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The Bush Administration Viewed as a Bolivarian Propaganda Outlet

May 18, 2015

I’m continuing to poke around the WikiLeaks cables (after my last post) and found references to to be of particular interest. The Bush administration’s diplomatic staff in Caracas appeared to take it very seriously as a propaganda outlet for Venezuela’s Bolivarian government.

an excerpt from the May 11, 2004 US Embassy Cable

An unclassified cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, dated May 11, 2004 and titled “The ABCs of the Venezuelan Government’s Political Propaganda Strategy,” includes a section titled “Other Mechanisms” that lists among “numerous sites” dedicated to “Propaganda on Line” [sic].

The site is also mentioned in a confidential cable from the US Embassy in Caracas dated May 31, 2005. Titled “GOV [Government of Venezuela] Holds TIPS [Trafficking in Persons] Hearing in National Assembly,” the cable concludes that “[t]he National Assembly hearing seemed to have been put on for the [US] Embassy’s benefit, as we were the only international or diplomatic representatives present.” The embassy staff clearly believed that the hearing was merely political theater, designed to present the Venezuelan government as proactive on the issue of human trafficking in order to convince the US State Department to change its status in relation to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.

The State Department issues an annual report that classifies countries in three tiers. In 2004, Venezuela was reclassified from tier 2 to tier 3, meaning that it was grouped among “[c]ountries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” (I’m taking the tier definitions from the 2014 report, as I can’t find them stated in the 2004 or 2005 reports.) The hearing discussed in the cable was perhaps meant to represent “significant effort,” but the embassy wasn’t buying it. (Venezuela remained in tier 3 in the 2005 report, which was released on June 3.)

A section of the cable entitled “Who Attended” notes that “[a] Canadian journalist was reportedly in attendance as were some pro-Chavez media outlets.” Further below, in the final “Comment” section, the cable states that “[p]ro-Chavez media outlet “” published an article May 27 about the hearing, appearing to lay the groundwork for an attack should Venezuela remain Tier 3.”

an excerpt from the May 31, 2005 cable

The article (authored by Jonah Gindin) provides in depth (and, I think, high quality) analysis of Venezuela’s tier ranking within the political context. I don’t see that it set the stage for an “attack”, so much as formed part of a relatively regular series of articles on the subject, all of which seem to reflect the Venezuelan government’s position that the trafficking report has been manipulated by the US in order to gain leverage of Venezuela. did, indeed, publish a story (authored by Sarah Wagner), on the release of the 2005 report, but by that time it had already published at least four articles on the subject (in addition to the May 27 article mentioned above) and it would publish at least three more over the next six years.

The unsurprising take home here is that the Bush administration took a highly confrontational approach to, viewing it not as an autonomous civil society organization contributing to a marketplace of ideas in accordance with classical liberal ideals, but as a propaganda outlet in the service of an authoritarian government. This seemingly contradicts its stance on the status of commercial media outlets in Venezuela, which it held up as legitimate organs of civil society and not propaganda outlets in the service of an oppositional oligarchy.

Full disclosure: In 2011, in anticipation of spending time in Venezuela for my dissertation field research, I unsuccessfully applied for a position as a part-time staff writer with I subsequently contributed three articles, each of which first appeared on this blog and for which I received no compensation.


An additional note: The May 31 cable includes one of the few mentions of “community media” in all of the leaked cables. The Venezuelan government’s presentation of the steps it had taken to prevent human trafficking included “[c]onducting an information campaign through ‘alternative and community media’ sources.” Arguably (and perhaps ironically), this reinforces the idea that the Venezuelan government treats the community media sector as a propaganda tool.

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