South of the Border - a film by Oliver Stone

12/10 UN Human Rights Day – Attend a “South of the Border” Screening Party

Posted by: admin on 12-09-2010 - 3:21 pm

Action:  12/10 UN Human Rights Day – Attend a “South of the Border” Screening Party
In major US media, evidence of US involvement in coups in Latin America doesn’t exist. Major US media almost never acknowledge evidence of the US role in recent coups in Venezuela, Haiti, and Honduras. But Oliver Stone’s documentary “South of the Border” documents the US role in the coup in Venezuela.

Join a house party (St. Paul MN/Decatur, GA/Woodstock, NY/Los Angeles, CA/Conroe, TX/ Washington, DC/New York City, NY /Gulfport, MS/Southfield, MI/Hilton Head Island, SC/Fayetteville, AR/Corvallis, OR/Madison, WI/Calgary Alberta/San Francisco, CA/Fort Collins, CO/Seattle, WA/Oak Park, IL/Fresno CA) to watch the film and tune live to a webcast with Center for Economic Policy & Research President Mark Weisbrot, who co-wrote the script. Most events start 6pm EST, check if there’s a house party near you:

Categorie(s): "South Of The Border" News

Kirchner Rescued Argentina’s Economy, Helped Unite South America

Posted by: admin on 10-27-2010 - 3:20 pm

The death of Argentina’s former president is a sad loss. His bold defiance of the IMF paved the way for South America’s progress

By Mark Weisbrot

Published by The Guardian Unlimited (UK) on October 27, 2010.

The sudden death of Néstor Kirchner today is a great loss not only to Argentina but to the region and the world. Kirchner took office as president in May 2003, when Argentina was in the initial stages of its recovery from a terrible recession. His role in rescuing Argentina’s economy is comparable to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression of the United States. Like Roosevelt, Kirchner had to stand up not only to powerful moneyed interests but also to most of the economics profession, which was insisting that his policies would lead to disaster. They proved wrong, and Kirchner was right.

Argentina’s recession from 1998-2002 was indeed comparable to the U.S. Great Depression in terms of unemployment, which peaked at more than 21 percent, and lost output (about 20 percent of GDP). The majority of Argentines, who had until then enjoyed living standards among the highest in Latin America, were pushed below the poverty line. In December of 2002 and January 2003, the country underwent a massive devaluation, a world-historical record sovereign default on $95 billion of debt, and a collapse of the financial system.

Although some of the heterodox policies that ultimately ensured Argentina’s rapid recovery were begun in the year before Kirchner took office, he had to follow them through some tough challenges to make Argentina the fastest growing economy in the region.

Read on here.

Categorie(s): "South Of The Border" News | From The Filmakers | News From South America

The Venezuelan Economy: Media Sources Get It Wrong, Again

Posted by: admin on 09-13-2010 - 12:00 pm

Mark Weisbrot
The Guardian Unlimited, September 11, 2010
En Español

See article on original website

The bulk of the media often gets pulled along for the ride when the United States government has a serious political and public relations campaign around foreign policy. But almost nowhere is it so monolithic as with Venezuela. Even in the run-up to the Iraq War, there were a significant number of reporters and editorial writers who didn’t buy the official story. But on Venezuela the media is more like a jury that has twelve people but only one brain.

Since the Venezuelan opposition decided to campaign for the September elections on the issue of Venezuela’s high homicide rate, the international press has been flooded with stories on this theme – some of them highly exaggerated. This is actually quite an amazing public relations achievement for the Venezuelan opposition. Although most of the Venezuelan media, as measured by audience, is still owned by the political opposition there, the international press is not. Normally it takes some kind of news hook, even if only a milestone such as the 10,000th murder, or a political statement from the White House, for a media campaign of this magnitude to take off. But in this case all it took was a decision by the Venezuelan political opposition that homicide would be its main campaign issue, and the international press was all over it.

The “all bad news, all the time” theme was overwhelmingly dominant even during Venezuela’s record economic expansion, from 2003-2008. The economy grew as never before, poverty was cut by more than half, and there were large gains in employment. Real social spending per person more than tripled, and free health care was expanded to millions of people. You will have to search very hard to find these basic facts presented in a mainstream media article, although the numbers are hardly in dispute among economists in international organizations that deal with statistics.

For example, in May the UN Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that Venezuela had reduced inequality by more than any other country in Latin America from 2002-2008, ending up with the most equal income distribution in the region. This has yet to be mentioned by the major international press.

Venezuela went into recession in 2009, and you can imagine how much more press attention has since been paid to GDP growth there than when Venezuela was growing faster than any economy in the hemisphere. Then in January the government devalued its currency, and the press was forecasting a big upsurge in inflation, to as much as 60 percent for this year. “Stagflation” – recession plus rising inflation – became the new buzzword.

The “out-of-control” inflation didn’t happen – in fact, inflation over the last three months, which is 21 percent at an annualized rate, is considerably lower than before the devaluation. This is yet another indicator that the economists relied upon by major media as sources have limited understanding of the actual functioning of Venezuela’s economy.

Now it looks like Venezuela may have emerged from its recession in the second quarter of this year. On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, the economy grew by 5.2 percent in the second quarter. In June, Morgan Stanley projected that the economy would shrink by 6.2 percent this year and by 1.2 percent next year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting long-term gloom and doom for Venezuela: negative per capita GDP growth over the next five years. It is worth noting that the IMF gave the authors of “Dow 36,000” some competition for creative forecasting, with their repeated, wildly off-the-mark underestimates of the Venezuelan economy during the expansion.

All this may seem like par for the course if we compare with coverage of the world’s largest economy – the United States – where the vast majority of the media somehow missed the two biggest asset bubbles in world history – the stock market and then the housing bubble. But there were important exceptions here, e.g. the New York Times in 2006. With Venezuela – well, you get the picture.

Of course Venezuela’s continued growth is not assured – it will depend on the government making a commitment to maintaining high levels of aggregate demand, and keeping it.  In that sense its immediate situation is similar to that of the United States, the Eurozone, and many other more developed economies whose economic recovery is sluggish and uncertain right now.

Venezuela has adequate foreign exchange reserves, is running a trade and current account surplus, has low levels of foreign public debt and quite a bit of foreign borrowing capacity if needed. This was demonstrated most recently in April with a $20 billion (about 6 percent of Venezuela’s GDP) credit from China. As such, it is extremely unlikely to run up against a foreign exchange shortage. It can therefore use public spending and investment as much as necessary to make sure that the economy grows sufficiently to increase employment and living standards, as it did before the 2009 recession. (Our government in the United States could do the same, even more easily – but that does not appear to be in the cards right now.) This can go on for many years.

Whatever happens, we can expect complete coverage of one side of the story from the media. So keep it in mind: when you are reading the New York Times or listening to NPR on Venezuela, you are getting Fox News. If you want something more balanced, you will have to look for it on the Internet.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

Categorie(s): From The Filmakers | UnSpin

Murder by Numbers: Do Media Reports of Violent Crime, Poverty, and Inequality in Venezuela Add Up?

Posted by: admin on 08-26-2010 - 2:18 pm

As mentioned in an earlier post, Reuters reported yesterday on “a campaign from opposition media to highlight the [Venezuelan] government’s failure to tackle violent crime” ahead of next month’s legislative elections. Such media campaigns, close to Venezuelan elections, are hardly surprising – nor is it unusual that the campaign has been picked up by international media, including the New York Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, Voice of America, the Vancouver Sun, public radio, and other outlets. These news reports and opinion pieces repeat the same theme: that violent crime in Venezuela is out of control, which the government of “Hugo Chávez can’t or won’t stop,” as an op-ed in the Miami Herald today puts it. Most of the articles claim that Venezuela’s high murder rate now makes it more dangerous than Iraq – a problematic claim, as some analysts have pointed out, since the Iraq civilian death numbers cited come from an underestimate: Iraq Body Count’s tally, which is mostly derived from media reports of deaths.

A key part of the campaign, Reuters noted, occurred when two opposition papers “printed a gory archive photo of bodies piled up in a morgue.” The government responded by ordering the papers to desist, citing the need to shield children from the violent images as its reason. This prompted immediate cries of censorship. Largely ignored by the international press was the fact that the photos of the bodies – most of which were naked – were printed without the consent of the victims’ families, as a U.S. observer has pointed out in a letter to the New York Times. Further underscoring the Venezuelan government’s rationale for halting publication of the photos, CNN also reportedly stated that it could not show the images because they were “too graphic”.

Few of these reports attempt to offer any explanation as to why the murder rate has increased, but the New York Times’ Simon Romero takes a shot in the dark, proposing that it could be the economy: “While many Latin American economies are growing fast, Venezuela’s has continued to shrink. The gap between rich and poor remains wide, despite spending on anti-poverty programs, fueling resentment.” The Vancouver Sun’s Jonathan Manthorpe likewise takes a stab: “the [Venezuelan] economy, which unlike other South American countries has withered … since Chavez came to power.” The Globe and Mail in Toronto this week also ran an editorial focusing on the supposed rise in inequality in Venezuela – which is so significant, according to the paper, that

[Chavez’s] Bolivarian socialist model has not alleviated the long-term problem of income inequality, and the attendant social ills it perpetuates. Ironically, this runs counter to the overall trend in the region. Latin America used to be known for its acute and persistent income inequalities. But 12 of the largest economies in the Americas – including Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico – actually saw a reversal of this pattern in the past decade.

But upon closer examination, the Globe and Mail relies on a study by Luis Lopez-Calva and Nora Lustig that uses data from 2000 – 2006 to draw its conclusions. Their finding that Venezuela is an inequality outlier in the region is outdated by data from the UN Economic Commission on Latin America. Using data from 2002 – 2008, the Commission found that Venezuela led Latin America in decreased inequality, and currently has the most equitable distribution of income in the region. A correction request to the Globe and Mail was answered with the reply: “This is a matter of a different interpretation of different data.” A query as to whether the Globe and Mail would likewise cite data from 2006 – at the height of the U.S. housing bubble – to describe the current state of the U.S. or Canadian economies, was unanswered.

As for Romero and Manthorpe’s claims that Venezuela’s economy has shrunk while others’ in the region have grown, in fact, according to data that is accepted and cited by institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations, from the first quarter of 2003 to the beginning of 2009, Venezuela’s GDP nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually. This is despite a severe recession that resulted from an opposition oil strike in 2002-2003 and other disruptive events, including a military coup, that took place during the first four years of Chavez’s time in office. The poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent.

Certainly ongoing poverty, and inequality, is linked to violence, but since both poverty and inequality are on the decline in Venezuela, what explains the rise in murders? One part of the answer could be that some of the violence is being exported, from neighboring Colombia. This current crop of news reports on Venezuela’s generally ignores the documented presence of paramilitaries and Colombian drug gangs inside Venezuela. Le Monde Diplomatique reports:

In 2008 Últimas Noticias reported that the former head of the directorate of intelligence and prevention services (Disip), Eliézer Otaiza, had claimed around 20,000 Colombian paramilitaries were based in Venezuela and were involved in kidnappings, contract killings and drug trafficking. The Venezuelan press has said nothing on the issue, but on 31 January 2009 El Espectador, published in Bogotá, had the headline “The Black Eagles have flown to Venezuela”.

