[For John Pilger, democracy and hope in Latin America have been revived by Venezuela's leader. But the forces allied against him are formidable. Click here to watch an extract from John Pilger's new film 'The War on Democracy'. For a Spanish version of this article click here.]
The old Iran-Contra death squad gang is desperate to discredit Chavez
Democracy and hope in Latin America have been revived by Venezuela's leader. But the forces allied against him are formidable
John Pilger - Friday August 17, 2007
I walked with Roberto Navarrete into the national stadium in Santiago, Chile. With the southern winter's wind skating down from the Andes, it was empty and ghostly. Little had changed, he said: the chicken wire, the broken seats, the tunnel to the changing rooms from which the screams echoed. We stopped at a large number 28. "This is where I was, facing the scoreboard. This is where I was called to be tortured."
Thousands of "the detained and the disappeared" were imprisoned in the stadium following the Washington-backed coup by General Pinochet against the democracy of Salvador Allende on September 11 1973. For the majority people of Latin America, the abandonados, the infamy and historical lesson of the first "9/11" have never been forgotten. "In the Allende years, we had a hope the human spirit would triumph," said Roberto. "But in Latin America those believing they are born to rule behave with such brutality to defend their rights, their property, their hold over society that they approach true fascism. People who are well-dressed, whose houses are full of food, bang pots in the streets in protest as though they don't have anything. This is what we had in Chile 36 years ago. This is what we see in Venezuela today. It is as if Chávez is Allende. It is so evocative for me."
In making my film The War on Democracy, I sought the help of Chileans like Roberto and his family, and Sara de Witt, who courageously returned with me to the torture chambers at Villa Grimaldi, which she somehow survived. Together with other Latin Americans who knew the tyrannies, they bear witness to the pattern and meaning of the propaganda and lies now aimed at undermining another epic bid to renew both democracy and freedom on the continent.
The disinformation that helped destroy Allende and give rise to Pinochet's horrors worked the same in Nicaragua, where the Sandinistas had the temerity to implement modest, popular reforms. In both countries, the CIA funded the leading opposition media, although they need not have bothered. In Nicaragua, the fake martyrdom of La Prensa became a cause for North America's leading liberal journalists, who seriously debated whether a poverty-stricken country of 3 million peasants posed a "threat" to the United States. Ronald Reagan agreed and declared a state of emergency to combat the monster at the gates. In Britain, whose Thatcher government "absolutely endorsed" US policy, the standard censorship by omission applied. In examining 500 articles that dealt with Nicaragua in the early 1980s, the historian Mark Curtis found an almost universal suppression of the achievements of the Sandinista government - "remarkable by any standards" - in favour of the falsehood of "the threat of a communist takeover".
The similarities in the campaign against the phenomenal rise of popular democratic movements today are striking. Aimed principally at Venezuela, especially Chávez, the virulence of the attacks suggests that something exciting is taking place; and it is. Thousands of poor Venezuelans are seeing a doctor for the first time in their lives, having their children immunised and drinking clean water. New universities have opened their doors to the poor, breaking the privilege of competitive institutions effectively controlled by a "middle class" in a country where there is no middle. In barrio La Línea, Beatrice Balazo told me her children were the first generation of the poor to attend a full day's school. "I have seen their confidence blossom like flowers," she said. One night in barrio La Vega, in a bare room beneath a single lightbulb, I watched Mavis Mendez, aged 94, learn to write her own name for the first time.
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