Where does the Venezuelan leader who called President George W. Bush the incarnation of the devil, said he would not be surprised to discover that capitalism and imperialism extinguished life on Mars, and likes comparing Libya’s tyrant Colonel Muammar Qadhafi to the great South American Liberator Simon Bolivar, go to broadcast his message? Hugo Chavez turns first to his trusted echo chamber and official media outlet TELESUR.
TELESUR is the creation of Chavez and company. It has been in business since 2005 and follows in the footsteps of other state-controlled media such as that of Fidel Castro’s regime. Its purpose is eventually to crowd out or silence alternative, free, and critical media throughout the Americas.
TELESUR is part of Chavez’s media empire. While it may not be ABC, CBS, NBC, or even CNN, it is a well-oiled operation back by Venezuelan petroleum earnings. It is linked with homegrown backers of Chavismo in the Americas and a network of pro-Chavez Bolivarian circles. It marches in step with a scattering of pro-Chavez entities in the U.S. such as the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Joe Kennedy’s Citizens Energy Corporation, and pro-Chavez celebrities like Oliver Stone and Danny Glover, who aim to influence U.S. opinion favorably regarding Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.
Chavez hopes to make TELESUR the gadfly for social transformation in the Americas, the enemy of U.S. interests and values, and the staunch defender of competitive authoritarianism.
Future programming on TELESUR, for example, includes hiring outspoken Colombian leftist Piedad Cordoba, a political figure expelled in 2010 from her nation’s Senate and banned from politics for her support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, to do a documentary on social issues.
President Obama may feel that by spending five days in Latin America, meeting leaders like Brazil’s first woman president Dilma Rouseff, and being photographed kicking a soccer ball with street kids in Rio demonstrates deep engagement with Latin America.
Chavez likely feels otherwise. For him, Latin America is a full-time job, not a destination. And he is putting his money where his mouth is.
When it comes to getting a message out, Chavez can always count on TELESUR and his loyal minions. The U.S, on the other hand, still struggles—as Helle Dale and others at The Heritage Foundation have often pointed out—to develop a serious strategic communications strategy. The U.S. government too often appears complacent and unhurried when trying to compete with Chavez, TELESUR, and his allies for audiences around the hemisphere.
Co-authored by Andrew Bradway. Bradway is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm