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Thank God (and Chávez) for TELESUR
I was surprised that morning when I saw that Javier had sent me a text message. I think it was the first I have ever received from him. Javier is a descendent of enslaved people from Africa. He lives here in Venezuela in the region of Barlovento. Its inhabitants are known for their dark skin and their ancestors have worked the land for centuries, producing some of the finest cacao in the world.
Freedom is important to Javier and his family and they won’t hesitate for a moment in telling you that the Chávez government has made a big difference in their lives. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that he would be the first to inform me about the coup d’état in Honduras.
I was not surprised that a coup had taken place. I felt it coming the day before when I read in a Venezuelan newspaper that General Romeo Vasquez said a coup d’état was “not certain.” As soon as I saw the words, “not certain,” I said to myself immediately that it was one of the options the general was considering.
I immediately turned on the television and for the next day-and-a-half I watched the broadcasting from a relatively new television network, TELESUR. I stopped watching it when its reporter was arrested the next afternoon. If TELESUR had not existed, I don’t think I would have found out even half of what was happening in Honduras.
TELESUR was an idea of Hugo Chávez. Early in his presidency, he began chastising his associates that they were not making use of the mass media. But gradually he became aware of the fact that even if they tried to use the commercial media, the media wasn’t open to giving them a fair hearing. The 2002 coup d’état against him made clear the need for alternative media sources—not just within the country but throughout Latin America.
Thus TELESUR come into existence. Before its presence, international television news reporting on Latin America was pretty much limited to CNN. The idea of “balanced reporting” from the heart of one of the U.S.’s media centers—“CNN in Spanish from Atlanta, Georgia”—was simply an oxymoron.
Reporting on the recent events in Honduras, TELESUR had reporters and cameras where CNN did not. It must have been humbling, even humiliating, for CNN to have to re-broadcast video from TELESUR in order to try to give some balance to their reporting. This also highlighted a reality: if TELESUR had not been there the world would never have seen what was happening.
Maybe I should clarify the last sentence: the world outside of Honduras would never have seen what was happening. TELESUR’s signal in Honduras was cut off by the de facto government with its new style of “democracy” and “freedom of speech.”
In Venezuela, I wouldn’t have seen TELESUR either had it not been for another decision of Chávez. Where I live I can only receive three TV stations with an antenna. One of the three is channel 2. This air space was occupied by RCTV, the company whose license was not renewed in May, 2007. TVES, a public service station is now broadcast on that channel and TVES suspended all broadcasting the first two days of the coup to transmit TELESUR’s coverage. Had RCTV still had the channel, I am sure that I never would have seen what was happening. RCTV openly supported the coup against Chávez in 2002. There is no doubt where their sympathy lies today with the situation in Honduras.
To keep abreast of what was happening in Honduras, I had cable installed a few days after the coup. Thus I was able to see the peaceful march in Tegucigalpa the Sunday when Zelaya was planning to return to Honduras. TELESUR was there and had cameras that clearly showed the military opening fire against the unarmed people. I listened to the panting voices of their reporters as they ran to get out of the line of fire.
Now that I have cable, I am also able to see CNN in Spanish as well as TELESUR. This brings another interesting dimension to light. On TELESUR I see numerous ads from PDVSA, the Venezuelan national oil company. I have no doubt that this money has played a big part in keeping the network going.
On CNN, I have seen numerous ads for Colombia. The basic themes: Colombia is a wonderful place to visit; there is no risk when you go there, except that you might fall in love with the country; the word in Colombia for “foreigner” is “amigo.” But my questions have been: where was all this money coming from for these ads and why was all this money going to CNN? In light of Colombia’s decision to allow U.S. military bases on their somewhat-sovereign territory, the questions are probably answered.
A taxi driver asked me the other day: “Doesn’t it seem strange that the country which consumes the most drugs in the world (the U.S.), maintains its strongest relation in Latin America with the country which produces the most drugs (Colombia)?” He said that if the U.S. was serious about combating the drug problem, Colombia should be its enemy, not its friend. Not bad reasoning!
TELESUR had to reduce the coverage that they had for the first two weeks after the coup in Honduras. Their reporters were basically driven out of the country by the de facto government’s orders. Faced with masked military forces and threatened if they didn’t leave the country, they didn’t have much choice. But TELESUR is now back in Honduras with much of the reporting being done by other top-notch journalists, including one from the U.S. who has spent years covering the news in Latin America and who has most recently been in Haiti, Reed Lindsay.
Being a believer in some superior being (that most people refer to as “God”), I thank God for the atmosphere that surrounds us. But I also thank Hugo Chávez for filling a part of that air with the signals of TELESUR.
I doubt that the coup leaders in Honduras see the same relationship between God and Chávez that I do in the air that they have to breathe each day. Maybe I should pray for a conversion! …if only I could remember the name of the patron saint of impossible causes.
by Charles Hardy ©
Charles Hardy is author of Cowboy in Caracas: A North American’s Memoir of Venezuela’s Democratic Revolution, published by Curbstone Press. Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog Cowboyincaracas.com. You may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.