As Le Monde Diplomatique describes, the paramilitaries’ presence and activities are seen by some chavistas and Venezuelan government officials as a destabilization campaign:

“We sometimes get quite abnormal peaks in insecurity. It looks like a policy of destabilisation,” said Guadalupe Rodríguez of the Simón Bolivar Coordination in the 23 de Enero district of Caracas, a Chavist stronghold. Pérez has studied the question in detail: “Caracas today is like Medellín in the 1980s. It’s the same MO – hidden forces are fostering insecurity with the aim of creating a para-state.”

Other causes considered by Le Monde Diplomatique include the decentralized nature of Venezuela’s police, rampant police corruption, a more violent youth culture, and “the usual causes: broken families, gender-based violence, violence in the home, imitative aggression or overcrowded conditions.”

If foreign actors and paramilitaries are indeed partially responsible for the rise in murders, then media and opposition blaming of the government would be adding insult to injury and further contribute to undermining the government.

One is hard-pressed also to find any voices – outside of the Venezuelan government’s – in these many news reports that challenge the opposition campaign or attempt to put the statistics in context. Le Monde Diplomatique offers this, too:

Miguel Angel Pérez, the executive vice president of the Institut d’Etudes Avancées, complained: “They would like us to believe that insecurity is a product of Chavism. They’re forgetting how terrible it was in the late 80s and early 90s: you couldn’t go out in the street.”

In December 1996, two years before Chávez came to power, the French military/police specialist periodical Raids said: “With an average of 80 people shot dead each weekend, violence on public transport a daily occurrence, poverty growing exponentially and an economic crisis that has been gnawing away at the country for over 15 years – inflation is at more than 1,000% – Caracas has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world, perhaps the most dangerous.” Few people seem to remember this.

“This is an election year,” explained Pérez. “In election years, what we call the insecurity curve soars. Insecurity is the warhorse of the opposition and the media fan the flames.” Every Monday, an army of reporters gathers at the morgue in Bello Monte. Microphones at the ready, they rush to meet the families of the weekend’s victims – especially old women in tears – and shout: “Señora! How do you feel?”

Categorie(s): UnSpin

Venezuelan “Campaign from Opposition Media” Taken Up by U.S. Press

Posted by: admin on 08-25-2010 - 2:17 pm

A Reuters article today on Venezuela’s upcoming legislative elections describes “a campaign from opposition media to highlight the [Venezuelan] government’s failure to tackle violent crime.” But it is not only Venezuelan media that have joined the campaign. In the past few days a flurry of news reports in the international press have laid out the same theme: that violent crime in Venezuela is out of control, that there were more murders last year in Venezuela than civilians killed in Iraq, and that the Venezuelan government either cannot or will not do anything to staunch the bloodshed.

But Robert Naiman, of Just Foreign Policy, reveals some holes in this story. Writing about Venezuela correspondent Simon Romero’s front page article in the New York Times, Naiman notes

It’s bad enough that the editors of the New York Times have refused so far to tell the truth about what we know about the magnitude of the death toll in Iraq as a result of the US invasion and occupation of the country since 2003, according to the standards that are used to describe human tragedies for which the U.S. government does not bear primary responsibility. If the New York Times used the same standards of evidence to describe human tragedies regardless of the degree of responsibility of the U.S. government, it would report that “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died” as a result of the US war, a fact that we know with the level of confidence that we know similar facts that the New York Times publishes as a matter of routine (such as a recent report that “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died” — in the Iraq-Iran war.) The New York Times is reluctant to publish this fact about the U.S. war, perhaps, because this fact is awkward to acknowledge for those in Washington who support the status quo policy of permanent war.

But now the New York Times has exacerbated the harm of its denial about the Iraqi death toll, by using its own failure to accurately report the death toll in Iraq as a benchmark for comparison to other human tragedies: in particular, to claim that murder in Venezuela claimed more lives in 2009 than did violence in Iraq. The New York Times editors are like the boy who killed his parents and demanded mercy on the grounds he was an orphan.

