Media Representation of Venezuela's 2019 Political Crisis
Our analysis included selecting two or three sources from each region- Venezuela's local media, US media, and non-Western news media- and analyzing each source's day-of and day-after coverage or prominent explainer pieces. Within the coverage, we scrutinized headlines, choice of language, order of information, sources, photos and videos.
Analysis of the Venezuelan presidential crisis is important because Venezuelan politics is a flashpoint for American and international media, evoking enduring Cold War political dynamics. News coverage also has significant influence not only on how a country perceives the events happening within its borders, but can serve to justify foreign intervention among the international community.
On January 23, 2019, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro faced one of the most severe challenges to his authority since assuming power in 2013. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, backed by the United States and other Western hemisphere countries, declared himself the country's interim president, arguing that Maduro's re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
The declaration came a week after Maduro was sworn in for a controversial six-year term, following an election in 2018 largely boycotted and considered fraudulent by the opposition and international observers.
The government insisted that the election was legitimate and that the rival forces boycotted the process because they knew they didn't stand a chance to win. It was also argued that the legitimacy of an election didn't depend on international recognition.
Venezuela's opposition, supported by a large part of the international community, argued that Maduro's reelection was illegal due to irregularities in the process. During the election, most of the candidates who could have contended against the ruling party were barred from running. The US, the Organization of the American States (OAS), eleven members of the 14-nation Lima Group, EU members, and several civil organizations, said Maduro's win did not meet international standards.
On January 10, 2019, the National Assembly proceeded and declared the presidency vacant. According to Venezuela's constitution, if the presidency falls in an illegitimate condition, the President of the National Assembly is allowed to take power. Juan Guaido said he was ready to lead the country to conditions where free and fair elections could be held.
Maduro accused Guaido of leading a US-backed coup, while adding that the US and other countries were waging an economic war aimed at removing him from power.
On December 6th, 1998, Venezuela elected Hugo Chavez, an "anti-neoliberal" president, with a commanding 56 percent.
Before Chavez's rise, Venezuela's society was already disillusioned with the political establishment. They had lost confidence in the two main political parties, Democratic action (AD) and the Independent Political Organizing Committee (COPEI).
Both parties had dominated the political scene since the inception of Venezuela's democracy in 1958. But deep fissures started to emerge in the 1980s, following a crash in oil prices where exporting countries such as Venezuela experienced huge economic strain.
In 1989, the newly elected administration of Carlos Andres Perez implemented IMF-backed austerity measures that included the removal of gasoline subsidies. In a oil rich country, these subsidies were considered fundamental in the lives of all Venezuelans.
When riots started, the government panicked and responded by instituting martial law. A week later, in an event that later became known as "El Caracazo," hundreds, and thousands by some accounts, were killed, crippling Perez's political capital. By early 1990, voter absenteeism rose. Many, especially people from the lower class, felt betrayed by an increasingly corrupt government who seemed to be disconnected from their needs.
A story of coups
In 1992, Chavez led a coup against then-President Perez. The coup failed and Chavez surrendered. Speaking live on TV, he called on his followers to surrender while adding he had failed only "for now." This line resonated.
Chavez was pardoned two years later by then President Rafael Caldera, and after being released he began a grassroots political campaign. He became president four years later. Chavez, who came from a poor family, won on the promises of founding a new republic that would leave behind the corruption and injustice of the old one.
In the early days of his ruling, Chavez enjoyed popularity levels of 80 percent or more. But in 2002, he faced one of his biggest tests, when military officers briefly ousted him out in their own coup in 2002. In the next 72 hours, a counter-coup by loyalist troops, followed by demonstrations, restored him to power.
“Before [the coup attempt], he didn’t say he was from right or left,” Alberto Barrera, who penned the book Hugo Chavez Without Uniform said. Chavez “radicalized in 2002”.  Chavez used the incident to label his opponents as coup-mongers.
The government instituted a series of wide-scale social programs designed to redistribute wealth and power downwards.
High oil prices followed by economic crisis
A decade of high oil prices allowed Chavez to spend huge amounts of money on social programs. This included his famous slum "missions" that provided education, medical services and subsidized food to low-income communities.
During his mandate, human development rose by 22 percent. Chavez was re-elected in 2006 and subsequently in 2012.
During his rule the price of key items, food and medicines was reduced, but their cost was below the cost of production. Private companies were expropriated, and when it became difficult for the remaining companies to produce their own products, the government imported food from abroad, relying on oil money. 
Chavez ruled until his death in 2013. His then vice-president, Nicolas Maduro, was elected on the promise of continuing his "Boliviarian Revolution."
By the time Maduro took power, in 2013, the oil-reliant economy was already in trouble. In 2014, when oil prices dropped again, businesses were no longer able to import goods, leading to hyperinflation and a shortage of goods.
According to analysts, the contraction of the GDP between 2013 and 2017 was more severe than that of the US during the Great Depression, or Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In subsequent years Maduro has faced street protests and several times his government cracked down on protesters. The crisis continues with millions of Venezuelans having fled soaring inflation, food and medicine shortages, and unemployment.
