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Hugo Chavez Owns the Message: Telesur’s Global Reach

By John Sweeney

15.11.05 | Do you consider yourself to be an opponent of President Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution? If the answer is yes, then you had better start watching Telesur every day for at least an hour. A primary rule of warfare is you had better know your enemy, what he looks like, how he thinks, and how he fights. If you’re opposed to Chavez so much that you refuse to view or listen to the propaganda his Bolivarian revolution is churning out 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, then you’ve already lost the war and Chavez is the victor.

The endless harangues and monologues that characterize Alo Presidente, the weekly television program in which Chavez serves as talk-show host, producer, content director and chief cheerleader of the revolution may be tiresome for Venezuelans that have endured 239 editions of the show. There’s a lot about Telesur that also beggars the mind and strains one’s attention span. However, the news programs and political documentaries reveal the ideological core of Telesur’s editorial message, which can be summarized as follows:

• The United States is a criminal, terrorist, imperialist global oppressor.

• Capitalism and free trade are responsible for the abject poverty in which billions of humans live.

• The FTAA is a U.S. conspiracy to enslave Latin America.

• The third world is poor because the U.S. stole the third world’s natural resources and has created institutions like the International Monetary Fund that exist only to keep the poor in abeyance.

• Socialism is good, almost God-like.

• It’s all right if you hate Americans in particular and the rich in general.

Telesur has been compared with Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab television network that dominates the broadcast ether in the Muslim world. We disagree with that comparison. Telesur is a more ambitious initiative. By 2008 Telesur will be broadcasting from space to every country in the world, thanks to Chinese communications satellite technology and Washington, D.C.-based American capitalists who know a great profit opportunity when they see one – and Chavez promises huge profits. Chavez has billions of dollars in cash that he is spending freely to advance his Bolivarian revolution to a final bloody confrontation with the “Gringo” empire.

Telesur’s current program content is in Spanish, and its primary audience is in Latin America. In a few years, however, we expect that Telesur will be broadcasting in other languages because Chavez sees his Bolivarian revolution as a global popular revolt of the poor and oppressed against the wealthy industrialized west.

On Sunday November 13 we watched the interaction between Chavez’s “Alo Presidente” program, which is broadcast in Venezuela (and reportedly in Cuba too), and the Telesur broadcast we receive via our local cable television provider. While Chavez ranted on “Alo Presidente” for close to seven hours, Telesur was broadcasting a documentary about the war in Iraq that showed U.S. soldiers pointing weapons at kneeling Iraqis, funerals of dead Iraqis, protests against the U.S. in which protestors took turns denouncing the U.S. as a terrorist imperialist oppressor and similar snippets portraying the U.S. as an evil regime and punctuated by comments from a political analyst who urged all viewers to prepare for the coming asymmetric war against the United States.

As Chavez closed “Alo Presidente” with a performance by a group of African musicians in Caracas for an African cultural festival, Telesur started its late afternoon news broadcast in which parts of “Alo Presidente” were shown as news segments. These snippets showed Chavez in Mar del Plata calling the U.S. president and Canadian Prime prime minister extortionists and gangsters (patoteros) to their faces. The editorial slant to the news broadcast was that Chavez had killed and buried the FTAA in Mar del Plata. For a new television network that just started broadcasting in October it was fairly sophisticated, certainly on a par with anything we saw at, say, NBC Canal de Noticias which used to broadcast regionally in the 1990s but was taken off the air in 1997.

The Bush administration plans to beam a U.S. government-sourced television broadcast signal into Venezuela to counter the anti-U.S. messages and themes of Telesur. Given the hemispheric and trans-Atlantic reach that Telesur has already achieved, the Bush administration’s counter-propaganda initiative is analogous to killing elephants with a flyswatter. Chavez is already reaching eastern European countries with Telesur. As the old U.S. saying goes, the Bush administration’s “strategy” to counter Telesur is a day late and a dollar short.

Telesur is beaming its 24-hour broadcast from NSS-806, which is located at 319.5E (40.5W). New Skies Satellites, Inc., the owner of NSS-806, describes the bird as a high-power satellite that has “virtually complete coverage of North, Central and South America, while also reaching the Iberian Peninsula, the Canary Islands, Western Europe and much of Eastern Europe.” Telesur claims its broadcast now can be watched in more than 20 countries. NSS-806 can reach 50 countries, including over 21 million households in Latin America.

Chavez didn’t have to shop around much to find New Skies. The company’s vice president of Latin American and Caribbean sales, Dolores Martos (dmartos@newskies.com), works out of the company’s Washington Office which is located at 2001 L Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C., 20037, Telephone (0202) 478-7100 and Fax (202) 478-7101.

According to New Skies’ website, “Ms. Martos joined New Skies Satellites after an 18-year career in Intelsat, where she was the Director of the Latin American Sales & Marketing Group 1994 to 1998. Prior to her role in Sales and Marketing, Ms. Martos held the position of System Planning Supervisor in charge of medium-term worldwide planning for the Intelsat system, having also the responsibility for providing market demand studies in support of new satellite procurements. From 1981 to 1986, Ms. Martos worked in the Operations Division. From 1976 to 1981, Ms. Martos was the Intelsat Operations Representative at the Venezuelan Telecommunications Company (CANTV) and was responsible for planning and operational activities as well as relations with foreign correspondents. Ms. Martos holds a degree in Electronic Engineering mention cum laude from Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, Venezuela (1976).”

Telesur started broadcasting a full menu of daily news programs on October 31. Its news coverage started with reports about planned protests against President Bush at the Mar del Plata summit last week. In its first news program from Caracas, Telesur also reported on Venezuela's offer to supply cheap fuel to crisis-stricken Haiti.

The aim of the channel is to offer an alternative to “dominant, hegemonic U.S. networks like CNN and Fox News,” according to a recent news report that cited Telesur executives. The U.S. government says it is a propaganda tool for President Chavez. Telesur has correspondents in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and the U.S. In countries where Telesur does not have correspondents yet it is working with local independent journalists.

Venezuela’s government owns 51% of the company that runs Telesur. The remainder is owned by the governments of Argentina (20%), Cuba (19%) and Uruguay (10%).

Telesur’s motto is “Our North is the South,” and its director-general Aram Aharonian says that Telesur’s mission is to “end the monolithic and hegemonic thinking imposed by the United States.”

Critics say Telesur should actually be called TeleChavez, since the initiative came from Chavez and the money is also coming from Venezuela. Reportedly, Cuba’s 19% stake in Telesur is being financed by the Chavez government through its bilateral deals with Havana.



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