The novelist, essayist, historian and playwright Luis Britto García is a titan of Latin American literature and thought, though he’s not nearly as well known on this side of the cultural border between “America” the country and América the continent. Many consider this prize-winning author the most important writer and intellectual in Venezuela. In addition to his novels and many other books on language, culture and politics, Britto García has written extensively on the role of the media in Venezuelan politics. Last month, Nation contributor Roberto Lovato met with Britto García, 73, in his home in Caracas to talk about the role of the media in the current conflict.
Roberto Lovato: You’ve written a lot about the media and politics in Venezuela. How are the media behaving in the current conflict?
Luis Britto García: The current situation in Venezuela has a historical context that must be understood. During the previous coup attempt, in 2002, the television networks in particular played a determining role in what amounted to a media coup. The media themselves became political actors, something I’ve documented in my book Media Dictatorship . Just consider, for example, how the Carmona decree—in which the coup leaders essentially gutted the Constitution—was signed by representatives of the major media. This same media also edited out images, stories and facts that didn’t fit their narrative. During the coup, the television crews even showed up before the repressive acts were performed by the coup leaders.
And how are things similar or different today?
In this current coup attempt, the television networks have adopted a different tone, but the radio and social media and international press are playing a leading role, using images of repression in Egypt, Syria, the United States and other countries to depict supposed repression in Venezuela. Look, for example, how a few hundred violent students come to symbolize “students,” “youth” and “the country.”
Are you saying images of rock-throwing, tire-burning youth are inaccurate or fake?
No. I’m saying we’re a country of 29 million inhabitants. I’m saying that in Venezuela, nine and a half million Venezuelans are studying. Of these, more than 2.5 million are in higher education. What does that mean? That almost one in ten Venezuelans are in higher education. The overwhelming majority of them are in perpetually free institutions. This whole image that the media try to convey of a “student rebellion,” which [jailed opposition leader] Leopoldo López tries to project—the image that all youth are against the government, against [President Nicolás] Maduro, against Bolivarianism—is absolutely false. Yes, clearly there are young people who are against the government, for various reasons. We’re a free country, and people can think however they like. But it’s just a fraction, a small minority of the entire student population—something the international media aren’t reporting.
And what else do you see being edited out of the current Venezuela story in the media?
There’s an important split in the right that is also not being reported. To begin with, they’ve lost eighteen of the last nineteen major elections—and they’ve protested all of them, except the single referendum that they won. It’s also important to point out that López is being projected as the latest in a long line of messiahs of the right, even though he doesn’t even pull together the vast majority of the [voters] of the right. The right supported [former presidential candidate Henrique] Capriles Radonski in three elections, and he lost all of them. In the internal elections of the right, López ended up in third place; I think he got something like 2 percent of eligible voters. So, like I told you, the right wing in Venezuela is very divided. It plays with a messiah who’s going to hand them an instant paradise, and if he doesn’t do it, they become disillusioned, disenchanted with him, which is precisely what will happen with López, who has a strong rift with Capriles. López and his ally, María Corina Machado, another extreme right-winger, have chosen the option of desperate street violence. Capriles, meanwhile, has cautioned against “generating false expectations of change through street actions.”