During Chavez's administration, the state assumed the role of social regulator in the transformation of the existing communicative scene. Their aim was to create a new context that guaranteed the representation of the political project over others in Venezuelan society. Under this government, the purpose of the media was to defend the State, given that it focused on the public good.
Once Chavez was officially in power, the independent media began to criticize his role, much like other outlets would criticize other Latin American governments. The press grew concerned over Chavez's policies, fearing that his model could ruin the economy and Venezuela's democracy.
The government responded by making laws that limited media organizations. Chavez would also confront publications by calling out reporters by name, and with polarization increasing, journalists were regularly attacked by his supporters. In 2001, Chavez introduced a rule that established that media could face consequences for telling "half-truths". In 2002, the headquarters of the newspaper El Universal was attacked by hundreds of supporters, and the headquarters of the newspaper Así Es la Noticia was bombed.
In 2002's coup d'etat, media outlets took an active role in its promotion. TV Channel Venevision ran a ticker-tape on its screen stating "Venezuela recovered its liberty" while coup leaders were invited on air and thanked the media for their cooperation. Other networks did the same; a RCTV director was told to put "zero Chavismo on screen".
The country’s national newspapers also participated. El Nacional's front page on the day before the coup read, "take to the streets, not one step backwards" and "the final battle will be at the Miraflores [presidential palace]!". Most private TV networks suspended regular broadcasts to beseech viewers to head out to the streets to overthrow the government.
As a result, Chavez adopted a strategy aimed at achieving full control of media. Out of the four independent television channels, RCTV, stopped transmitting once the government refused to renew its license in 2007. Venevision and Televen prevailed by toning down their coverage and eliminating controversial opinion programs. Globovision, a 24-hour news channel, was bought by a businessman close to the government, after its previous owners said harassment from the government had destroyed its financial and journalistic viability.
The three private television stations provided minimal coverage of the opposition and the protests that followed in later years.
The newspaper El Universal was considered a pro-opposition newspaper that maintained a conservative editorial stance critical of President Chavez's policies. In 2014, it was announced that after 105 years of ownership, the Mata family had sold a controlling stake in the newspaper to a Spanish investment firm linked to the Venezuelan government.
El Nacional is a publishing company under the name C.A. Editorial El Nacional. It is widely known for the El Nacional newspaper and website. Founded in 1943, it traditionally supported the beliefs of the moderate left and the middle class.
In 2018 it published its last print edition after struggling under governmental pressure and a dire economic situation. It transitioned to a web format under elnacional.com.
El Nacional has been subjected to multiple criticisms. In 1998, it was criticized for an editorial agenda that openly backed Hugo Chavez during his presidential campaign in 1998. Meanwhile in 2002, after disputes between the paper's editor and the government, the publication celebrated the coup. Critics called this move evidence of the publication placing politics over objectivity.
By the time El Nacional halted its print publication, the outlet had joined the more than dozen local newspapers that had also ceased circulation due to a lack of imported paper and the economic crisis affecting media companies across the country.
Miguel Henrique Otero, the editor of El Nacional, left the country in May 2015 after the government launched a lawsuit against him.
Telesur is a Caracas-based pan-Latin American channel founded in 2005 by Chavez with the goal of becoming a regional "alternative" competitive to American news outlet CNN. It offers a left-wing view of Latin American and global affairs that aligns with the policies of its original founders and sponsors. Among them, Chavez's Venezuela and the governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua and Argentina.
Depending on who writes the reviews, Telesur is perceived as either a pioneering and much needed media voice or a mere propaganda tool for Chavez and his political allies.
“The motto of Telesur itself is ‘our North is the South’. That is to say that the objective is to tell the South about the South, by the South itself. It’s something that’s never been done in the past," said Francisco Dominguez, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University.
Telesur also has a digital presence under telesurtv.net that is primarily funded by the government of Venezuela with some additional funding by the neighboring governments of Cuba and Nicaragua.
In January 23, 2019, when opposition figure Juan Guaido assumed the role of interim president, the fast-moving developments convulsed the country and the narrative in the local landscape split.
The media battle took place with the imagery, headlines, and the narrative used inside the country. For this analysis at the local level, we take a look at the coverage offered by Telesur and El Nacional on January 23, 2019 and January 24, 2019.
Both publications took very different approaches to the same event. Due to its nature, Telesur adopted a line that was aligned with the government, while El Nacional adopted an agenda that reflected the opinion shared by the rival forces.
Therefore, if we take a look at El Nacional's coverage from the angle of character casting, it is easy to see that Guaido is the protagonist of the story.
"El Nacional, for some time now, has made the editorial decision to [be very critical] of the regime of Nicolas Maduro," Jose Meza, Head of Content of El Nacional said. "This was a position that evolved in time [but in 2019] the editorial line was very clear," he added.
