London - So today, I was taking part in a debate on Chavez's legacy for Cross Talk, a program of Russia Today. I thought it would be good, since we were discussing Chavez's legacy, to bring up Maria Afiuni, after all she is as part of the legacy as much as Barrio Adentro, right? How silly of me... Russia Today, you see, is Putin's "news" channel. It follows that its editorial line must comply with the Kremlin's diktats. Any deviation from it, any attempt to exercise freedom of expression fully is met with dismissal, as I found out today.
As I was, basically, ridiculing the arguments of a couple of propaganda hacks (Alex Main, former Venezuela Information Office agent now with Weisbrot's CEPR, and George Ciccariello-Maher, a Drexler "assistant professor" who's been cheering for Chavez for donkey's years), I decided to put a sign in front of me (pictured), during the first break. At that point, presenter Peter Lavelle said that I had to remove the sign, as the debate was about Chavez's legacy. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to argue my case about Maria Afiuni, who IS part of that legacy.
In the last two days I have been asked to comment on Chavez's death for the BBC World Service, BBC News, BBC's World Have Your Say and BBC's Radio 5. In the last two programs, two other "professors" made untenable claims, along the lines of that there was true independence of institutions in Venezuela (Julia Buxton dixit), or that Chavez had won 14 free, fair and transparent elections in Venezuela (believes Mike Gonzalez). Today, it was the turn of "assistant professor" Ciccariello-Maher, who said that thanks to Chavez, Venezuela's disenfranchised had access to health and education for the first time. Neither could provide coherent explanations to my factual counterarguments of course.
So what is it with these "professors"? Why are they incapable of accepting a simple fact of life, that of human fallibility? In their opinion everything Chavez did was good. No mention of coup d'etats, deaths, political persecution, human rights violations, associations with rogue regimes and narco terrorist organizations will ever be heard from this lot. I find myself more and more at ease accepting, in all honesty, the positives that Chavez had. Furthermore, any mature person, any individual who's not blinded by ideology, knows that every human being has positive aspects as well as negative ones. In appraising Hugo Chavez's legacy, it's perfectly fine to commend his poverty alleviation populist programs, his popularity and charisma, his towering persona in our country's political arena and so on. If I can accept that, without qualms or hesitation, why is it that these "professors" can't bring themselves to even acknowledge, for instance, Chavez's militarism and authoritarian disposition, or his indefensible relations with Fidel Castro and Bahsar al-Assad, or his support for FARC, or his jailing a judge for actually doing her work? What kind of example are these academics trying to give, and, more importantly, how can they expect respect with such adolescent and intellectually dishonest behaviour? Thinking about it I came up with the hashtag #ideologytrumpsobjectivity.
Coming back to Cross Talk, I don't know whether they will dare to broadcast my participation in the program, until I was kicked out that is. I hope they do. But I realise they're in an impossible to win situation. If they do air the program, their kicking me out after I put the sign up asking for Maria Afiuni's and Pussy Riot's freedom, is likely to go viral, thus a PR disaster. If they decide to edit out my participation completely, and pretend that it never happened, that is also a PR disaster, for then it will be impossible to claim that they are an objective news provider where freedom of expression can be exercised fully.
It's one of those: A4 cardboard? 20 pence; marker? £1; ride to TV studio? paid for; getting kicked out of Putin's propaganda channel for putting up a sign asking for innocent political prisoners to be freed? priceless!