On July 12, 2010, the politician and regime-critic Alejandro Peña Esclusa was arrested in Venezuela accused of terrorism, an absurd accusation for anyone who cares to look into the facts. March 13, 2007, a biographical article was created about him on Italian Wikipedia, linking him to terrorism by presenting false, misleading, and irrelevant statements. In spite of repeated attempts at removing the libelous claims over the years, they remain there to this day.
Mr Peña is a sworn enemy to communism, and accuses the present Venezuelan regime to be an ally to the communists in Cuba, and the marxist FARC terrorist guerilla in Colombia. His biographical article was created by a communist, judging from his user page. By blocking every attempt to fundamentally correct the article, Wikipedia is spreading terrorist propaganda.
Wikipedia is a user-edited encyclopedic project. Anybody can edit, but certain users called admins have the power to block other users, or to lock articles from editing. There are Wikipedias in many languages apart from English. Since each project, each language that is, writes its own rules, a small but determined ideological group can turn their local Wikipedia into a propaganda outlet, while lending credibility from the original, English, Wikipedia project. While the English site often is an excellent resource, it is clear that not all is well in wikiworld.
What is Propaganda?
Before exposing what has happened, it may be useful to alert you to what to look for. Propaganda is an effort to change the behavior and opinions of a large group of people without them realizing that they are being manipulated. Here are some of the principles that characterize it:
- Effective propaganda should be indirect, not direct (as opposed to promotion).
- The purpose should not be evident.
- The originator should not be apparent.
- The message should appear as being commonly accepted knowledge.
A modern word for propaganda is “framing”. Imagine that the message is a painting. Rather than promoting the painting, the propaganda provides a frame into which the target of the message will put the painting, as if it was his idea. This makes it indirect and with a hidden purpose. Obviously the “frame” must not be provided by a “painter”, or else the target will guess the intention and probably be annoyed for being taken for a fool. (This is why framing articles are planted in media through any one of a number of methods.)
It is my observation that an often used device for spreading ideas (that you have no support for) is to present the message as incidental information in a dependent clause, or as “additional information”, giving the impression that it is common knowledge. I first noticed the device on FOX News when I followed the channel non-stop for many hours. All of a sudden they started mentioning a fact as if they had just talked about that piece of news and established it as a fact, but they never did present any such story. They just pretended they had (it related to Yassir Arafat).
The Wikipedia Article
Alejandro Peña Esclusa has been a vocal critic of Hugo Chávez since 1995, accusing him of being allied with the FARC narco-guerilla in Colombia. FARC is considered a terrorist group by the US, EU, and others. Since we now have strong evidence that Mr Peña Esclusa has been right, we can conclude that it is – and has been for 15 years – in FARC’s and Chávez’s interests to discredit him.
When Mr Peña was arrested on July 12, 2010, only one Wikipedia site had an article on him, the one in Italian. Internet users all over the world turned to that article for more information after hearing about his arrest. This is what they saw:
Membro della setta Tradizione, Famiglia e Proprietà, movimento filo-fascista, che permette l’ingresso solo a coloro che dimostrano di essere di razza ariana pura.
La setta sarebbe stata organizzatrice di attentati contro Giovanni Paolo II durante il suo viaggio a Caracas il 13 novembre 1984, e al presidente degli Stati Uniti d’America, Ronald Reagan, in seguito ai quali la setta è stata dichiarata fuorilegge in Venezuela, Francia, Spagnae Argentina, paesi dove era maggiormente radicata.
Alle ultime elezioni presidenziali venezuelane, svoltesi nel 2006, si è scagliato contro il capo dell’opposizione Manuel Rosales, per aver dichiarato la propria sconfitta nei confronti del presidente Hugo Chavez. Nel suo programma politico attuale propugna oggi il rovesciamento violento dei governi di centro-sinistra latinoamericani e il ritorno di dittature militari. Tra i suoi referenti politici vi sono ambienti neoconservatori statunitensi e il partito di ultradestra di El Salvador, Arena.
The Terrorism Slander in the Article
There is only one source cited, a personal blog of a journalist who is openly hostile to Mr Peña. The paragraph where the reference appears speaks about a religious group called Tradition, Family, and Property, why nothing in that paragraph belongs in this article. Furthermore, the paragraph makes accusations that do not even appear in the TFP article. These are serious errors for an article on Wikipedia, and still it has remained that way for over 3 years, through 73 edits, by 31 different editors. Something is obviously amiss here. But let’s see what it says.
Mr Peña is (falsely) accused of being a member of TFP, which is described as a “fascist-friendly sect that allows entry only to those that can demonstrate that they are of pure Aryan race”.
History of the Terrorism Slander
The article was created March 13, 2007, by user Skyluke (who openly displays a communist star on his user page). The original page was virtually identical to what is shown above. The main difference is that two sentences were added by an anonymous user on May 12, 2007, stating that his political program includes the “violent overthrow of center-left governments in Latin America” by military coups, and that he is ideologically aligned with US neoconservatives and the “extreme right” party Arena in El Salvador, respectively.
From May 12, 2007, to July 14, 2010, the article contained these un-sourced libelous claims, in spite of repeated attempts to correct the article text.
