Desperate for control of Venezuela’s oil, the Trump administration is going all-out to install a far-right puppet regime in Caracas by backing a military coup.
If you’ve followed the Venezuelan crisis, you’ve read some variant of this line a dozen times this week. It’s important — crucial — that you understand it for what it is: Venezuelan regime propaganda, carefully designed to resonate with reasonable people around the globe, for the sole purpose of keeping a dictatorship in power.
It’s effective because it’s enticing.
To millions of Americans on the center and the left scarred by the memories of past U.S. overseas adventures gone wrong, the message resonates with deeply held political ideals. To many Latin Americans schooled on stories of a hundred years of U.S. imperial overreach in the region, it strikes a deep chord of injured national pride.
But to many Venezuelans — the hundreds of thousands protesting in the streets or watching events from afar after being forced to migrate — the propaganda is easy to spot.
Why? Because Venezuelans have a hyper-developed nose for it. We’ve been on the receiving end of an avalanche of state-sponsored manipulation, day in and day out, for 20 years. We now have decades of experience seeing how a regime that tramples democratic liberties can weaponize anti-Americanism, turning it into a club to beat those who call out state abuses.
If you haven’t lived in Venezuela, it’s difficult to conceive how relentless the regime’s propaganda machine can be. On radio, TV, Twitter and Facebook, in state newspapers, websites, advertising billboards, the drip-drip-drip of propaganda never lets up. The regime of Nicolás Maduro is happy to let its hospitals fall into hopeless disrepair, but not its propaganda arm: it spends lavishly on a sprawling set of outlets piping this message relentlessly both internally and to a foreign audience.
Which is why messages that sound radical and defiant in the United States sound stale to Venezuelan ears. We know the score by now; we see the way Maduro exploits your instincts ruthlessly to provide rhetorical cover to a cruel, murderous dictatorship.
What’s dismaying is how effective the anti-imperialist line remains. We understand why the line works. Like all effective propaganda, it’s a fiction built around a grain of truth. America genuinely does have a terrible record of intervention in Latin America. Maduro’s communications handlers realize that to be effective, propaganda has to be believable.
But the regime leans hard on this line because it’s out of options. Stigmatizing its opponents as American stooges is the last line of rhetorical defense available to a regime that has crossed every red line imaginable — it has artlessly rigged elections, stripped the elected legislature of all its powers, imprisoned its opponents, run torture chambers and set up death squads. The regime doesn’t have very many good lines it can use to rally its left-wing sympathizers abroad. The one line it can always fall back on, no matter how bad things get, is the U.S.-backed coup line.
Venezuelans may, by now, be deeply inured to the Maduro regime’s propaganda lines. Americans, for their part, need to play catch-up. Venezuelans long ago caught on that when you parrot the regime’s propaganda lines, you do the dictator’s work for him. America’s dark history in the region has nothing to do with the reason these lines are being trotted out today.
And so, when you find yourself about to repeat a line conceived by the Venezuelan dictatorship to help keep itself in power, just stop a second and realize what’s actually happening. You are on the verge of turning yourself into an ally of Maduro’s torturers, of his death squads, of the people who have looted Venezuela and forced millions to flee for their lives. When you parrot Maduro’s propaganda, you become Maduro’s ally.
Francisco Toro is Chief Content Officer of the Group of 50 and a contributing columnist for Post Opinions.