In a front page article this week headlined “Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why,” NYT reporter Simon Romero claims:

Some here [in Caracas] joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Note that the headline and the first two paragraphs of this piece depend crucially on the assumption that the partial tally of Iraqi deaths constructed by the NGO Iraq Body Count by monitoring press reports gives an accurate picture of the magnitude of the Iraqi death toll. If the Iraq Body Count partial tally is not an accurate picture of the magnitude of the Iraqi death toll, if it is too small by several orders of magnitude, then the comparison of the lede and the headline in the New York Times article is baseless.

Romero’s article also makes no attempt to explain why so many killings have taken place, unlike, for example, a recent report in the French publication Le Monde Diplomatique.

Read Naiman’s entire post here.

Categorie(s): UnSpin

Guardian Op-Ed: “Oliver Stone’s new film, South of the Border …allows six of these new wave leaders to speak for themselves”

Posted by: admin on 8:16 am

An excellent op-ed by The Guardian‘s Seumas Milne sums up the changes underway in South America, citing “South of the Border”:

Nearly two centuries after it won nominal independence and Washington declared it a backyard, Latin America is standing up. The tide of progressive change that has swept the continent for the past decade has brought to power a string of social democratic and radical socialist governments that have attacked social and racial privilege, rejected neoliberal orthodoxy and challenged imperial domination of the region.

Its significance is often underestimated or trivialised in Europe and North America. But along with the rise of China, the economic crash of 2008 and the demonstration of the limits of US power in the “war on terror”, the emergence of an independent Latin America is one of a handful of developments reshaping the global order. From Ecuador to Brazil, Bolivia to Argentina, elected leaders have turned away from the IMF, taken back resources from corporate control, boosted regional integration and carved out independent alliances across the world.

Both the scale of the transformation and the misrepresentation of what is taking place in the western media are driven home in Oliver Stone’s new film, South of the Border, which allows six of these new wave leaders to speak for themselves. Most striking is their mutual support and common commitment – from Cristina Kirchner of Argentina to the more leftist Evo Morales – to take back ownership of their continent.

Read the entire article here.

Categorie(s): "South Of The Border" News

New York Times Opinion Articles: Corrected and Uncorrected

Posted by: admin on 08-12-2010 - 3:15 pm

FAIR notes that the New York Times has corrected an error made in a recent opinion piece.

It’s actually not the first time that the Times has corrected an op-ed. In August 2006, the Times ran a correction – after repeated requests – to a November 2005 column by John Tierney that had cited out-of-date in suggesting that poverty had increased in Venezuela when, in fact, it was declining, as available data demonstrated.

The Times has also corrected editorials …in a way. As shown in “South of the Border”, the Times editorial board initially applauded the 2002 coup against Venezuela’s democratically elected government, saying that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator” only to reverse position a few days later after President Chávez returned to power. The Times wrote “… [Chávez’s] forced departure last week drew applause at home and in Washington. That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader . . .  is never something to cheer.”

Of course, we can’t expect the Times to correct everything in every column or op-ed. The time spent correcting Thomas Friedman alone might keep them too busy for anything else.

Categorie(s): UnSpin

Guerrillas Armed With Beer, Part II: This Time It’s Audio

Posted by: admin on 08-09-2010 - 3:14 pm

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting followed up their recent blog post on the Washington Post’s far-reaching editorial comments on Colombia-Venezuela tensions with a Counterspin interview that delved deeper into the issue. Host Steve Rendall asked Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy, about major media coverage of the tensions, the latest round of which began with Colombia’s presentation at the Organization of American States of “evidence” of guerrillas in Venezuelan territory, including a photo, since made famous by the Washington Post editorial board, supposedly of an ELN leader drinking Venezuelan beer on a Venezuelan beach. (As FAIR noted, this “evidence” was sufficient enough for the Washington Post editorial board to issue an editorial denouncing Venezuela, yet again, and its President, Hugo Chávez, for being part of a “terrorist alliance.” The Post did not comment on whether brewer Empresas Polar is also part of the alliance – they are the ones, after all, who seem to have supplied the ELN leader with beer.)

