping of working and lower-class barrios in the western section of the city that have long been considered a Chavista stronghold. Though I had heard about the violence that erupted on Youth Day, when clashes first came to a head in Caracas, I had to go into the city center to find evidence of protests: A grouping of National Guard and National Police officers blocking the Avenue Francisco de Miranda in Chacaito, looking bored and tired by 8 o'clock at night.

The next day I walked down to the National Security University's location here in Catia, where zooming motorizados (motorcycle taxis) on the main avenue were, as usual, the gravest danger that I encountered.

None of what she says, writes Hanson, "is to say that protesters do not have legitimate grievances that the government has ignored." However, "these grievances are not ones that tend to generate support or ire" of a large portion of Venezuelans.

What's lost in most U.S. coverage, according Carasik, is the fact that Maduro and the socialist government policies he and his party represent have won consistently at the election polls for nearly twenty years. And she concludes:

Venezuela, to be sure, is not a utopia. Like many of its Latin American neighbors, including close allies of the U.S., it must confront crime, impunity and corruption. The country's economic troubles are causing real hardship and palpable anxiety, though they are inseparable from the global recession. Despite these challenges, Venezuela has registered tremendous gains in elevating millions of people out of grinding poverty and democratizing a postcolonial country -- developments that predictably alienate the country's elites. However imperfect, reducing Venezuela to a failed socialist experiment run by a repressive autocrat who should be overthrown is a callous dismissal of its laudable progress.

If the Venezuelan people genuinely reject the Bolivarian revolution, they should engender peaceful transition through fair and free elections, independent of interference by external forces, including a U.S. government that is more concerned with promoting its own interests than the economic, political and social advancement of Venezuelans.


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