Wednesday, 22 March 2017

'Venezuela Undercover'. What the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent left behind

Campbell and Davis render chavismo banal, reducing it to the recklessness of Chavez’s charisma and people’s adoration of a now dead leader.

Foreign Correspondent disappoints with ‘Venezuela Undercover’. A good-looking but trivial piece of ‘investigative journalism’. The 30-minute documentary by reporter Eric Campbell and producer Mike Davis, begins by asserting that Venezuela is, today, a ‘disaster’. Though very little in the documentary is offered that might allow the viewer to understand why ‘Venezuela is a disaster’. The imagery of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, looks colourful and striking on screen, but the material accompanies a formulaic narration. Caracas is either manic and dangerous or a stagnant and politically depressed city. The assumption that Campbell or Davis are capable of reporting on Venezuela is naïve. That they should report on Venezuela is arrogant. Beyond Campbell’s statements on ‘populism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘oil wealth’, very little is said beyond a reference to the collapse in oil prices in recent years and the government having nationalised private companies.

What the documentary does do very well is fulfil the tropes of how one should report on a ‘socialist state’. We are either told or made to think that foreign journalists are banned, that the Venezuelan government doesn’t want what is happening in the country to be known, and that little news gets out. Venezuela as some kind of tropical and disorderly North Korea. Campbell’s closing lines speaks of ‘leaving behind’ 32 million Venezuelans. Presumably, all people he would save if he could. But the fact is that journalism on Venezuela abounds, and all manner of writings, footage and reports on the country can be found.

There is barely any examination of how today’s Venezuela has come about. Campbell and David interview sociologist Margarita López Maya, though the grabs are underwhelming. I wish Campbell and David would contextualise a little. Lopez Maya, a well-regarded Venezuelan academic, accompanied chavismo up until 2009 or thereabouts. Many others have supportedchavismo throughout its various phases. The ‘Bolivarian revolution’, Hugo Chavez in the presidency, related social movements and chavismo itself, have all had various chapters since 1998. Margarita Lopez Maya, but also Edgardo Lander, to mention another well-known Venezuelan sociologist, have both analysed, questioned or supported chavismo in its different periods. Today, both have distanced themselves from Maduro’s government, but others remain. Nevertheless, Campbell and Eric’s postcard from Venezuela chooses to present a rather trite analysis from López Maya in which she warns Australian viewers of Trump’s populism, ‘because Chavez in 1998 is like Trump today’.

Several opposition politicians are referred to on screen and María Corina Machado is given some weight. For a presidential candidate who ran against Chavez in 2012 by promoting ‘popular capitalism’, it might be surprising to hear her speak of ‘solidarity’. Though here coupled with talk of ‘innovation, prosperity and freedom’. This was the only occasion in which talk of solidarity was presented throughout the documentary. Once, and by a pro-market politician. That this was so, should have led Campbell and Davis to seek other voices and to ask better questions.

Still, what is truly striking is that there are no government voices. The assumption here is that given the undercover nature of the filming, no government representatives could be approached. Are we supposed to absolve Australian journalists when overseas in ‘troubled spots’ from the basics of journalism? The documentary could have presented any number of voices from supporters or leftist analysts speaking about Venezuela’s current situation. The well-known and very vocal members of Marea Socialista, a faction recently expelled from the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), come to mind.

Despite the lack of analysis chavismo is, nevertheless, brought into the documentary in a significant way. As a series of threats experienced by Campbell and Eric themselves,if the government finds out…if we are kidnapped by this gang… and by Venezuelans who are ‘watched over’ by Chavez’s ghost. Chavismo is also emptied of any reason in the documentary through its discursive absence. At some moment, we are told that Hugo Chavez, four years after his death, still counts with a strong following, and that the government itself has loyal supporters. And yet no socialists, no Venezuelan left, no articulate analysts detailing the difficulties of the Venezuelan ‘petro-state’ or governing from the left in Latin America are brought into the frame. In its place, we see Campbell visiting malandros in a Caracas slum (no need for the Trump coinage ‘bad hombres’).Chavismo is a threat, a ghostly presence or simply nonsensical.

The documentary trivialises what has been a significant experience in Venezuela, for its people, and the left. There are no interviews with members of the government-backed ‘community councils’, the vast popular and community run media or from the numerous social movements. These organisations and forms of political engagement, reinvigorated by chavismo since the early 2000s, and often engaged in complex negotiations with state power, are simply erased from Venezuelan reality.

I, for one, would have been interested in seeing an ABC-funded piece of journalism following the various state-backed food distribution networks, at the heart of the current food shortages while also a measure to address the crisis. But Campbell and Davis render chavismo banal, reducing it to the recklessness of Chavez’s charisma and people’s adoration of a now dead leader.


'Venezuela Undercover' can be seen through here.