History of Thwarted Correction Attempts
On July 9, 2008, the article text was replaced entirely by a text in Spanish providing a decidedly positive point of view. This was done in violation of Wikipedia rules, and the change was undone quite correctly. However, nobody seems to have picked up the pieces of information present in that version, which they could have, if they really had desired to improve the article.
April 26, 2009, another anonymous user removed the claim that TFP is fascist-friendly and Aryan-only, and soon after, all other paragraphs after the first (which was the only one not containing potentially libelous claims). User Guidomac within a minute(!) re-inserted the previous libelous claims, without justification. (This re-insertion was a violation of Wikipedia rules, because you can neither insert nor re-insert potentially libelous and un-sourced claims in a biographical article on a living person without justifying it.)
April 8, 2010, a third anonymous user removed the claim that he is a member of TFP (the third paragraph in the text above), with the comment that “it is not true.” Four hours later Skyluke undid the change and reinserted the libelous claim, also without justification.
On July 14, 2010 (after his arrest), a forth anonymous user removed both the third and the forth paragraphs (everything dealing with TFP). Within seconds(!!) this change was undone by user Siciliano Edivad, again without justification.
On July 15, 2010, I added one reference, and flagged the article as lacking adequate references.
On July 17, 2010, at 18:01, I wrote on the talk page that the article “contains potentially libelous claims without source that should be removed immediately”. In the next 4 hours, three different users made four different edits, but nobody did anything to add sources or remove libelous claims. At 22:25, I took action, removed all paragraphs containing un-sourced or inadequately sourced potentially libelous claims, and made a note in the talk page. Five minutes later user L736E reinserted them, again, without justification. This was repeated a second time; see talk page.
On July 18, 2010, user Lepido made a series of improvements to the article, although it retained the libelous claims relating to TFP, and it still omitted crucial material. To correct this, I incorporated all the text from the English article, and combined it with the Italian text. Two hours later, at 01:33 July 19, an anonymous user reverted all the changes, naturally without justification. Another user reinserted my longer text, and admin Vituzzu again removed it.
On the talk page, I explicitly pointed out that the existing article text was communist propaganda. Thus, when Vituzzu re-inserted the libelous text the last time, he had been warned that it was communist propaganda, and he still posted it. Quite deliberately. Furthermore, he blocked me from Italian Wikipedia to prevent me from raising the matter with those legally responsible for the site.
The warning flag for bias that I inserted was taken away by L736E on July 19, claiming that the article was balanced and with adequate sources. That is, however, not true. The article remains libelous and biased today.
Who are these users who have contributed to this material support to a terrorist organization? I don’t know. For all we know they may be children, or they may be FARC members posting from the jungle in South America; there is just no way a reader of Wikipedia can find out who wrote the text. The Wikipedia foundation does not have editors, but leaves the editing to the users, without any policing.
Thus, the one to hold accountable here is primarily the Wikipedia foundation, since it provides the platform and is in effect the publisher of the libel, as I see it. But Fuerza Solidaria (an NGO that Peña leads) told me in an interview today that they have tried for years to get that libel removed from Italian Wikipedia, without success. Of course it is difficult to raise a libel suit in Italy from Venezuela, but this raises a legal issue that perhaps the European Parliament should deal with. Crooks should not get a free pass by slandering a person on a different continent via the internet.
Dissecting the Propaganda
Finally a word about motive and the role of this propaganda, the framing. The crucial message in the article on Mr Peña – judging from the edit history – is the sentence that in essence says that “he is a member of FTP, which is a fascist terrorist organization.”
Let us examine this message in detail. The statement that he is a member of FTP is false, denied by himself, while the statement characterizing FTP is referenced only partially, and then to an openly biased source.
Furthermore, the description of FTP does not belong in this article, but in the FTP article. Note that not a single word in the forth paragraph above has anything at all to do with this article. It is also worth noting that none of these accusations against FTP appear in the actual article about FTP, which strongly suggest that they, too, are false.
So why put in irrelevant falsehoods? It is not by chance, that is obvious from the change history: The various clauses have been re-inserted several times after being removed. They must serve a purpose, and we can easily guess which, if we know some things about Mr Peña that are left out from the article.
And there is the other part of the propaganda: Critical omissions. Certain facts must be held back, namely those facts that would enable the reader to understand the purpose of the propaganda, or as it were, why the seemingly irrelevant statements are there. In this case, that Mr Peña is a leading critic of Hugo Chávez, considering him a front man for Castro and a collaborator with FARC, and that Peña is advocating for legal, peaceful, and democratic methods to be used. These are the well-sourced facts that I, in vain, tried to get into the article, and for which I was blocked from Italian Wikipedia for, as they wrote, “being biased”.
The purpose of this propaganda article in Wikipedia is thus both to undermine his credibility in the public debate so that people don’t listen to his words, and to make the general public think that he is a bad guy who belongs in jail. The conclusion is thus near that Wikipedia has been used as a propaganda channel for preparing the public to accept as believable the manufactured evidence that Mr Peña is a terrorist, and to accept that he belongs in jail in Venezuela, so that this fierce critic of Chávez could be put away without a global PR fiasco.
But a PR fiasco it is.
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