This is evident in analyzing the headlines that dominated El Nacional's website in the first two days of the event.
|Jan 23, 2019||Guaido was sworn in as interim president|
|Jan 23, 2019||January 23, 2019, a milestone in the future of Venezuela|
|Jan 23, 2019||Which countries recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president?|
|Jan 23, 2019||Juan Guaido thanks Trump for his support|
|Jan 23,2019||Denmark recognizes Guaido as the interim president|
|Jan 23, 2019||Juan Guaido takes over the covers of all international newspapers|
|Jan 23, 2019||Citizens flood the streets of Caracas to reject Maduro|
|Jan 24, 2019||Why is Guaido recognized as the interim president in Venezuela?|
|Jan 24, 2019||Switzerland has recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president|
|Jan 24, 2019||Italy's Prime Minister requests respect to the will of the Venezuelan people [|
There were two main editorial lines. One highlighted the ceremony where Guaido announced his interim presidency in the streets, focusing on his first declarations. At the same time, it also provided legal analysis, while analyzing the impact of the event and the reactions of the population. The second editorial line focused on international recognition, which was crucial in Guaido's campaign.
The reports also highlighted Guaido's "determination and bravery," while also constructing the image of a responsible but fresh leader who was willing to sacrifice his safety for the public.
In the first reports, a big emphasis was put on the legal justification of his interim presidency while Nicolas Maduro and his government were excluded. In-depth analysis was also provided surrounding the relevance of the event and its impact on the people.
El Nacional also highlighted the humanitarian crisis the country was facing. In 2019 according to statistics provided by the United Nations, about a quarter of Venezuela's 30-million-strong population was in need of aid, while 3.3 million had left the country since the beginning of 2016. 
Telesur adopted a very different narrative. While El Nacional seemed to be preparing to portray a new national hero, for Telesur the main protagonists were the president, the country, the government, and the supporters that were facing a group of traitors financed by the US
In its coverage, Telesur emphasized the role of the US while giving little to no importance to Guaido.
Guaido was mentioned but he was not part of the lead, and his actions were portrayed as yet another attempt to deligitimize the government. Telesur immediately referred to him as a "self-proclaimed" interim president, while El Nacional embraced the role.
"We never used the label of 'self-proclaimed interim president', in our coverage," Jose Meza from El Nacional said. "We recognized Guaido's role, we assumed it, and from there onward the line of calling the government of Maduro a regime took hold."
One of the key elements that the news agency highlighted was the military force's support for the government. Telesur understood that without it, Guaido's cause was lost. It was impossible for Guaido to move forward with his agenda without the control of the forces.
The agency also highlighted the government's reaction while quoting Maduro who focused more on the US rather than in his immediate challenger.
"The President denounced a direct attempt from the US Executive... to impose a 'puppet government' in Venezuela," Telesur reported. "The US [wants Venezuela's] oil, gas, and gold. We tell them: these riches are not yours, they belong to the people of Venezuela and it will be that way forever," Maduro said, as quoted by the news agency.
The main line was to highlight Maduro's leadership and his fight to defend the country's sovereignty. In some ways, Maduro was perceived as a sort of hero and leader while Telesur continued to emphasize the legality of his presidency.
Telesur also covered the international reaction but mainly reported on the countries that supported Venezuela's government; among those, Cuba, Russia, and Iran.
In its headlines Telesur, also seemed to play with semantics and at some point seemed to suggest that the opposition forces were opposing not only the government but the country. The news agency also highlighted the bad experiences Venezuelans were having abroad.
Both agencies told the story centering on their main characters. Both plots included a hero and an antihero and in some ways they mirrored each other while taking opposite perspectives.
The use of images was also crucial in this coverage. El Nacional chose images that highlighted Guaido and the people's support.
Guaido was shown in different angles and with different elements. In some photos he was seen holding the constitution, in other he was portrayed with his hand near his heart, he was also surrounded by members of the National Assembly, and in other shots he was shown with the flag and the image of Simon Bolivar.
He was defiant but respectful of the rules, he was portrayed as a team player, and he was in line with the national symbols.
The use of national symbols was something that Chavez institutionalized in his media campaigns but those were also later embraced by the opposition.
In his first appearance, Guaido showed in a suit. The government implemented a more casual approach to to the investiture of the president. But as Guaido himself explained in several different interviews, wanted to return to a more formal approach, but one that was not disconnected from the people.
Telesur instead chose to focus on the President, the military, and members of the government. Perhaps more importantly, it chose to focus on the supporters who were often showed protesting in the streets wearing their trademark traditional red color.
There were few images depicting Guaido, but often, those images were below headlines that accused him of orchestrating a coup. The images that showed Maduro portrayed him either with casual attire or wearing his investiture at the time of acceptance of his reelection.
Maduro was also shown surrounded by his supporters and collaborators, and at times during the crisis he was also portrayed in direct connection with the military. This was a very important message that the government kept transmitting.
US Media Coverage
US mainstream media coverage of Venezuela has been widely criticized over the last several decades for its biased representations of Venezuelan political issues. Major media outlets have been criticized for neglecting to report on positive social and economic improvements in the country under Chavez and for supporting the US's political agenda in Latin America.
On January 23, 2019, Maduro announced that Venezuela was breaking ties with the US after Trump announced the US's recognition of Guaido as Venezuela's leader.
