Eleonore Hughes reviews The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a 2003 documentary focusing on events in Venezuela leading up to and during the April 2002 coup d’état attempt, which saw late President Hugo Chávez removed from office for two days.
When Kevin Thomas from the Los Angeles Times reviewed this documentary as an “extraordinary opportunity to record history”, he underplayed the element of sheer coincidence that was elementary to its production. Ireland’s RTE (Radio Telifis Eireann) television crew simply happened to be recording a documentary about Hugo Chavez, late president of Venezuela, when the events that occurred around the 11th April 2002 unravelled before their very eyes.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised begins by capturing the atmosphere of joy and hope that enveloped the country following Chavez’s democratic election on the 6th December 1998. The vast majority of his supporters are shown to be of a low-income background, and make up 80% of Venezuela’s population; their unshakeable faith that Chavez is finally going to turn things around for them resonates in this ambiance of jubilation.
In the film, US reactions are highlighted in stark contrast to that of the Venezuelans’, as Chavez takes steps in the direction of wrenching the control of petroleum away from the hands of the previous parties, both deeply institutionalised and US friendly. Chavez’s sanity is questioned by several US reporters, as White House spokesmen highlight their fear of such an “irresponsible” man being at the head of one of their most strategic, once-allied countries. A dramatic atmosphere builds, as interviews with ‘anti-chavistas’ reveal their passionate hatred and preparation to fight.
As the coup attempt unfolds, the crew films the events from within the presidential palace, providing an emotional roller-coaster for the viewer, political opinions aside. As Chavez’s government prepares to die within the presidential palace, the atmosphere among the Venezuelan population is shown to be strikingly and irreconcilably divided. As the country is thrown into confusion, the elation of the supporters of the coup clashes with the rage and tears of frustration of those who ask: “where is the president we voted for?”
The manipulation of information is a central theme throughout the documentary; out of the 8 television channels, 7 are privately owned. As the presidential palace is seized by ‘anti-chavistas’, so is the remaining state owned television channel. The information given to the public directly contradicts what the film shows really happened, and this is true in both Venezuela and the United States, in such a way that one cannot help but be outraged at the bare-faced lies. The recapturing of the 8th television channel winds up being fundamental in the restoration of the democratically elected government, demonstrating the importance of freedom of expression in a democracy, and reiterating the power of the media.
The documentary is put together in such a way that it is very likely for the audience to come away wondering how it is that the United States can continue to claim to be an inspiration in the world’s struggle for democracy, when events such as these took place. Since 2002, 11 years have gone by, and the debate surrounding exactly how democratic Chavez’s regime was is one that sparks heated discussions. The depiction of the quasi-mystical aura surrounding the leader brings aspects of populism to light. However, the coup exposed in this documentary was planned and executed against Chavez because he was undertaking reforms that did not please a sector of the Venezuelan population or the United States. Amongst raising other fundamental issues regarding democracy, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised powerfully reminds us of the absolute necessity for historical facts to be recognised as such.