Carlsen commented:

I’ve been appalled by the press on this issue, but not surprised because whenever it comes to Venezuela there’s this bias and this lack of journalistic rigor, that it characterizes the articles about the region, and about Colombia and Venezuela tensions in particular. In this case, first of all, there’s no effort really made to determine whether or not these ‘proofs’ were really ‘proofs’, whether they were true or not. And moreover it’s very difficult to know exactly what these ‘proofs’ were ‘proving’. And there was no real analysis of, what does it mean? If there’s supposedly an ELN leader drinking a beer on a Venezuelan beach: what does that really prove? And yet instead of analyzing these things, or taking it at least in a neutral stance, the Washington Post editorial ended up jumping directly to the conclusion that Chavez is head of a terrorist alliance. There’s no substantiation to that, and it’s an extremely inflammatory statement. So what we’re seeing is a progression from unsubstantiated and unanalyzed so-called ‘evidence’ going straight towards these blanket statements that are accepted not only as consensus opinion but also as news itself.

And on the other hand we do not see the mainstream press reporting on peace efforts. Immediately after this happened, the FARC, which is the main guerrilla group in Colombia, came out with a statement calling for a political solution. The UNASUR and other countries in the region stated that they were going to be working toward a peace accord, which President Uribe rejected, within the region that would finally put an end to the conflict in Colombia. Yet we do not receive the kind of information that there are initiatives toward peace talks in Colombia, again, because there’s this line. coming out of Washington and echoed by the mainstream press, that is promoting a military solution to the conflict.

Listen to the interview here. Read Carlsen’s analysis, “Uribe’s Parting Shot”, here.

Categorie(s): UnSpin

Washington Post Suggests Venezuelan Government Somehow Responsible For Rise in Killings of Pro-Chávez Trade Unionists

Posted by: admin on 08-06-2010 - 3:13 pm

Human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik takes issue with a recent Washington Post article that reported that Venezuela could be the world’s most dangerous country for trade unionists. Correspondent Juan Forero makes the suggestion in stating that “Though Colombia, with its slow-burning conflict, has historically recorded the most union slayings in the world, Venezuela appears to have surpassed its neighbor in the past two years and registered more.” The article is accompanied by a photo of Hugo Chávez with a caption reading: “President Hugo Chávez has called his government labor-friendly, but the country is among the world’s most dangerous for labor activists.”

But Kovalik notes

According to the ITUC’s 2010 Annual Survey, of the 101 unionists assassinated in the world last year (2009), 48 (almost half) were Colombian. And, a recent, July 8, 2010 press release from the AFL-CI0 indicates that another 29 Colombian unionists were assassinated in the first half of 2010.

Kovalik provides important context as to what makes Colombia such a dangerous place to be involved in the labor movement:

It is well-known that the assassination of unionists in Colombia is largely carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups linked to the Colombian government or by Colombian security forces themselves. Indeed, according to a 2007 report by Amnesty International on Colombia, “around 49 percent of human rights abuses against trade unionists were committed by paramilitaries [themselves linked to the Colombian state] and some 43 percent directly by the security forces.” And, the Colombian government up to its highest reaches, including President Alvaro Uribe himself, regularly (and quite falsely) stigmatizes unionists as “guerillas,” thereby knowingly setting up union leaders for paramilitary murder.

But, as Kovalik describes

Juan Forero in the Washington Post (and in a condensed piece for NPR), who, in a very misleading and many times self-contradictory story, is claiming that Venezuela should now be considered “the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists,” pushing Colombia out of the number one spot. This piece, which is getting a lot of attention, could not be better timed as far as policy-makers in the U.S. and Colombia are concerned. Thus, it came out just as Obama has announced a renewed interest in the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (despite his campaign pledge to oppose it based upon trade union considerations) as well as the recent attempt by Colombia to censure Venezuela at the OAS for allegedly harboring FARC guerillas on its territory.