A study done by FAIR found that over a three month period (January 15, 2019 to April 15, 2019) not a single opinion piece in opposition to regime change in Venezuela was published in American mainstream media. The study cites The New York Times and asserts "the elite media have worked strenuously to narrow the options available for consideration."
The New York Times
The New York Times is a US based daily newspaper with the 3rd highest circulation in the country and 18th highest circulation world-wide. As of November 2020, The New York Times has won 130 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper.
Founded in 1851, The New York Times is jointly-owned by the publicly-traded New York Times Company and the Ochs-Sulzberger family. The New York Times is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family through privately-held Class B shares, currently chaired by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger. Mark Thompson became president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company in 2012.
The newspaper’s coverage is considered to have a center-left lean politically.
Although it is one of the most prominent news sources in the US, the New York Times has been subjected to a host of its own scandals, particularly when covering issues of international political interest to the US. In 2003, it openly supported the war in Iraq and has been accused by some critics of manufacturing consent of the public in major US foreign policy decisions.
The New York Times is also accused of being biased in its coverage of Venezuela, a charge which editor Margaret Sullivan addressed in a March 24, 2014 opinion piece. The Times openly supported the 2002 coup against then President Hugo Chavez. Critics evidence The New York Times' bias pointing to overly negative coverage of the country in general, the high prevalence of anti-government sourcing, and the tendency to stick with the US's dominant economic and political narrative. 
Voice of America
Voice of America (VOA) is a state-controlled international media organization. It is the largest US international broadcaster, headquartered in Washington D.C. and overseen by the US Agency for Global Media. It is paid for by federal funding. It was founded in 1942 as part of the World War II international anti-nazi effort. The VOA’s digital, TV, and radio content is currently broadcast around the world in 47 languages. Some consider Voice of America to be a form of government propaganda.
VOA, as state-sponsored media, provides more direct insight into the US Government's stance on the Venezuelan political crisis. Coverage provided by VOA can then be compared with US independent media to gauge how inline mainstream news reporting is with the US government's agenda.
The Intercept is an online-based politically alternative media organization under First Look Media, which is owned by eBay co founder Pierre Omidyar. The Intercept was first launched in February 2014 and is best known for reporting on the documents released by whistle-blower, Edward Snowden. As of 2016, the Intercept is also available in Portuguese. In addition to online written content, The Intercept produces four podcasts: Intercepted, Deconstructed, Murderville GA and Somebody.
The Intercept is highly critical of the actions of the US Government and is generally characterized by its far-left coverage of US actions. In August 2014, it was reported that members of the US military had been banned from reading The Intercept.
Providing coverage from The Intercept and commentary from editor, Jeremy Scahill’s podcast, Intercepted, provides a US-based perspective that is both highly critical and typically runs contrary to the US government official narrative. In addition to providing an additional view point on mainstream and state-coverage, the Intercept also largely focuses specifically on the US’s involvement in the Venezuelan political crisis.
The New York Times
The New York Times' January 23, 2019 explainer piece prominently quotes from sources that are in favour of Guaido. It quotes three sources that have a notable “pro-Maduro” stance and one somewhat neutral source. However, ten of the fourteen total quotes are either explicitly in support of Guaido or in clear opposition to Maduro. These quotes range from Guaido himself, to President Trump, to civilians in opposition to Maduro, to anti-Maduro members of Venezuela's National Assembly.
The word choice used by The New York Times to characterize Maduro or Guaido and their supporters within the article is also significant. Within the first paragraph it is highlighted that Guaido was “cheered on by thousands of supporters and a growing number of governments” underscoring his popularity and reinforcing notions of widespread support locally and internationally.
“The escalating showdown began with Mr. Guaido’s declaration to an enormous crowd of supporters in a downtown square…” and “As demonstrators sang the national anthem, Mr. Guaido announced…” deliberately highlighting the patriotic undertones of Guaido's announcement.
The language used around Maduro implies that of an angry, power-hungry and neglectful dictator. “Maduro responded furiously cutting diplomatic ties with the US” or highlighting how Maduro has demonstrated his “continued grip on power, he signed an order expelling American diplomats,” and the “once-prosperous country that has been devastated by years of political repression, economic mismanagement and corruption.”
The headlines in connection with the political crisis largely reflect the US's support of the opposition. They emphasize both the inevitability of the attempted overthrow of Maduro and the extreme state of disrepair of the nation.
|Online Release||New York Times Headlines|
|January 22, 2019||Pence Tells Venezuelans That US Backs Efforts to Oust Maduro (Print January 23, 2019)|
|January 22, 2019||As Venezuela Crumbles, a New Voice of Dissent Emerges (Print January 23, 2019)|
|January 22, 2019||How Juan Guaido Rose From Being Virtually Unknown to Lead Venezuela's Opposition (Printed under above title)|
|January 23, 2019||After US Back Juan Guaido as Venezuela's Leader, Maduro Cuts Ties (Print January 24, 2019)|
|January 23, 2019||The Crisis in Venezuela Was Years In the Making. Here's How it Happened. (Print January 24, 2019)|
|January 24, 2019||A Short, Simple Primer on What's Happening in Venezuela (Print January 25, 2019)|
|January 24, 2019||Can Venezuela Have a Peaceful Transition? (Print January 25, 2019)|
Voice of America
January 29, 2019 The Venezuela Crisis Explained
The article is structured as a Q&A, addressing a number of issues and identifying the relevant actors in the crisis. Under the question “Who is Maduro?” The Voice of America (VOA) article immediately refers to “Maduro, a socialist" and emphasizes his connection to Chavez, referring to Chavez as Maduro's mentor. The article goes on: "Maduro won his first election by a thin margin and was re-elected in a controversial poll in May 2018, in which most opposition candidates were either prevented from running or boycotted the race.”
