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2003-11-06

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised –Why is Amnesty Not Screening a New Documentary About the Failed 2002 Coup in Venezuela?

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We play excerpts of a controversial new documentary about the unsuccessful 2002 coup in Venezuela and host a debate on why a planned screening of the film was canceled by the organizers of the Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript Today we take a look at a controversial new documentary about the unsuccessful 2002 coup in Venezuela. The film titled, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" received a rave review from The New York Times but the organizers of the Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver have canceled a planned screening of the film that was scheduled to open today.

Main opposition parties in Venezuela organized a petition against the film and garnered 7,000 signatures.

The documentary tells the tale of one of the shortest Presidential overthrows in Latin American history. On April 11, 2002, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was removed from power by a coalition of military officials and business leaders. But the attempted coup d’etat failed and Chavez returned to office two days later.

The documentary’s two Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain happened to be in the Presidential Palace both when Chavez was removed and when he returned.

  • Tape: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" — Excerpts of the new documentary about the unsuccessful 2002 coup in Venezuela.
  • Don Wright, Organized the Amnesty International film festival in Vancouver, Canada.
  • Eva Golinger-Moncada, Executive Director of the Venezuela Solidarity Committee in New York. She has come out strongly against the Amnesty Film Festival in Vancouver’s decision to take the award-winning documentary "The Revolution will not be Televised" off their screening list.
  • * Alexandra Beech*, Venezuelan-American who writes for the Daily International News Review of Venezuela which is posted on many of the main Chavez opposition groups’ websites including www.11abril.com. She has written extensively on the flaws in the documentary that Chavez opposition groups are claiming re-write history to favor Chavez.

More information:

Venezuelanalysis.com

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: First we’re going to play a clip of the documentary.

Again, it’s called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

[cheering]

NARRATOR: In February 2002, Chavez announced his plan to shake up the state oil company and to put his own people on the Management board. The war had begun.

[speaking in Spanish]

NARRATOR: The privately-owned media began calling on Venezuelans to demonstrate, suggesting that Chavez’s attempts to control the oil industry were a direct attack on their prosperity.

DEMONSTRATOR: He wants us to become a Cuba, he wants this to become a communist country. There is no doubt about it!

NARRATOR: At the head of the opposition to Chavez were two key figures: Pedro Carmona, the president of Venezuela’s largest business federation, and Carlos Ortega, head of the CTV, a trade union with strong ties to the old political system. Both men traveled to Washington to meet with high-ranking members of the Bush administration and to discuss president Chavez.

GEORGE TENET, CIA Director: ...of course its important because they’re the third largest supplier of Petroleum. I would say that Mr. Chavez–and the State department may say this–probably doesn’t have the interest of the United States at heart.

CARL FORD, U.S. State Dept.: I’m sure that all of us are going to be watching very closely to see what goes on in Venezuela and with president Chavez, in particular.

NARRATOR: That same day, Carmona called an opposition march to the headquarters of the state oil company.

[shouting]

NARRATOR: On the morning of April 11, the opposition demonstration set out on its march to state oil company. Meanwhile, on the other sides of the town, thousands of Chavez supporters have gathered outside the presidential palace in a show of solidarity with the government.

[shouting]

Back at the state oil company headquarters, the leaders of the opposition march have decided, in violation of the law, to change the rules. The plan was to get the crowd to march on the presidential palace.

[shouting]

DEMONSTRATOR: Chavez is a killer!- [shouting]

NARRATOR: We were outside the palace with the Chavez supporters when rumors reached the crowd that the opposition march was on its way and the mood turned to violent.

DEMONSTRATOR (in spanish): This is a conspiracy by U.S. imperialism by the C.I.A. The Media are behind this dirty war.

NARRATOR: The opposition march was fast approaching and some in the vanguard seemed ready for a fight. With thousands of Chavez supporters still surrounding the palace a confrontation seemed imminent. Then at about 2:00 p.m., we saw the opposition march arrive. The army tried to act as a buffer between the two groups.

[shouting]

NARRATOR: We moved back into the heart of the Chavez crowds when all of a sudden the firing started.

[sirens]

NARRATOR: We couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from, but people were being hit in the head.

[gunshots]

NARRATOR: Soon it became clear that we were being shot at by snipers. One in four Venezuelans carry hand guns and soon some of the Chavez supporters began to shoot back in the direction the sniper fire seemed to be coming from.

WITNESS (in Spanish): One of the channels had a camera opposite the palace that captured images of people shooting from the bridge. It looks like they are shooting at the opposition march below, but you can see them, they themselves are ducking. They are clearly being shot at, but the shots of them ducking were never shown. The Chavez supporters were blamed. The images were manipulated and shown over and over again to say that Chavez supporters had assassinated innocent marchers.