Carlos Eduardo Morreo is a Venezuelan citizen and Australian permanent resident, and a researcher at the ANU’s School of Politics and International Relations in Canberra. Between 2008 and 2009 he worked in the Venezuelan government’s Ministry of Popular Power for the Environment. @carlosmorreo

Thursday, 16 March 2017

historicty & contingency

That's it. 
But then I stumbled upon anthropologist Eduardo Kohn's little book, 'How Forests Think?' and am now slowly working through these positions, ontopolitical commitments, and academic liabilities. 
Where to?!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


...reclaim, reclaim, reclaim writing, thinking, discussion and learning, all that is open, and fashioned by historicity, and confronts contingency.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The theft of wood

The theft of wood and the 'origins' of Marx's critique of political eocnomy. Barbara Harriss-White writes:

'At the age of 24 and soon after completing his doctoral thesis, Marx wrote the Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood (1842), in which he recognized private property as theft, the interests embodied in it as antithetical to those represented in customary law and the state as the guardian of private property. Arguably, the seed of his later political economy was germinated by this early analysis of wood theft which he wrote for the Rheinische Zeitung' (p. 102).

Let us then now read such Debates. More later.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

«otra política es necesaria»

Carlos Acosta presenta en la un buen análisis de política venezolana en este momento de la coyuntura. Es decir, entre un Chávez enfermo del cual sabemos casi nada, pero que ha nombrado sucesor y la avalancha del PSUV del 16D con las veinte gobernaciones. 

Destaco un punto. Escribe Acosta que «... estas elecciones dejaron algunas cosas buenas como el triunfo de Erika Farías, ojalá se lleve a todo su Frente Francisco de Miranda para Cojedes y no salgan en los próximos 20 años». ¡De acuerdo!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

On Temporality & Life Critique

A comment on a footnote in one of Fernando Coronil very last articles, "The Future in Question: History and Utopia in Latin America (1989-2010)". 

Coronil observes in a footnote to R. Koselleck's work that "Scholars have shown that conceptions of history and cultural cosmologies are intimately connected to each other and are historically specific" (288). In the piece Coronil found it necessary to discuss to a certain extent the question of the future, or rather, to be more precise, the issue of a "present-day future imaginary" (232). His discussion looks in particular at how the the "turn to the Left" in Latin America has been linked to new contemporary imaginaries for a future envisioned from the state.

The point Coronil is making is simple. He means to say that the cultural category of the future that Latin Americans work with, serving as a basic understanding of temporality, would have some kind of historically specific cosmological and thus non-universal ("non-Cartesian") or transcendental grounding. Now, I am sure that that is the case... that history, temporality, culture and cosmology/religion are enmeshed; that these generate non-universal and thus situated or fixed, both historically and spatially ways of thinking and acting. 

But what should I do with this thought, with this understanding? I ask the question, and what comes to mind is a programme for critique. That is to say, a never-ending project to denaturalise and present genealogies of whatever categories I take for granted (Nietzsche and Foucault again!), in order to privilege, but only momentarily of course -- how else could it be?--, yet still forcefully, other categories, which I would then appropriate for a line, a page, a book, and thus go on and on... and in this manner, I imagine one lives out other possible lives. 

I like this. But then I keep on asking myself, what would be the purpose of any of this? I can't seem to displace or overcome this last question.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Hard to be be Left in Venezuela

It's already quite hard to be Left in Venezuela given that much of what is debated strictly follows what Chávez' Government/Party puts forward. But something that makes it even harder to back, support, criticise and debate with peers and compañeros within our Left Government, is the quantity of entirely apologetic stuff put forward and written by supporters within the country and beyond its borders. 

Solidarity is a tricky thing. On this point, see the latest in the 'solidarity genre' by the likes of Federico Fuentes in the Australian Green Left Weekly here. To respond to this would involve articulating the logic and limits of solidarity. How does one do solidarity? Solidarity with whom? How does your solidarity 'over there' engage with our struggles over here... 

The point is that so much that would have to be acknowledged and questioned, is simply too intricate to be voiced in the work of solidarity, due to the way in which we usually carry out this practice. This is, I think, the problem with working exclusively under such a sign, and when privileging it, allowing both theoretical debate and everyday experiences to fall by the wayside. 

But not only are theory and critique made subaltern to a somewhat problematic notion of identity (my solidarity is, in some sense not equal to, but a party to, your struggles); but the need to be rigourous and "hold accountable" those you are in solidarity with, to hold them accountable to their/our very own concept of the political or the revolution, so that the Venezuelan experience/revolution moves forward, is also excused. 

And who are they who you are in solidarity with? Solidarity work, paradoxically, constitutes the political subject, the Venezuelan people, the chavistas, the socialists. It is this side of solidarity that needs to also be engaged with, brought itself into critique.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Judith Butler, las políticas del boycott y la responsabilidad global

La filósofo y feminista, Butler en Tufts University...

Boycott Politics and Global Responsibility 1:

Boycott Politics and Global Responsibility 2: