Journalist Ben Norton, who helps run The Grayzone, was in Venezuela for nearly 4 weeks from early February to early March. He joins the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast to talk about what he saw on the ground and how what he witnessed compares to what is reported in Western establishment news media.
Ben describes some of the enthusiasm among Venezuelans for political engagement in democracy. He also addresses some of the myths surrounding colectivos, which are self-defense organizations in communities in Venezuela.
Later in the show, Ben outlines “Regime Change Inc,” which are the forces that are deployed inside and outside Venezuela pushing for the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro. He discusses what Venezuelans would like the government to do with members of a right-wing opposition that are intent on destabilizing the country.
We wrap the show with some conversation about what may have happened with Venezuela’s electric grid and the major power outages that occurred.
Click on the above player to listen to the interview or go here.
When Norton was in Venezuela, it was not long after President Donald Trump’s administration tried to install opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s president.
Norton said it would be hard to overstate “how ridiculous the media coverage is of Venezuela.”
“There’s not that much violence happening,” Norton recalled. “I didn’t see any violence when I was there. I barely even saw police. It’s just so surreal.”
“I keep saying in interviews being in Venezuela only reminded me of how authoritarian my own government is here in the United States. Because I’ve traveled throughout much of the world. I’ve probably been to 30 countries or so. I’ve been throughout Western Europe, Latin America, part of the Middle East. There definitely are areas where you feel like the government is watching over you or is pretty authoritarian. I never felt like that in Venezuela.”
Norton shared, “We went to numerous right-wing protests in the eastern part of Caracas in a district known as Chicao, which is a rich, largely white area in the capital. We went to these right-wing protests and I didn’t see a single cop at these protests. Not one. So this idea that, oh, the Maduro regime is cracking down. They’re doing the exact opposite, and it’s actually very smart.”
In Brooklyn, Norton added, “There’s a cop for every four or five protesters. We live in a police state, and you don’t really think about that until you go out of the country to a place that’s smeared in the media as a police state but actually is really far from it.”
Norton said he did not really see any violence while in Venezuela. The right-wing opposition is mostly peaceful. They are not engaged in guarimbas in the way that they were in 2014 or 2017. (Guarimbas involve barricades that are lit on fire to halt the flow of traffic in parts of Caracas or other cities.)
What has happened is the media typically ignores “larger pro-government protests that happen in poor Chavista neighborhoods.”
Norton was not there when major power outages were happening in Venezuela. However, when asked if electricity problems happen regularly, he said he didn’t witness regular electricity problems.
There were issues with water shortages, but Norton suggested the issues were no different than what many other Latin American countries experience daily.
Norton attempted to meet someone from colectivos, the left-wing self-defense organizations that are supporters of Chavismo. He found they were reluctant to talk to any “gringo journalists,” which he could understand.
But the “idea that they’re just roaming around and attacking people—it’s so ridiculous.”
“Of course, colectivos exist. And as the name suggests they’re collectives. They are voluntary groups of socialists, who get together and who organize their communities and also who defend their communities,” Norton described.
Colectivos largely exist as a response to violence that has occurred regularly in Venezuela for the past couple of decades. This includes right-wing groups that are fairly nihilistic, wear masks, and sometimes participate in guarimbas.
Norton emphasized how anyone who visits Venezuela can see there is major popular enthusiasm among the grassroots for remaking their society.
“You can see that very clearly in the barrios, in the neighborhoods in Venezuela. Thanks to the Bolivarian revolution, there are direct democratic structures that exist,” Norton said.