ANDRE CESARA, RCTV (in Spanish): Look at that Chavez supporter. Look at him empty his gun. That Chavez supporter has just fired on the unarmed peaceful protesters below.

NARRATOR: What the TV stations didn’t broadcast was this camera angle which clearly shows the streets below were empty. The opposition march had never taken that route. With this manipulation, the deaths could now be blamed on Chavez. Back in the palace, there was total confusion. Nobody seemed to know what was happening or what information to believe.

Chavez was locked in a meeting with his ministers in the presidential palace, as they tried to establish what was happening in the rest of the country. Although rumors were flying that channel 8, the state TV station had been sabotaged, at around 9:00 p.m., the ministers were able to broadcast live from the palace to the channel’s Mobile unit.

REPORTER (in Spanish): This is channel 8 state TV. For officers who may be confused by the media’s lies, it was they who massacred us.

NARRATOR: At 9:30, the signal was cut. We now found ourselves with a small group of Chavez’s minister, cut off from the outside world. Our only source of information, the private TV stations. We could see on TV that the palace had been surrounded by tanks.

TELEVISION REPORT: ...so we ask those protecting the President not to resist.

NARRATOR: At around 10:00 p.m., members of the military high command arrived at the palace to demand Chavez’s resignation. They would not let us enter the room. Some time later, the first minister arrived out from the president’s office. Chavez was refusing to sign a resignation and in response to generals threatened to bomb the palace.

CHAVEZ SUPPORTER (in Spanish): The C.I.A. is behind this. Everyone knows it. We have proof of plans for a coup. They can’t destroy history.

NARRATOR: By this point, most civilians had been evacuated. Those who remained knew that if the palace was bombed, there would be no way out. At about 3:30 a.m., one of the ministers came out to talk to us. Chavez had decided to hand himself over to the generals to avoid the bombing of the palace. But he was still refusing to resign as president.

VENEZUELAN MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT (in Spanish): It is finally clear that this is a coup d’etat. The president has refused to resign.

NARRATOR: With five minutes left until the bombing deadline expired, Chavez was led away.

[chanting]

NARRATOR: One hour later, Venezuela awoke to a new regime and to an extraordinary TV moment in which all was revealed. TELEVISION

REPORTER (in Spanish): Good morning! We have a new President.

NEW PRESIDENT (in Spanish): I must thank Venevision and RCTV I must say thanks to all the TV channels.

AMY GOODMAN: And there you have an excerpt of "the revolution will not be televised" — and it won’t be shown at this year’s film festival of Amnesty International. We are joined right now by Don Wright, who organized the Amnesty International’s film festival in Vancouver, Canada. Can you talk about Amnesty’s decision to, first, show this film, and then, pull it?

DON WRIGHT: Yes. Thank you for that. We had our committee review the film, along with dozens and dozens of other films for consideration in our festival. We did not initially choose it for our festival, but a film we were interested in was not available to us and so we did put it in.

But we became aware that the — That there were concerns about the film and that, in fact, that unknown to us there had been a lot of controversy around the content of the film and, in particular, the polarized and partisan controversy that was following the film and that, we felt, when we choose films we strive to choose films that are nonpartisan and nonpolitical to reflect the mandate of our organization. This one clearly was far more polarized and presented a particular perspective that moved well beyond what we normally look for in a film for our festival.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I just want to clarify. This is Canada Amnesty International, separate from Amnesty International in the United States.

DON WRIGHT: Yes, it is. And the festival itself is in Vancouver. It is actually a very small festival. We’re really surprised by the amount of attention that it has gathered. It’s probably the smallest film festival in Vancouver and the smallest — A very small event to attract this much attention. It’s really quite taken us by surprise.

JUAN GONZALES: We’re also joined here in our studio by Alexandra Beech, a Venezuelan-American who writes for "The Daily International Review of Venezuela," which is posted on many of the main Chavez opposition groups’ websites and she has written extensively on the flaws of the documentary that Chavez opposition groups are claiming rewrite history in favor of president Chavez.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ALEXANDRA BEECH: Thank you very much.

JUAN GONZALES: Could you tell us your perspective on the film and the concerns you have about it?

ALEXANDRA BEECH: Well, I first of all want to say that — Well, it is an honor to be here with you guys. I have problems with the film mainly because of what it doesn’t present, which is that the general that was the chief of the armed forces at the time, Lucas Rincon, announced a little after midnight that Chavez [speaking in spanish], Chavez’s resignation was requested and he accepted it and the gentleman is still–Lucas Rincon is–The general is still a member of Chavez’s inner circle, of Chavez’s cabinets and, you know, that wasn’t emphasized enough in the film. Also, the fact that the opposition isn’t represented.