The article emphasizes the controversial and uncertain stance of Maduro’s asserted legitimacy to rule, explicitly mentioning his political leanings. The significance of identifying Maduro as a socialist plays on Cold War sensibilities and a generally unfavourable depiction of left-wing ideology within the US.
The explainer piece addresses Trump's choice to support Guaido stating “the Trump administration has said the move was the only way to restore democracy to Venezuela. The Trump administration has also imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state-run oil company, saying it wants to preserve the assets for the Venezuelan people," and sites that "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Maduro and his allies have long used the state oil company as a vehicle for corruption and embezzlement.” This underscores that the need to impose sanctions on Venezuela stem from the US’s desire to reinstate democracy in the country.
Guaido is characterized throughout the article as a previously unknown, young, and increasingly popular man of faith who appeals to the democratic sensibilities presumably held by most Americans.
The first headlines following Guaido's announcement reveal a similar theme - the onus remains on Maduro in disrupting US diplomatic ties, the conjuring of a sort of David and Goliath imagining of Guaido’s political face off with Maduro, the emphasis on Maduro’s unpopularity in his own country, and the international support of Guaido among prominent US allies.
|VOA News Headlines|
|January 23, 2019||Venezuela's Opposition Takes to Streets in Key Test|
|January 23, 2019||Venezuela's Maduro Breaks Off Diplomatic Ties With US|
|January 23, 2019||US Recognizes Venezuela's Opposition Leader As Interim President|
|January 24, 2019||Venezuela's Guaido Emerged From Obscurity to Challenge Maduro|
|January 24, 2019||Factbox: Guaido vs Maduro: Who is Backing Venezuela's Two Presidents|
|January 24, 2019||Venezuela Opposition in Push to Oust Maduro|
|January 24, 2019||Pope in Panama Blasts Corruption, Avoids Venezuela Crisis|
|January 24, 2019||US Orders Some Diplomats Out of Venezuela; Embassy to Remain Open|
|January 24, 2019||Britain, France Back Protests Against Venezuela's Maduro|
|January 24, 2019||VOA60 America - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says American diplomats are not leaving Venezuela|
|January 24, 2019||Venezuela Crisis: Familiar Geopolitical Sides Take Shape|
Intercept Editor, Jeremy Scahill, in a video summarizing the crisis, calls the US’s backing of Guaido an “opportunity to steal Venezuelan oil,” and “open imperialism.” The Intercept looks at the Venezuelan political crisis and its preceding economic crisis as largely the by-product of US foreign policy decisions.
The Intercept has been highly critical of The New York Times’ coverage of foreign affairs in the past; it’s coverage on Venezuela is no exception. As Scahill says “All across the so-called liberal media the reporting and analysis of Venezuela has been atrocious.” The critical coverage continues, saying that The New York Times openly supported the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez and says that there has “been a uniformity of the suffering and chaos as the sole fault of Nicolas Maduro” within mainstream media.
The Intercept’s February 2, 2019 explainer “The US Helped Push Venezuela Into Chaos- and Trump’s Regime Change Policy Will Make Sure It Stays That Way” opens with “Washington has been trying to topple Venezuela’s government for at least 17 years.”
The Intercept does not take a stance on whether or not the 2018 reelection of Maduro was legitimate, but argues that the political divide in Venezuela will only worsen with US involvement and points to the US’s oil interests in the country to explain the prompt and outspoken support of Guaido.
The Intercept looks at the US’s role in exacerbating the economic crisis in Venezuela rather than highlighting Maduro’s mismanagement or corruption as mainstream outlets and the VOA have done. “Though the [Maduro] government’s economic policies have played a role in Venezuela’s woes, the Trump sanctions have made things considerably worse since August 2017, decimating the oil industry and worsening shortages of medicine that have killed many Venezuelans. The Trump sanctions also make it nearly impossible for the government to take the necessary measures to exit from hyperinflation and depression.”
Other articles featured shortly after Guaido’s proclamation include a piece by Jon Schwarz published on January 30, 2019 entitled “Elliott Abrams, Trump’s Pick to Bring ‘Democracy’ to Venezuela Has Spent His Life Crushing Democracy - The choice of Abrams sends a clear message: The Trump administration intends to brutalize Venezuela, while proclaiming our love for human rights.” The article spends little time detailing the Venezuelan political crisis but points to Abram’s record of supporting human rights atrocities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Iran, Israel and Palestine, and Venezuela in the early 2000’s to highlight it’s grim predictions for US involvement in the current crisis.
