PV Vancouver Bureau

Speaking at meetings in Edmonton and Vancouver on May 4 and 5, independent journalist Eva Bartlett shredded the corporate media narrative about the situation of people in Syria and Venezuela, countries which targetted for “regime change” by US imperialism and its allies, including Canada. The forums were organized by the Edmonton and Vancouver Peace Councils, which are affiliates of the rapidly-growing Canadian Peace Congress.

Bartlett spent a number of years living in Gaza, and later reporting directly from Syria, becoming highly knowledgeable about events in these areas. She has also spent time in Venezuela, most recently in March of this year, arriving shortly after the country-wide power blackout caused by outside attacks on the electricity grid.

Regarding Syria, she shared the views of many ordinary citizens and long-time residents of the country, explaining that the so-called “peaceful and popular uprising” against the elected al-Assad government which began in 2011 was quickly taken over by foreign-backed extremist elements hoping to impose a regime change.

She went through examples of events in various Syrian neighbourhoods and cities, presenting first-hand reports from the people, to show that the impact of the armed conflict was mainly due to the tactics of terrorist groups, not the Syrian government. Her talk focused partly on refuting accusations from the outside world that the government has deliberately starved its own people, using food as a weapon of war.

The same tactics have been used by the imperialist powers and corporate media in Venezuela, Bartlett explained. Although her recent trip to Caracas came during the blackout, she did not see anything like the western media claims of widespread violence, looting and hunger. There was calm on the streets, and people going about their daily lives despite the Caracas metro being unable to function. While high inflation means that most people cannot afford to shop in the supermarkets of upscale neighbourhoods, most residents have access to other sources of food, such as local collective groups.

One fascinating part of Bartlett’s presentation was film footage of a visit to one of the poorest barrios in Caracas, where one would expect to see serious mass hunger if the media reports were true. Instead, she found what while people had a range of problems, most were well-fed, responding to her questions about hunger and starvation with incredulity.

The speaking tour was a welcome antidote to the daily stream of anti-Venezuela propaganda in Canada’s newspapers. On May 6, for example, the Globe and Mail published an open call for intervention in Venezuela, written by Ben Rowswell, president of the Canadian International Council, who served as ambassador to Venezuela from 2014 to 2017.

Rowswell makes the usual accusations against the Bolivarian government of President Maduro, blaming it for a wildly exaggerated “humanitarian crisis” and “mass starvation.” From there, he warns that “the international community has a responsibility to assist national authorities protect their population. Canada has made an important start with $53-million in humanitarian assistance and the Red Cross will now spearhead the delivery of aid inside the country. Given the scale of the suffering, much more will be required…” and further that “where the government proves unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, the international community itself has a remedial responsibility.”

This will require use of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine, Rowswell claims, noting that “Many states shy away from the responsibility to protect because it has sometimes triggered the use of force.” Immediately contradicting his own argument, the author says, “As we embrace the responsibility to protect Venezuelan lives, we should loudly and explicitly rule out armed action. It is time for the international community to come together to protect Venezuelans. Their lives matter more than our geopolitics.”

One only has to recall the disasters associated with the R2P doctrine to reject this proposal. The case of Libya in 2012 is very instructive. In that situation, R2P advocates urged the imperialist powers to establish a “no fly zone” – not to overthrow the Gaddafi government, but simply to protect civilians! Of course, the “no fly zone” consisted of bombing raids against Libyan military and civilian targets, including by Canadian Armed Forces pilots who cynically called themselves the “ISIS air force.” The country dissolved into chaos and violence with the defeat of Gadaffi, with negative results for the entire region continuing to this day.

Any R2P action against Venezuela will bring the same outcome – internal conflict, years of strife, and the destruction of social gains achieved by the poorest section of the Venezuelan population under the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.

So – who are you going to believe? Ben Rowswell, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, and the far-right hawks in Washington? Or an on-the-ground observer like Eva Bartlett?

The answer should be obvious. Check out Bartlett’s Edmonton talk on YouTube, at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXMrEL17YYo