View Full Version : The Controversy Over "chavez: Inside The Coup"

Chris Knipp
02-13-2004, 11:13 PM
One thing is clear. In Venezuela, there are two camps. The opposition to Chavez is passionate. And yet Chavez's popular support remains strong, and he is determined not to give in. Is he a great populist leader? Is he just another South American dictator with a pro-Castro slant? You decide. But frankly, I'm not sure we really can decide from here.

Clearly, the film by the two Irish filmmakers, Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain, is biased in favor of Chavez. They went there to do a film about him because they thought he was getting poor coverage in the British and American media. They were friendly to him, and because of the events that happened while they were there their film became a passionate defense of the legitimacy of his government, threatened by an opposition ready to use any means to remove him. (But he himself was jailed earlier in his career for a failed coup attempt, don't forget.) One thing about the documentary, though, that nobody can deny: they were there.

Below I will give the Comment I posted on IMDb. For some time it was what you saw when you went to the site ("The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is listed under the title "Chavez: Inside the Coup" on IMDB--possibly the original title). Based on the film, I compared Chavez to Nasser of Egypt (I lived in Egypt under Nasser for two years in the Sixties and know something about him). I commented that the filmmakers don't say anything specific about what Chavez had accomplished
What we don't see is what specific actions Chavez takes to accomplish political changes in Venezuela. Except for describing his effect on the oil industry, the film isn't specific about the legislative changes of his early presidency. What we do see is a man who plays his role of people's leader and friend of Fidel to the hilt. However, I was admiring about the documentary. It still seems amazing to me that they were there in the presidential palace while the coup went on and covered it before, during, and after.

I had also written about the Chavez coup story in connection with the Sonoma State Project Censored group's 2004 book, which lists the story as one of the "most censored" in the US. Following up on this, however, I found that the two online info sources Project Censored gives (www.projectcensored.org) for Venezuela and Chavez (with a pro-Chavez slant) (ttp://www.vheadline.com/main.asp
The Narco News Bulletin; http://www.narconews.com/) are now defunct or out of date. It's hard to get info on Venezuela from here. And when you find some, you'd better make sure you know which side it's slanted from.

You can watch a Democracy Now program where the Amnesty International Film Festival cancellation of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is discussed, pro and con: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5168.htm I would agree that the festival organizers ought not to have given in to pressure, and many great documentaries, perhaps most of them, are what I called in my IMDb Comment "impassioned engagé reportage."

After my IMDb Comment had been up a while prominently displayed, just around the time when the deadline came up for the petition on a referendum to 'recall' Chavez (much like the 'recall' of Gray Davis in which Schwarzenegger became Governor of California), I started getting a flood--it seemed like a flood anyway--of emails from Caracas protesting against my Comment on the documentary. All were from the opposition. Some were crudely stated in bad English; some were diplomatic, well argued, and in excellent English: all said I was wrong, and had been misled. I was even referred to a document that proports to list "22 lies and misstatements" in the film.

A BBC update today shows that Chavez is doing everything he can to block the referendum: .http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3487861.stm

The film is powerful, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt. About the alleged distortions in the film, I don't know what the truth is. I don't think you can trust the veracity of either the pro-Chavez people or the opposition: both will do or say anything to plead their cause. I would urge anyone interested in this subject to keep an open mind, consult whatever sources you can find and keep updated on events.

I would certaiinly like to consult with the Irish filmmaking team and have their answers to the charges of distortions point by point -- the "22 lies" need to be refuted.

Here's my IMDb Comment:

IMDb user comments for
Chavez: Inside the Coup (2003) (TV)

Date: 3 November 2003
Summary: It happened and we're there. That's enough.

Sometimes it's enough to be in the right place at the right time to make a great documentary. `Chavez: Inside the Coup' AKA `The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' is astonishing in that way. It covers a South American coup from inside the presidential palace. And when the people take back control and restore the popular leader, the filmmakers are still on hand with cameras rolling.

There he is as the film begins: Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, the former military officer and admirer of Bolivar who years earlier attempted his own coup and was imprisoned for it.

Hugo Chavez is a hugger. He hugs and pats and grabs the hand of everyone he meets. He looks young guards in the eye and pats them on the chest as he walks by. They're like his young reflections: they're innocent boys with the same dark Indian face and classic profile he has.

Chavez speaks in a confidential tone. He expresses his loathing of globalization, his disapproval of the US bombing of Afghanistan, his faith that his grandfather was not an `assassin' but someone who killed another man for honor. Reviewing a film, he stops to tell aides they must use the local media wherever they go in the country to maintain visibility and contact.

He meets crowds in the streets, crowds of the poor, smiling at him, optimistic about their government for the first time in their lives.