The New York Times
The New York Times' image choice subtly but pointedly reflects positive associations with Guaido and indications of his widespread support. The photograph featured on the top of the page beneath the headline is an aerial shot of a large crowd of Venezuelan opposition supporters filling the lanes of a highway overpass. The caption reads “Supporters of the Venezuelan opposition marching in Caracas on Wednesday, the anniversary of the 1958 uprising that overthrew the military dictatorship.” The word choice used (“supporters” in lieu of “protestors”) and the drawing of anti-dictatorial parallels are significant.
The way the photo is cropped adds to the sense of expansiveness of the crowd's size. The number of supporters cannot fit within the chosen frame, implying that Guaido is widely supported by the Venezuelan public.
The series of images placed two-thirds of the way down the page represent Maduro and his supporter’s side of the crisis. The photo captioned “Supporters of Mr. Maduro at a pro-government rally in Caracas on Wednesday” show a smaller crowd of people gathered wearing red and brown uniforms. The choice to use a photograph of Maduro’s supporters in uniform signal to the viewer that Maduro represents the establishment, the status-quo, and militarism.
The final image shows a van that has been set on fire in the middle of a highway by opposition supporters. The paragraph immediately following this last image reads “‘People had lost faith,’ said Maria Amelia da Silva, 54, at one of the outdoor town hall-style meetings… ‘Then a leader emerged, and this new leader has become our biggest hope.’” The placement of this specific text beneath this final photograph cues audiences into the justified nature of the civil unrest that they are being shown. Unlike selective imagery used in other protest situations to convey a sense of lawlessness and chaos, the placement and text support of this last image suggests people are taking back power from a previously "hopeless" situation.
Voice of America
The first photograph featured on the Voice of America explainer article of the crisis is another photograph of the raised right hands of Guaido’s many supporters. Showing a large crowd in a peaceful but strongly symbolic gesture of support.
The next photograph chosen is one of Juan Guaido shaking hands with supporters. The caption states that he is “greet[ing] supporters as he leaves church after attending Mass in Caracas.” The use of an image of Guaido leaving a church specifically appeals to the US's religious demographics and adds a degree of holiness to Guaido's representation.
The January 30, 2019, The Intercepted podcast episode entitled “Donald Trump and the Yankee Plot to Overthrow the Venezuelan Government” is accompanied on their website by an illustration of Trump holding a gas pump in place of a gun to Maduro's head.
The Intercept’s February 2, 2019 explainer article, the sole image featured at the top of the article is a less favorable in its depiction of Guaido. The image is very dark and dramatic, displaying a shadowy profile of Guaido speaking into a microphone against a solid black background.The photo is ominous and is in stark contrast to the brightly lit photos of Guaido smiling and waving to crowds of supporters favoured by most mainstream outlets.
Significance of US Mainstream Coverage of Venezuela
Journalist, Alan MacLeod has been highly critical of US coverage in Venezuela. MacLeod highlights a number of possible causes for the mainstream media's tendency to, as he argues, reproduced the dominant US government narrative on the country.
MacLeod points to journalists' self-censorship to comply with editorial preferences, the reinforcement of prescribed narratives due to time constraints, over-reliance on newswires, stringers, and the recycling of old stories due to the high cost of original local reporting. For example, the Daily Telegraph generally republishes the same information as Reuters and AP. The New York Times regularly publishes Reuters newswires verbatim (or recycles the videos of the AP as seen in the Guaido coverage).
MacLeod adds that US economic values are somewhat enmeshed in mainstream media in part due to media owners' and advertisers power over coverage. "Fighting for survival, newspapers operating under a standard, advertising-based model simply cannot consistently take editorial positions against those of their advertisers, as they will leave and advertise somewhere else, leading to a terminal reduction in revenues. This situation has effectively given advertisers a veto over political content. Large corporate advertisers are hardly likely to want positive coverage of a government that expropriates businesses or raises taxes on the wealthy."
China and Turkey are both key trading partners and political allies of Venezuela.
China is Venezuela’s second largest trading partner, and Venezuela is China’s largest trading partner in South America. This relationship grew significantly during the Chavez presidency and the tenures of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao with the initiation of a “strategic development partnership” in 2001.
China exports a wide range of goods to Venezuela, the majority being construction materials, transportation vehicles, chemicals, and textiles. China also invests heavily in Venezuelan infrastructure projects, though these investments have become scarce in recent years due to the economic crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuela is China’s fourth largest supplier of oil. Many promises have been made over the years to increase the amount of oil exported to China, though there have been considerable practical and diplomatic obstacles.
There is also a significant Chinese diaspora in Venezuela, with government estimates placing the population around 500,000.
Despite their ideological differences, Turkey and Venezuela have become increasingly close since the 2016 coup attempt against the Erdogan regime.
The two countries engage in significant trade, with Venezuela sending gold to Turkey, and Turkey sending food and humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
There are allegations that the gold, which is supposed to be refined in Turkey and then sent back to Venezuela, is instead going to Iran. This would violate US sanctions.
It’s speculated that this relationship is also politically strategic for the two countries. Turkey could see a trade foothold in South America through Venezuela. Since right-wing governments have recently come into power in Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela is also in need of international allies.
Xinhua News Agency is the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China. The president of Xinhua is appointed by The State Council and holds a position in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Xinhua’s current president is He Ping, whose appointment was announced in October, 2020.
Xinhua is the most influential news agency in China, and operates as both a news organization and a publisher, with twenty newspapers and over a dozen magazines published in multiple languages. It is also the largest news organization in the world in terms of worldwide correspondents.
Despite widespread criticism for being a branch of the Chinese Communist Party, Xinhua operates worldwide and has agreements with news organizations like the Associated Press.
TRT World is the English-language arm of TRT, Turkey’s state-owned public broadcaster. Based in Istanbul, TRT World operates bureaus in Washington, Singapore, and London.
TRT World has been criticized for operating as a “mouthpiece” for the Erdogan regime in a country with a poor track record of press freedoms. In March 2020, the US government ordered TRT World to register as an agent of the Turkish state under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Xinhua’s day-of coverage places Maduro at the centre of the story. The headline foregrounds his name and his actions, and the header image is of Maduro standing on a balcony in front of the Venezuelan flag. The first four paragraphs of the article detail Maduro’s response and quote him multiple times.
The language used to describe Maduro implies power: he is "severing ties", he "commanded" US diplomats to leave, and his response is "strong."
Countries who support Maduro are highlighted. Though the majority of the Lima Group are supporting Guaido, the article makes prominent Bolivia and Mexico’s support of Maduro. The EU’s support of Guaido is framed as different from the US and Brazil because they fall short of recognizing him as the head of state. Though the number of countries who supported Guaido outnumber those who stood by Maduro, Xinhua’s coverage frames international reaction as “divided”. Exact numbers are not given.
The article continues to cut down Guaido’s claims by writing about his lack of military support.
“Interventionism” is mentioned in the third paragraph, and it is brought up again in a quote from the Vice President of Brazil, Hamilton Mourao. The quotes used from the Defense Minister and the chief of the strategic command of the Armed Forces reinforce the narrative of protecting Venezuela’s sovereignty from “dark interests.”
The article ends by providing some context for Maduro’s presidency, and reminding the reader of Maduro’s claim to power: his successful election for a second term, which he won with 67.84% of the vote. His connection to Chavez is also mentioned. The final paragraph focuses once more on US interference in Venezuela’s politics and economy.
The narrative of Maduro’s regime protecting the sovereignty of Venezuela is furthered in Xinhua’s next-day coverage.
The headline focuses on China’s support of Maduro, and frames Maduro’s position as synonymous with “safeguarding sovereignty, stability.”
No time is wasted in bringing in the other dominant narrative in their coverage, which is Venezuela and China’s staunch stance against foreign interference.
At this point, well over twenty countries have announced their support for Guaido, but here that is described merely as “the United States, Brazil and some other countries.”
Guaido’s claim to power is introduced with a slight qualifier: “according to media reports." At another point, his self-proclamation is described using the language of Venezuela’s supreme court: unconstitutional.
China’s position is framed as simultaneously supportive of Maduro (“safeguarding sovereignty, independence, and stability”), and benevolent: their Foreign Ministry spokesperson urges all parties to remain calm and rational.
The final paragraph reiterates the theme of non-interference in other country’s internal affairs.
|Jan 23, 2019||US recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader as nation’s “interim president”|
|Jan 23, 2019||Maduro severs ties with US after Washington recognizes Guaido as interim president|
|Jan 24, 2019||China voices support for Venezuela’s efforts in safeguarding sovereignty, stability|
|Jan 24, 2019||Turkey’s Erdogan expresses support for Venezuela’s Maduro|
TRT World’s day-of coverage highlights the drama of the Venezuelan presidential crisis. The headline frames the event as a showdown between two forces- though only one is named. By “claiming power”, Guaido is positioned as active in the headline, but he’s not actually named. He is merely referred to as Maduro’s “rival.”
Maduro’s choice to order diplomats to leave the country is given more weight than the US’s choice to recognize Guaido. Maduro is likewise given the first quotes in the section about his interactions with the US. Guaido is never quoted in this article. Guaido’s actions are described as having initiated death, disaster and division, and could bring the country into a “civil war.” Guaido’s declaration is prefaced with his support from the Trump administration. Allegations that Guaido is working in coordination with foreign actors, such as the US, are furthered in quotes from Turkish and Russian representatives. The United States’ history of interference in South America is also highlighted.
TRT’s coverage provides the reader with more information than Xinhua's coverage, even if that information clashes with the established narrative. While Russian and Turkish perspectives are foregrounded, the imbalance between the number of countries that are pro-Guaido and those that are pro-Maduro is made clear. Equal space is given to the position of Venezuela’s military, which is described as key to any change in government and staunchly aligned with Maduro. This is another opportunity for a quote accusing "obscure interests" of propping up Guaido.
Much like Xinhua’s coverage, the majority of the article focuses on high-level political and military responses. Discussion of how the people of Venezuela feel about Maduro and Guido, and how they have reacted to the news, is not prioritized. Such discussion is left to the last quarter of the article. Here, the focus is on casualties, rather than on the concerns or demands of the protesters. An opposition spokesperson is quoted first, followed by a Civil Protection officer from the state of Tachira. Both sources speak to the violence that has occurred at protest actions.
