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Tiananmen Square & Venezuela’s Caracazo

A Tale of Two Massacres


One cannot escape the ample media coverage of the 25th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which it is estimated that at least 300, and possibly 3000 civilians, were killed by state forces. [1]

Of course, that is a tragedy which deserves remembering and commemorating.  And, this commemorating should be done in an honest way.  Without belaboring this point too much, it is worth noting that there has been much mythologizing about the events in China twenty-five years ago, and I urge readers to check out both the Columbia School of Journalism [2] and Nikolas Kristoff’s New York Times account from that time period.  [3]

Another event, which took place 25 years ago, also deserves commemorating.  This event, which the U.S. media has almost entirely ignored, involved the state murder of hundreds (at least 300), if not thousands (possibly 3,000) of protestors in Venezuela.  [4]  In other words, the estimates of those protestors killed in Venezuela are identical to the estimates of those killed in Beijing.  Of course, given that Venezuela has a tiny population (around 30 million) compared to that of China (over 1 billion), these numbers are proportionately much greater.

And moreover, these events in Venezuela, now known as the Caracazo, led to historic change in Venezuela and Latin America as they would lead to the political rise of Hugo Chavez who opposed the Caracazo massacre and who would become President ten years later in great part due to the population’s reaction to it.  And, as Noam Chomsky has opined, Chavez’s leadership in turn led to “the historic liberation of Latin America” after 500 years of subjugation by the Spanish and the U.S.  [5]  No small feat, indeed!

But again, these monumental events, which began with poor Venezuelans rising up against an increase in fuel prices, apparently deserve no mention, at least as judged by the Western media.

Why this difference in coverage by the U.S. press?  Again, if one were to look at the magnitude of these two events, Venezuela’s Caracazo would deserve as much, if not more, coverage than the killings in Beijing.   However, the killings during the Caracazo were, in the word of Chomsky again, of “unworthy victims,” because these killings were carried out by a government – that of President Carlos Andres Perez – that was aligned with the United States.  And, the David that would bring down this Goliath was Hugo Chavez, a perceived enemy of the U.S.

Moreover, the Caracazo is a problem for U.S. journalists because the number of its victims dwarfs the number of individuals (a total of 42) killed during the most recently months of protests in Venezuela.   And, this 42 includes a sizable number of state security forces and pro-government activists who were killed by violent opposition protestors. [6]  In other words, the reaction of Venezuela’s government, now led by Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro, appears, and in fact has been, much more restrained than that of the pro-U.S. government which preceded Hugo Chavez.  But again, you would not know this from U.S. media coverage of these events.

In short, the Caracazo is an inconvenient event for the U.S. media, for it calls into question the prevailing and ceaseless narrative that the U.S. is on the side of freedom and human rights in the world while its ostensible enemies — like China and the Chavista government in Venezuela — are opposed to these.  Of course, the opposite is many times true, with the U.S. perceived around the world, and quite rightly so, as the greatest threat to world peace.  [7]  But again, you would not know this either from the captive U.S. press and its Orwellian coverage of world events.

The take away from all of this: question your government and the media that is so closely aligned with it if you want to know the truth.

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.


[1] http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-tiananmen-white-house-china-victims-20140604-story.html


[2]  http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_myth_of_tiananmen.php?page=all


[3] http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/13/world/turmoil-china-tiananmen-crackdown-student-s-account-questioned-major-points.html


[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-12593085


[5] http://venezuelanalysis.com/video/8695


[6] http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10722

[7] http://bit.ly/1okhlQL