He receives hundreds, perhaps thousands of notes and letters, sometimes scribbled on scraps of paper, from poor people who adore him and ask him for help, and he has staff to read all these requests. He has his own weekly call-in radio show where he addresses people directly for all to hear.

Chavez is a big bull of a man, warm but without visible subtlety. He's one of the people, Nasser of Egypt without Nasser's paranoia. Even after being temporarily deposed from the presidency he won by a landslide vote of the 80% poor population of Venezuela, he refuses to prosecute the perpetrators of the coup and many remain in the country as opposition leaders. And for a reason: unlike Nasser, he was popularly elected and by an overwhelming majority. Chavez has a certain populist bravado. His presidency gives the poor hope and he shares that hope.

What we don't see is what specific actions Chavez takes to accomplish political changes in Venezuela. Except for describing his effect on the oil industry, the film isn't specific about the legislative changes of his early presidency. What we do see is a man who plays his role of people's leader and friend of Fidel to the hilt.

Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain came to Venezuela to simply cover Chavez's presidency, obviously sympathetic to his democratic rule and hatred of neo-liberalism and globalization and aware of the Nortenos' jaundiced picture of him emanating from the Bush administration speaking through Colin Powell. The US doesn't like Chavez's greater taxation of the oil companies - Venezuela is the world's fourth largest producer and the US's third ranking source of the substance. They don't like his indifference to the wealthy and to global corporations either.

Colin Powell isn't Chavez's only opposition. In Venezuela the 20% who didn't vote for him, the rich and the bourgeoisie, consider Chavez their enemy and organize for his removal. We see one of their meetings and follow some of their leaders into the street. We also see clips to show how this opposition freely uses the country's privately owned TV stations (only one, Channel 8, is government controlled) to attack Chavez daily as insane and insist he be ousted.

The Chavez opposition arranges a public confrontation that makes his supporters look like killers. Broadcasting this falsification on the privately owned TV stations, they tarnish his image badly and then stage the coup by force where leaders are trapped and Chavez himself forced to flee as a prisoner to save the others' lives. Public outcry swiftly leads to mass opposition of the new coup government though, and the Chavez supporters regain the presidential palace and bring him back. Amazingly, we see all this firsthand.

This documentary is more exciting than any fiction. It's terrifying and sad when the coup happens and we see it from the inside, knowing this was a popular government. It's exhilarating when the elected leaders are able to come back. This has to be some of the most amazing footage of history in action ever filmed.

Except for some information on what happened to Carmona and the other opposition figures after their ouster -- many staying, because of their freedom from reprisals, but Carmona turning up in Miami, no doubt to be coddled by the US and held for future use -- there is nothing further about the situation in Venezuela, which is reported to be very revolutionary and unstable.

`Chavez: Inside the Coup' isn't political analysis but impassioned engagé reportage and as such it has enormous meaning and impact. They were there. It recalls the slogan Grenada's revolutionary government used before the Bush (I) takeover: `Come see for yourself.' Through these Irish filmmakers, that's what we get to do.

02-14-2004, 08:52 AM
Your review is still on the IMDb site, it's just lower down in the "user comments" section now. Many posts from Venezuelans on that site, some of them are outrageous in their one-sidedness. One person said that Chavez set the whole thing up to make himself look good for the filmmakers; now that would be an elaborate plan! And it worked perfectly!

Ebert had an interesting comment in his review. I'll copy it instead of paraphrasing:

<Note: The last words in George Orwell's notebook were: "At age 50, every man has the face he deserves." Although it is outrageously unfair and indefensibly subjective of me, I cannot prevent myself from observing that Chavez and his cabinet have open, friendly faces, quick to smile, and that the faces of his opponents are closed, shifty, hardened.>

I noticed the same thing. The opposition leaders came across as cold and calculating. They had business interests at stake and they were going to protect them. Chavez and his supporters seemed to be working for a higher purpose.

The recall referendum is taking place right now. The ability to recall is part of their Constitution, but you've got to imagine it's being manipulated (or at least financed) in large part by the opposition. They certainly didn't just give up after their rather obtuse attempt at a coup; they've probably regrouped and are coming at Chavez from more subtle angles. And, they've got the private television stations on their side, which is probably continuing to provide a daily barrage of anti-Chavez news.

Chris Knipp
02-14-2004, 01:48 PM
The recall referendum is taking place right now. The ability to recall is part of their Constitution, but you've got to imagine it's being manipulated (or at least financed) in large part by the opposition.

Correction: it's not "going on now"! The possibility of holding a referendum is under review -- by the Chavez government, which is opposed to it. The petition for recall is being studied. Current predictions are that if it does take place, which is uncertain, it won't be until August. Please consult recent news on BBC, etc. as I suggestedhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3487861.stm or the latest articles via a Google search of "Venezuela+recall+referendum."

Of course the opposition is who's financing and carrying out the recall referendum petitioning. That doesn't in itself make it illegitimate any more than the fact that it's the Democratic Party that's trying to defeat Bush makes that effort illegitimate. Chavez has vowed to fight the recall move in the Venezuelan Supreme Court.

I would not judge an opposition by the look of their faces but by the color of their consciences. It's important not to take sides on the basis of limited information, but to listen, with a grain of salt handy, to both sides. If you like Chavez, it's important to be aware that the opposition is strong, very strong. The political situation in Venezuela is extremely volatile, and remains so.

02-14-2004, 07:48 PM
Thanks for the links, as well as the corrections to my errors. The Democracy Now progam is particularly interesting, and it's got an interview with the man who pulled the plug on the Amnesty screening in Vancouver. I missed it the first time around.

My point in bringing up the opposition's support of the recall referendum is that I wonder to what extent it's influencing the people's opinion of Chavez. His approval ratings are waning, but how much of this is influenced by his policies themselves and how much is influenced by the deep pockets of the opposition? I guess it gets back to the idea of manipulation of public image that I found so fascinating in the film. Just rhetorical questions on my part, really.

True, it's important to not be too quick to judge with the limited information from the film. But still, can there be any justification for the biased news and opinion pieces that we saw put out by the private television networks? I wanna see them try to explain the pictures shown and the statements made about the man firing his gun at the roof-top snipers. "Look there, it's a Chavez supporter firing on the peaceful protesters below", the announcer grimly stated. The street below was empty, but they didn't show that angle. And Ari Fleischer used that situation to claim that Chavez supporters were creating unrest and had killed 11 peaceful protesters. Shameful. What's the other side of that story?

Chris Knipp
02-15-2004, 01:43 AM
His approval ratings are waning, but how much of this is influenced by his policies themselves and how much is influenced by the deep pockets of the opposition? I don't know how significant that development is, but if it's happening, surely it would be due to both causes, and to developments beyond the powers of either side? Here are some more links for anyone interested in the film and its background:

Roland Atkinson of Portland, Oregon has written a smart (and generally positive) assessment of the film on IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363510/usercomments-16 where he mentions that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Reporters Without Borders (RWB) have documented a lot of media intimidation by Chavez.

The two Irish filmmakers have said more about their viewpoint and the film in an interview they gave in January to The Movie Chicks excerpted online here:http://www.themoviechicks.com/mar2003/mctrevolution.html

For the alleged "20 lies and false statements of the Chavez film" which an opposition person posted online, an English version is found here: http://www.11abril.com/index/especiales/larevolucionnoseratransmitida.asp#mentiras

03-05-2004, 01:35 PM
Tensions are simmering in Venezuela:


As I said in an earlier post, I work in the same building as the Venezuelan Consulate in Houston. There's a protest taking place today outside the building. Probably about 50 people.

I went down and talked to one of the protesters. He said they were protesting because of the recall referendum and abuses of power by Chavez. I asked him about the opposing view as seen in "The Revolution will not be Televised", and he said the film was "all lies", even though it was well done. He pointed out that much of the footage was not taken by the filmmakers but instead was from the state-owned network. I'm not sure why that matters, really, but at this point I'm still just trying to take in all the opposing viewpoints. I didn't ask him about the manipulation of images by the private television stations.

Chris Knipp
03-05-2004, 01:58 PM
JustaFied: I'm glad you're following events in Venezuela: I'm sure a lot of us are now. This film and this discussion are incredibly relevant in the wake of the orchestrated coup in Haiti.

The opposition routinely makes the sweeping claim that the Chavez film is "all lies." The filmmakers have spoken about their use of footage by other sources and said that those sources are reliable -- they comment in that interview from the Movie Chicks that I cited earlier (http://www.themoviechicks.com/mar20...evolution.html ). The footage of the coup made in the presidential palace was made by the Irish filmmakers themselves and is the most stunning element in the film.

The Venezuelan opposition is well represented in the US outside of government. Venezuela is the US's #4 oil supplier, so Texas, including Houston, is a natural locus of support for the relatively corporate-friendly Chavez opposition. An article by Bill Berkowitz (http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?ItemID=16547)cites evidence of a possible major US source of aid to the Venezuelan opposition (the leader of this group was interviewed on Democracy Now yesterday).

Berkowitz's article also refers to a recent op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle that calls Chavez a "madman" and even compares him to Bin Laden. Chavez's opponents claim he's crazy (as we see in the film) -- an unstable dictatorial megalomaniac. Not so, says his long-time psychiatrist, the distinguished Dr. Chirinos. http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/venezuela/chirinos.html (You have to look for both pro- and anti-Chavez sites for information; the US and British media such as the BBC can't be considered neutral, but the PBS site has links to sites on both sides: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/venezuela/links.html..)

The US has never liked Chavez -- and stopped liking Aristide. They dropped him, as they have dropped so many -- Exhibit A being Donald Rumsfeld's chumminess with Saddam Hussein in the Eighties. Though Chavez may have lost some of his approval rating, he's still the popularly elected leader of Venezuela as Aristide was the popularly elected leader of Haiti. In both cases the opposition is a US-supported pro-corporate minority. The Bush administration is supporting the referendum; but this is interference in itself because the referendum must follow constitutional procedures to be justifiable, and these may not have been followed.

The Chavez film shows that Chavez is open to an opposition. He is in a difficult position, though, since his enemies are doing all they can to end his presidency before his term is out by any means necessary. The situation is increasingly explosive since the Chavez government has rejected the referendum stating that there are not enough valid signatures.

Let us not be so naive as to think that the US is not behind the scenes trying to engineer Chavez's removal as they did Aristide's, but this will be well concealed and vehemently denied.

03-05-2004, 08:45 PM
Thanks for the links; they're informative as always. Particularly troubling is the story about the "National Endowment for Democracy", which seems to have a long history of thwarting democracy when its result is not consistent with U.S. interests. Now that's not true democracy, is it?

One more observation from the protest rally today: there were several people with signs that were comparing Chavez to Hussein and Bin Laden, and one had a list of "corrupt" world leaders that the U.S. was hunting down. Noriega and Hussein were crossed off the list (meaning captured, I guess), while Chavez and Bin Laden had question marks beside their names. Certainly disingenuous to lump Chavez in with that company.

One question I have for you: what do you think the U.S. interest was in removing Aristide? That's what I can't figure out. The only thing I can really think of is that he kept threatening to dump boatloads of Haitians on Florida, and also that he was corrupt and the country was in some disarray. But will the next president be any more effective?

I agree it's difficult to find neutral, objective coverage of these stories in the U.S., particularly in the mainstream media. I did find a columnist in the Washington Post who writes exclusively about Latin American issues, but her writing seems pretty tepid in general. Here's her latest on the Venezuelan situation, which at least provides some more background info on what's going on:

Chris Knipp
03-05-2004, 10:46 PM
"Democracy" is becoming a dirty word. The US invaded Iraq to bring the Iraqis "democracy," remember. The head of that National Endowment for Democracy appears to have his deniability well organized, but most of his denials may be doubletalk.

Marcela Sanchez is not, I think, a reliable source. She twists information and doles it out selectively to suit her own purposes, and her purposes will be found to correspond pretty closely to the Chavez opposition; her facade of open-mindedness is only a facade.

Your question, why does the US care about Haiti, or Aristide, anyway? Is one that many Americans are asking now. I'm no expert on Haiti myself. Obviously the practical motives are very different for US interference in Venezuela, but the ideological ones may not be wholly dissimilar.Some dissident commentators simply say that the American and French governments have never liked Haiti since it was founded, because the idea of slaves breaking free of their masters and, rather than remaining an underclass as in the US, actually having their own country, made them profoundly uncomfortable. The US supported Aristide only sporadically, whereas they supported the corrupt, brutal Duvalier regime for thirty years. This country had increasingly persuaded Aristide to cooperate and serve American interests in order to get protection, but that evidence of weakness may have inspired contempt, along with the feeling that he was not ever going to cooperate enough. Moreover he was not able to maintain stability. And he had made friendly gestures toward Fidel Castro.

For a leftist coverage of the recent events in Haiti and their background, I can refer you to the articles in The Militant: http://www.themilitant.com/2004/6809/index.shtml


06-04-2004, 01:37 PM
Another protest in front of the Venezualan Consulate here in Houston. What did Chavez do this time? I think I'll go downstairs and stir up some trouble.

Chris Knipp
06-04-2004, 02:35 PM
A recount of the petition for a referendum to cut short Chavez's term of office was made with international supervision, including ex-President Jimmy Carter. People had to go in to re-certify their signatures. Some took their signatures off, saying they were pressured into signing by their pro-money employers, but many recertified. It was close. But now Chavez has announced that he will accept the conduct of a referendum on his presidency. It will probably take place in August. This was a concession on his part; he doesn't want to look like a dictator -- but he's still ignoring the rules, since the vote wasn't completely in when he conceded. http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=BDEF64C9-73BA-4E9E-95B4E530D98A7E99


The demonstrators down your way, if they're the usual anti-Chavez group, are probably just drumming up support for the referendum. Or if they're pro-Chavez, they're out to deny the opposition's belief that they're on a roll and are going to win now. What will happen next is anybody's guess.

That's how things stand at noon, June 4, 2004.