The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Before I leave for Hong Kong, I made sure that I caught this much-talked-about movie during its one-week run in New York City.  This movie is about the April 2002 coup in Venezuela, and is therefore bound to generate controversy.  Much of the criticism directed against this movie came from people who said that they haven't seen it; however, the opposition website El Gusano del la Luz has actually composed a detailed critique in the form of a petition.  It would be pointless to go over all the points, since the facts and arguments are rather academic and pedantic.  I'll use just one example:

The film insists that the President never resigned office. However, the military high command, lead by General in Chief Lucas Rincón, the main military officer and current Secretary of Domestic Affairs of Chávez, broadcasted a statement by radio and TV at 3:20 a.m. on the morning of April 12, in which he announced that “... (the) President was requested to resign office, which he agreed to”. This fact leads us to two possibilities: (1) either General Rincón stated a truth that was accepted throughout the whole country (as a matter of fact, after that information, the President surrendered peacefully at Fort Tiuna, a military base several kilometers away, without any physical threat and escorted by soldier friends and priests), or (2) that General Rincón lied, because he was an accomplice of a coup d’état (however, that seems not to be the truth, because he is still one of the main men of Chávez). This singular event, known by all Venezuelans and of undeniable importance to reconstruct what happened that day, was simply ignored by the film makers. They only edited the exit of the President from the palace and immediately thereafter the announcement of Pedro Carmona – at 04:50 a.m. of April 12- of a new government. By the way, they did not include the historic images of Chavez’ arrival at Fort Tiuna, where he was amicably welcomed by several military chiefs and two bishops.

Who do we believe? Chávez or Rincón?  This calls for an act of faith, since we were not there and the two principals are giving diametrically opposite versions.  However, there is this renowned letter smuggled out of captivity:

Translation:  "13 April 2002 at 14:45, To the people of Venezuela (and to whom it may interest): I, Hugo Chávez Frias, Venezuelan, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, declare: I have not renounced the power that the people gave me under the law.  Forever!  (signature of Hugo Chávez Frias)".

To continue to pick on those points of criticism is really missing the point.  All histories are biased in some fashion, and the filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain are certainly entitled to make a movie according to their vision.  But when I watched this movie, the audience's strongest reaction was not during any of the so-called 'manipulated' sections.  Rather, the strongest visceral reaction came during the straight acceptance speech from Pedro Carmona, hereafter known as the 'president for one day', as recorded by the official presidential cameraperson:

"As the new president of the republic of Venezuela, I hereby dissolve the National Assembly  (loud applause from the assembly of supporters in the conference room in the film; gasp from the movie audience).  I dissolve the Supreme Court (louder applause from the assembly of supporters; louder gasp from the movie audience).  And I dismiss the Ombudsman of the People (even louder applause from the assembly of supporters; even louder gasp from the movie audience).  And I abolish the bolivarian constitution of the republic (wild cheers broke out from the assembly of supporters; loud boos from the movie audience)."

In El Gusano de la Luz's petition, they "request a right of reply, in the form of an emission – in schedule, length and replay equivalent to those of the debated film - showing the point of view of the democratic opposition sectors of Venezuela about the events that happened in our country during the year 2002 and on the general situation of the country."  Well, it is difficult to see how that can play when in all likelihood this would turn out to be unintended high farce (remember Timothy Bottoms playing President George W. Bush in the docudrama "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis"?).  How can anyone play that Pedro Carmona speech straight?  Even El Gusano de la Luz admits that they "do not pretend to defend the acts of Doctor Carmona in April 2002, whose acts will be judged by history."

There is a ZNet interview with Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain.  To my mind, their most significant comment does not relate to the film: "The problem is that there seems to be no political space where this polarization can be resolved.  The middle class refuses to engage in real political opposition, i.e. joining democratic parties, developing alternative policies, trying to convince others they are good policies, etc.  They have thrown everything into the recall referendum, which is very legitimate.  But they seem to be obsessed with getting rid of Chávez at all costs. There seems to be no acknowledgment that if they get rid of him they will still have to engage with a whole section of society – hitherto marginalized – that has become politically conscious and active."  Now, that is the real Venezuelan problem, Chávez or not, and this is what I say in my posts on Venezuela.