And that set off — His announcement set off a whole set of events, including the fact that people like me were convinced that Chavez had resigned. So one of the questions that needs to be explored is why was a member of Chavez’s inner circle saying that the president had resigned. That had a huge impact on the country. The other thing it doesn’t emphasize is that Chavez activated something called a Plan Avila, which gives the military discretionary action over civilians and protesters and a lot of senior military officials had a big problem with the activation of Plan Avila because that lets ordinary soldiers use weapons of war against citizens and that is another issue that the film doesn’t emphasize. The third thing is the fact that the opposition is presented as either a neighborhood meeting that took place in June of 2000, women that were concerned for their safety over getting defense training from this gentleman, the woman who’s obviously really crazy and upset and screaming about Cuba, people that are only white. I actually brought footage with me of opposition marches where, you know, where it’s a large population. It’s a lot of people of all colors march in our marches that, you know — And it is not just whites versus — And, you know, the other interesting thing is that, I’m sorry, is the whole issue of oil.

That you have Tenet saying, well, there’s always this is sort of conspiracy about this is all about oil interests when if Bush is connected to oil, oil interests have never have — In recent history not profit so much as they have under Chavez because a lot of — Because a lot of the production has been handed over to oil companies at really great rates. Obviously through Chavez’s participation in OPEC oil prices have been increasingly high.

So, to say, well, this is about oil interests, actually needs to be explored a little further, especially when you look at what Venezuela receives from oil revenues and how that gets split up.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandra Beech, we have to break for a minute and then we’ll come back and get comment from Eva Golinger-Moncaba, executive director of the Venezuela Solidarity Committee in New York. Still on the line with us is Don Wright, who organized the Canada Amnesty International film festival in Vancouver.

Stay with us.

[Music Break]

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Campbell on Democracy Now!, "The War and Peace Report."

I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. As we talk about the pulling of the film "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" from the Canada international film festival in Vancouver, on the line with us is the organizer of that event, Don Wright in Canada.

In the studio, Alexandra Beech, Venezuelan-American who writes for the "International Daily Review of Venezuela," which is posted on many Chavez opposition websites and Eva Golinger-Moncada, the executive director of the Venezuela solidarity committee in New York. You’ve come out strongly against the pulling of this film "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" from the amnesty film festival. Why?

EVA GOLINGER-MONCADA: Well, I mean, first of all, this film is an extraordinary documentary of human rights violations that occurred during the coup in Venezuela that, in fact, were suppressed internally in Venezuela as well as in international media due to a media blackout internally in Venezuela, since the Media have control, the private media have the primary monopoly on information. So, during the actual events of the coup, which the film itself shows, what was going on during the time periods when people were coming out into the streets to support Chavez and their Constitutional president and government, the media was showing cartoons and old movies. They weren’t even letting people within Venezuela who weren’t in Caracas, in the center of the capital, to know what was actually happening in the country. So, I mean, when this documentary came out, it was very revealing and insightful to people, to Venezuelans as well as the international community who, in fact, to this day, are still confused about what exactly went on in Venezuela. So, I mean, the fact that Amnesty International in Canada, independently chose to include the film in their festival and that they would pull it due to pressure from petitions from opposition groups to Chavez and actually their petitions outline errors they allege in the film itself, which really aren’t valid arguments, I mean, we find this to be outrageous, pretty much. That Amnesty, which is a supposed organization that is promoting, you know, human rights internationally and that they would consider themselves — Well, they would consider the film not to be about human rights, which is what we were told by them in Venezuela and in Canada and the fact that they would say that they don’t want to get involved in any kind of a controversy or politics.

But I mean, I would venture to say that human rights issues are highly political.

JUAN GONZALES: Well, you know, I’d like to ask Mr. Wright, as a journalist, I’m well aware that in the days after the coup, probably the single most televised image around the world in Venevision and American media was that image of those, quote, Chavez supporters on the bridge firing, supposedly, into a crowd.

And so when I first saw this documentary I was astounded by another perspective of what had happened there. There’s no doubt that certainly on Spanish-language television here in the United States as well as English language, that was a dominant image that still to this day has come down in folklore as to what Happened in that April coup. And so I’m wondering, when you say that you think this particular film is overly partisan for amnesty standards, if you could expound on that a little more.

DON WRIGHT: Sure. I think I needed to clarify that the decision to include the film and then to not include the film was very much a local decision that we didn’t feel we had the capacity to properly put the film in context and properly examine and respond to the film itself. We feel that it was an error for us to consider that film based on the lack of information that we had about the circumstances of the film. So that was very much a local decision by a small group of amnesty members that are part of our planning committee.

EVA GOLINGER-MONCADA: I just wanted to comment on that particular image that was broadcast around the world that was used in Venezuela as the justification for the coup as well as through international media, that the journalists from Venevision has now admitted that the image and that it was a manipulated image, that the voiceover was, in fact, inaccurate, that he had no idea of who the Chavez supporters were firing at. And that it was later shown, through the video — Or through the film you see that they were firing actually at, you know, the snipers who were firing at them from down on the street below and from up on buildings above. And I actually brought a picture, you can’t see it on the radio, but I don’t know if you could focus on this, but it shows the metropolitan police in Caracas who were on the opposition side with latex gloves on, with their firing guns. And they were actually down on the ground firing up at the bridge, at the Chavez supporters. This was actually taken by a photographer who happened to be down on the street. Luckily was in that area and didn’t get found. She was later beaten by the same metropolitan police, but not because they found her camera, luckily. So, these photos were released and this actually gave the government a lot of proof on to what exactly occurred during those events around Puente Laguna, which is the name of that bridge.

And we would just question, as the government has as well, why would they be wearing latex gloves?

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. Alexandra Beech?

ALEXANDRA BEECH: I don’t know the answer to that. But what we think that the person who answered why they were shooting was actually the gentleman in the vest. When he was arrested, one of the interesting things that we have in Venezuela is that pretty much everything takes place on camera. Everything in Venezuela is televised. And so when he was being arrested, they asked him why he was shooting and he said he was shooting to defends the revolution and to defends an ideology. And so then they said do you regret it? And he said, well, I don’t know. So, to present this as them shooting in self-defense is really a stretch of — Really a stretch of what was going on. And also, you know, with the issue of the snipers, you know, if they were standing on buildings as many people have alleged, the buildings are on the presidential palace were being guarded by Chavez’s guards because of the severity of the situation. So, if snipers had access to the top of these buildings, it — You know, and, again, I’d like the ask and I would challenge here the government to investigate what it was. I mean, it is the government’s responsibility to investigate who the snipers were. And to this day, we don’t know who the snipers were.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandra Beech, just a question. Would you character what Happened on April 11, April 12 as a coup?

ALEXANDRA BEACH: You know, your producer asked me that question — Your producer asked me that question yesterday on the phone and I think it is an important question and I would almost have to speak to everyone involved to say yes or no. And my visceral reaction is that it wasn’t premeditated because of the irrationality of the events of those two days. I absolutely don’t agree and I don’t know anyone that agrees with what the interim government did, reacted to on those days. Was it a military reaction? Yes. Was it a military reaction to a chaotic situation in which people were dropping dead on both sides? Yes. It was a military reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: And Carmona, his role? What about that?

ALEXANDRA BEECH: Carmona, I feel sorry for him, really. The guy is teaching a college course in Bogota, Colombia, and I don’t think he has many friends because of what he did on that day. I dont’ think I can say a lot about him. Obviously he had no political experience or business being in that presidential palace and that just shows that it was — I don’t know what the American expression is of [Spanish phrase] you know, people were make decisions as events happened and most of the decisions were extremely bad ones.

JUAN GONZALES: The thing that strikes me — Latin America has had conflicts, has had revolutions, has had polarized societies in many countries over the years. But the astounding thing to me in this particular situation is the role of the mass media, that in essence, clearly by the — by that televised shot the day afterwards, that the Gustavo Cisneros and Univision were active participants, not just in terms of reporting the events, but they were apparently participants and conspirators in the decision.

And that’s why when you say everything was televised, everything was televised except perhaps the most important day of the events which was the day of the coup itself.

ALEXANDRA BEECH: I actually have a little contention with that because one of the things that we have — One of the phenomenon that we have in Venezuela and you sort of have to live there to understand why it is a phenomenon, is the government can force privately-owned networks at any point, any time of day to air what its content — Whatever is airing on state television. So between April 8 and April 11, Chavez used this mechanism 31 times and then two times on April 11, he forced networks to air his speeches.

Now, normally that mechanism is in place obviously for national security. But Chavez uses it to talk about his daughter’s turtle or to talk about his sex life or whatever. So, on that evening, we were watching television, those of us that weren’t on the streets.

I have friends also on the street. But we were watching television. When Chavez came on television and said everything was normal. Now article 58 of our Constitution, which calls for [speaking in Spanish], you know, if you want to translate that...

JUAN GONZALES: A timely and truthful Information.

ALEXANDRA BEECH: ...the networks used that to split the screen, had Chavez talk on one side and people dropping on the other. Then Chavez immediately cut the signals of all the private television networks. I think there have been sins on both sides.

AMY GOODMAN: Just speeding this up because we have one more guest to talk about the issue of censorship and that is Steve Rendell, going to another movie and that is the one that CBS has just pulled.

EVA GOLINGER-MONCADA: Well, I think it is integral and imperative to point out that the private media have a museum on information and they don’t ever broadcast any of the government’s achievements, anything about pro-government supporters, which is part of the reason why the government has been forced to use their state channel and occasionally on important — During important events to use national broadcasting method where they cut into private channels, which is something that I think most countries have anyway. But Chavez doesn’t use it frivolously. That is a ridiculous allegation.

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