The economic context for Venezuela’s political crisis constitutes the last portion of the article. It is noted that Maduro has presided over Venezuela’s worst-ever economic crisis. Immediately after, Maduro is described as a “former bus driver,” despite the fact that Maduro has been involved in politics for well over 30 years.
TRT World’s next-day coverage focuses on the Venezuelan military’s response to Juan Guaido’s self-proclamation. This connects to their coverage from the previous day in which the importance of military support, and the military’s history of support for Maduro, was highlighted.
The headline reflects this, though there is one small difference: on January 25th, Guaido is named in the headline. He is no longer simply Maduro’s “rival.”
The drama from the previous day’s coverage has been toned down, but is still evident in the first few sentences: the opposition's hopes have been “dashed”, the Venezuelan government “lashed out” at its critics, Guaido was put “on the defensive.”
In nearly every sentence in which Guaido’s name appears, his connections to the US are also mentioned. In fact, US interference in Venezuela and Latin America as a whole is mentioned or alluded to over five times in the article.
This narrative is supported in quotes from the Venezuelan government and military, as well as foreign governments. Former US military personnel cast aspersions on the idea of intervention in Venezuela. The majority of those quoted in the article are either openly in support of Maduro, or criticizing the US’ support of Guaido. For the second day in a row, Guaido is not quoted. No Venezuelans speak in support of Guaido, only Americans do. When Venezuela’s economic crisis is written about, blame is pointed squarely at American interference.
|Jan 23, 2019||Clashes ahead of planned Venezuela protests kill at least four|
|Jan 24, 2019||Who are the two Venezuelan presidents?|
|Jan 24, 2019||Can Venezuela’s fraught opposition replace Maduro’s government?|
|Jan 24, 2019||What is Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution?|
|Jan 24,2019||The Secret history of US interventions in Latin America|
|Jan 25, 2019||Venezuela’s military stands with Nicolas Maduro against Guaido opposition|
The visuals in Xinhua’s day-of coverage likewise centre Maduro. Not only is his image used for the header image in the article, but images of Maduro outnumber those of Guaido.
The article alternates between images of the ‘two presidents’ before including two images of protesters. Both protest images were taken at rallies in support of Guaido’s opposition party. These images couldn’t be more different. In the first one, the opposition is literally faceless: a person wearing a full face mask with the Venezuelan flag printed on it is depicted in a low angle close-up, buildings visible behind them. They’re not looking at the camera, but looking off into the distance.
It’s only in the final image (of seven) that the people of Venezuela are depicted. A crowd at an opposition rally are jubilant, cheering and holding Venezuelan flags, depicted in a wide shot.
Xinhua's next-day coverage doesn't include any images.
Guaido is visually absent from TRT World’s day-of coverage, unless the reader watches the embedded videos. He appears once, briefly, in the second video embedded in the article.
Though his supporters are depicted in the article’s first image, the caption doesn’t make it clear to the readers that they are Guaido supporters. The caption merely notes that the military has supported Maduro through previous waves of protest. Aside from the first image, the rest of the photos of Guaido’s supporters are tense images, including ones of protesters confronting riot police, running away from tear gas canisters, and being shot at. Images that give the reader an idea of the scale of the pro-Guaido rallies are only included in the videos.
Maduro is depicted speaking at rallies and attending political functions in the article’s second image, and in the article’s first and second videos. Directly after the section detailing Venezuela-US relations is a picture of a pro-Maduro rally, showing a street packed with supporters wearing red and carrying flags, implying widespread support in the country.
The only photo in TRT World’s next-day article is the header image, which depicts Venezuelan General Vladimir Padrino Lopez speaking about the presidential crisis.
The above analysis reflects how local and international media framed one event from multiple perspectives, however, all stories were centered in the actions of two main characters.
Xinhua News and TRT World focused their coverage on Maduro's actions and allegations of US interference. This was used as an opportunity to remind their audiences that the governments of China and Turkey are opposed to 'foreign interference in domestic matters.'
In focusing so heavily on Maduro, their coverage obscured or at times even erased Guaido from the story.
These media outlets also framed this event as a political battle, devoting few words to the humanitarian emergency that the country was going through.
The New York Times and other mainstream US media outlets similarly focused so heavily on supporting the opposition movement in its coverage, that all nuance of Venezuela's domestic political situation was drowned out.
It also seems to dangerously set the stage for US intervention, highlighting Guaido as the leader the country really wants if only Maduro would step out of the way. US interests and historical interventions in the region also remain largely outside of the mainstream narrative.
Certain outlets in local media, at times, offered a more complete picture of the country's reality but quickly got immersed in a battle of narratives and influence.
At points the distinct coverages seemed to mirror each other but from very opposite perspectives, and in both realms, nationally and internationally, outlets also engaged in pushing some aspects of "propaganda," while trying to push for a specific vision.
The different narratives also further polarized the different impressions and representations, and in a local level at times that translated into further division within the population.
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