Fake news about Venezuela is a lesson wrapped in a lesson of why we are not in a position to decide the fates of other countries.
The official narrative on the Venezuelan aid convoy goes like this:
On February 23rd, the “animals and criminals" in the Venezuelan military installed a blockade on a perfectly good bridge with Colombia in order to stop an aid convoy full of desperately needed food and medicine from entering. Protesters supporting interim-president Juan Guaido gathered with their aid trucks at the blockaded bridge where they peacefully attempted to enter Venezuela. The protesters tried to enter, until they were attacked by the military, who set three of the aid trucks on fire, and even killed a 14-year old boy. The protesters were so upset that they were “reduced to throwing stones.”
So what's wrong about this narrative? Quite a few things.
For starters, there is the whole issue of the bridge itself. Before the convoy even attempted to cross the Tienditas Bridge in northwestern Venezuela, government officials and news agencies around the world tweeted out a photo of the blockaded bridge as a symbol of the Venezuelan government's determination to stop the aid convoy.
The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro's orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE. #EstamosUnidosVE pic.twitter.com/L4ysYJaM6H— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 6, 2019
BBC, CNN, and Bloomberg were among those who wrote that the Venezuelan military had in some vaguely recent time period blockaded the bridge for the explicit purpose of stopping the aid shipment. The truth is just one of the many examples of why we cannot be the moral arbiters of these situations. The reality is that the bridge has not been open for years, in fact it has never been open. Construction finished in 2016, but frayed tensions between Colombia and Venezuela prevented its use.
Then there is the question of the food and medicine that the trucks supposedly carried. For starters, as the New York Times reported yesterday, there was almost certainly no medicine in those trucks. “The United States Agency for International Development, the principal supplier of the aid at the bridge, did not list medicine among its donations.” Of course this didn't stop National Security Advisor John Bolton or The Washington Post from claiming the trucks were carrying medicine.
So no medicine, what about food? Yes food, but the Venezuelan government claims weapons too, and it would certainly seem plausible. For instance, McClatchy reported a cargo plane which flew exclusively continental U.S. flights last year, but then switched its destinations in January to Venezuela and Colombia, traveling nearly 40 times between Miami and airports in those countries between January 11th and February 3rd. Flights were stopped after the Venezuelan government claimed it had found arms shipments that were delivered by the plane. McClatchy went on to note that Elliott Abrams, the current US special envoy overseeing relations with Venezuela, is the same man who in the 1980s set up cargo flights that supplied weapons to the murderous Contras in Nicaragua.
And what about these supposedly innocent protesters who were, “reduced to throwing stones?” Turns out opposition protesters are not the angels the US media would make them out to be. Mainstream outlets make little mention of things like the case of Orlando Flores, a dark skinned Maduro supporter who opposition protesters doused with gasoline and set on fire. Nor do they tend to mention the opposition protesters who attack doctors, stockpiles of medicine, health clinics, or who staged a helicopter grenade attack on the Supreme Court. In fact, if they had kept this context in mind, news outlets might have paid more heed to those who argued that opposition protesters, one of which disguised himself as a Red Cross worker, might have been the ones to light the aid trucks on fire.
As it turns out, a report in yesterday's New York Times has confirmed that this is in fact the case. New footage which they obtained from the Colombian government shows the moment when an opposition protester's molotov cocktail ended up lighting a truck on fire.
Now, all of these lies and distortions don't change the fact that the Venezuelan government is irredeemably corrupt, and that Nicolas Maduro does not have a legitimate mandate to run the country. There are food and medicine shortages in Venezuela, voters are intimidated into voting for the ruling party, government forces do torture and kill those who protest against it, including what many outlets reported was a 14-year old boy at the Tienditas Bridge. However, all this being said, what this post hopefully shows is that we in the US, and the UK, and elsewhere, are not capable of accurately gathering real-time information on controversial issues in other societies. And history, recent history especially, has amply shown that we are simply not in a position to decide which faction in this fight should win.