[Recently, Nikolas Kozloff, who is working on a new book entitled South America´s New Direction, about the political realignment in South America spoke with Greg Wilpert, editor of venezuelanalysis.com and a freelance journalist. Wilpert is the author of Changing Venezuela By Taking Power,
forthcoming from Verso Books later this year. During the one hour
interview the two discussed Venezuelan media, the role of the internet,
U.S.-Venezuelan relations, socialist education, and obstacles for the
Bolivarian process as it moves ahead. --Ed]
Hugo Chavez's Future
By Greg Wilpert and Nikolas Kozloff
March 11, 2007
NK: What is your personal background?
GW: I was born in the U.S. but moved to Germany because my father was German and my mother is American. When I finished high school I went to study in the U.S. I went to college in San Diego and did my PhD in sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
NK: How did you come to be in Venezuela?
GW: I spent six years living in New York and that´s where I met my wife who is Venezuelan. I taught sociology at the New School. My wife had to go back to Venezuela as she finished her studies and was on a temporary visa. I´ve been here ever since, seven years now. I came down on a Fulbright to do research and teach at the Central University of Venezuela. The grant ran out, but right about the time of the coup attempt I decided to focus more on journalism. I felt the international media wasn´t doing as good a job as it should. In 2003 I hooked up with one of the founders of Aporrea.
ORIGINS OF VENEZUELANALYSIS
NK: What is Aporrea?
GW: It´s one of the main Chavista Web sites which was very important following the coup attempt because it provided a key source of information and continuous updates as to what was happening in Venezuela. It was very important for community movements here in Venezuela and also internationally, for people to get a steady stream of information that wasn´t controlled by the existing corporate media. So, we got together and talked about launching something similar but slightly different and geared towards an international audience in English.
NK: When you say ¨we,¨ who do you mean?
GW: Myself and Martin Sanchez, who was one of the founders of aporrea.
NK: So, where does the funding come from?
GW: Well, that´s always a tricky issue (laughs) because of course opposition supporters always say, ¨that´s 100% government.¨ We did receive some funding from the Ministry of Culture, but we also get some grassroots donations. Also, we have mutual support agreements with several different groups, such as Green Left Weekly, Alia2, and briefly with Telesur, among others. We don´t have much money now, at the high point we may have had 4 or 5 people but it keeps fluctuating as people come and go. It´s kind of hard to find people to work on the site because it´s in English but you need people who know the situation in Venezuela.
NK: Do you plan on getting funding from other sources?
GW: Yes, we´re working on getting some advertising, and we´re looking into applying for funding from foundations.
NK: Does the government ever call you up and complain that it´s unhappy about whatever story, is there any interference?
GW: None whatsoever. As far as the Web site, I´m not in touch with anyone as far as content.
NK: What´s it like working in Caracas and what is the journalistic environment here?
GW: It varies (laughs). I actually have quite a few contacts because my wife works in the government and she was a political activist before Chavez came into office. So, that has certainly helped me. But even for me it´s often quite difficult, because no matter where you come from, and even if you come recommended from someone else, you´re generally regarded with a lot of suspicion from the government and it can be quite difficult to get information.
NK: Have you noticed any growth in anti-American sentiment over the past few years?
GW: No, not at all. Whenever the media talks about Chavez being anti-American, no one here perceives it that way. They perceive him as being anti-Bush.
IMPACT OF THE MEDIA
NK: What kind of impact has venezuelanalysis had, how many people log on to the site?
GW: I think about 1,000 people read the site every day. I have the impression that it does have an important impact; we´ve reached other journalists and academics for example. Journalists who view the site will in turn speak to other journalists who are based here and most of them are anti-government.
NK: And these 1,000 hits, do you know where they come from?
GW: I´m not sure, but I think they´re almost all from the U.S. and Britain.
NK: How effective do you think internet and other pro-Chavez media have been in countering mainstream media coverage?
GW: If you do an international comparison of media coverage on Venezuela, in the English speaking world one generally has the impression that Chavez gets trashed. However, the coverage is actually better in the English speaking media than it is in the German or French media, which I keep an eye on, let alone Brazil or other Latin American media outlets. I can´t say venezuelanalysis has moderated the harsh coverage of Chavez in the English language media, but I do think we´ve had an impact. Actually, there is no other equivalent of our site in other languages.
NK: To what extent are grassroots groups pressuring the government to radicalize, and what is the impact for the United States?
GW: The problem here in Venezuela is that civil society is relatively weak. There are very few strong or powerful organizations around. The strongest are perhaps the unions, and even they are very small, weak and disorganized. Other than that there´s very little. On the other hand there are demands coming from community groups around the country that are clamoring for attention and they are trying to get Chavez´s attention. And I think they do have some impact in that sense. However, the groups are totally unfocused and disorganized.
NK: What kinds of groups are we talking about?
NK: Mostly community groups that change their formation in various ways. They might have been organized as Bolivarian Circles at one point and as the electoral battle units, now in the consejos comunales and urban land committees, water committees, health committees, whatever. These groups are organized in a thousand different ways. And that´s part of the problem because it´s not coherent. You have Chavez´s party, but that´s seen as a very top down organization. So, there´s all these community groups but no umbrella organization which might channel their demands. So, I do think these groups are pushing the process forward, but in a fairly ineffective manner.
NK: There´s been some nationalizations recently, some of these have affected U.S. economic interests. Do you think there may be further nationalizations that might upset U.S.-Venezuelan relations? Are grassroots groups pressuring the government on that front?
GW: No, I don´t think nationalizations is a popular issue. But, I do think the government will continue them, for various reasons. The government has already announced three areas that would be nationalized, and it has proceeded to go ahead. So, it´s not really clear what´s left to do. That is, telecommunications, oil, and electricity. There´s not too much left of strategic importance. But I could imagine nationalization proceeding in various other sectors, which are smaller and less important. Nationalization is part of an overall socialist strategy, and if there was an effort to turn these companies over to worker management or co-management, then nationalization would be a prerequisite for that. I do see that happening down the line.
NK: What about the countryside, are there any U.S. interests in agriculture? Could land reform jeopardize U.S.-Venezuelan relations in any significant way?
GW: One thing you have to consider is that the proportion of agriculture in the gross national product is only about 6%, so it´s really a miniscule portion of the economy. The amount of U.S. interest in that 6% is probably not more than 1% at the most. I don´t think land reform will have any impact on U.S. relations. The most prominent case was this Lord Vestey ranch which belongs to the British, but that case was more or less settled. The government really wants to expand agricultural production and it would be very careful not to disrupt this production. The agreement then with Vestey has to be seen in that context.
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