Forero, Kovalik says, attempts

to suggest that the killings in Venezuela are in fact politically motivated, and somehow the fault of the Chavez administration.

A close examination of Forero’s own piece, however, belies this claim. The most concrete example Forero gives of these “intra-union killings” is by way of an interview with Emilio Bastidas, a leader of the UNT, who talks of the murder of eight union activists from the UNT in recent years. Bastidas himself is quoted in the story as saying that “We believe it is political to debilitate the UNT and cut us off from projecting ourselves.” While Forero explains that the UNT represents 80 unions, what he fails to tell the reader is that the UNT is a pro-Chavez union formed after the coup against Chavez in 2002. This is an incredible omission, for this obviously cuts against Forero’s premise that Chavez is somehow responsible for the violence. After all, why would Chavez want to interfere with the growth of a pro-Chavez labor federation?

Read Kovalik’s entire analysis here.

Categorie(s): UnSpin

The Guardian’s Distorted Depiction of Venezuela

Posted by: admin on 08-05-2010 - 3:11 pm

“South of the Border” examines how the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and other countries are depicted in the major U.S. media. Many major U.K. media outlets offer a similar treatment of Latin America. A recent analysis of BBC coverage of Venezuela in the Chávez years, for example, details numerous misleading statements and distortions. To take another case, The Guardian is currently prominently featuring a report from last year on “The rise and rule of” Hugo Chávez. The slideshow – almost a sort of mini-documentary – is done by South America correspondent Rory Carroll, and it provides a good example of the kinds of distortions and one-sided, de-contextualized information on South America that have appeared in many Guardian news reports over the past several years.

The slideshow begins violently, with the sound of gunshots and images of the failed 1992 coup d’etat launched by Chávez and other military officers. A barebones description of the coup quickly segues into an explanation that “Chávez … instead of shooting his way into power … seduced his way,” since “the poor were angry”, as Carroll puts it. There is no mention of the exponentially more bloody episode that would help explain how divided Venezuelan society had become prior to ‘92, and why the coup attempt was so popular: the 1989 caracazo, protests against IMF-mandated economic policies which were crushed by the Venezuelan military and police, resulting in hundreds and possibly thousands killed as troops fired on demonstrators.

Carroll includes the requisite mention of Chávez making friends with Fidel Castro (and celebrities – Sean Penn and Diego Maradona are shown), but there is no mention of him forging similarly strong ties with Brazilian President Lula da Silva, the Kirchners of Argentina, or any number of other less-controversial leaders. (An image of Evo Morales, whose administration has been subjected to similar editorialized coverage by Carroll, is included.)

Carroll tells us that Chávez “made enemies” by “fir[ing] thousands of striking oil workers,” and “infuriated the middle class by pushing for a self-styled ‘socialist revolution.’ Demonstrators demanded he resign and clashed with police.”

There are several significant distortions here: First, the oil strike is mentioned out of chronological sequence: it actually quickly followed the short-lived 2002 coup d’etat against Chávez (which Carroll has not mentioned at this point in the report). Chávez did not “make” these enemies by firing them, they were already taking action against him. They were striking to overthrow the government, something that in the U.S. or U.K. would not only get them fired, but would like result in arrest of the leaders. The oil strike – which was led by management and higher-paid workers – crippled the economy and caused a sharp downturn in economic growth and huge surge in poverty rates, which much of the U.S. and U.K. media would later blame on Chávez. Third, it is highly disingenuous to mention “middle class” discontent with Chávez without mentioning the support by many in the elite for the 2002 coup, the 2002-2003 oil strike, and other attempts to remove him from office by extra-legal means.

It is worth noting that, while Carroll distorts the class-based aspects of divisions within Venezuelan politics, he completely ignores race. There is no mention of Chávez’s indigenous or African heritage, let alone that many of his supporters are from darker-skinned constituencies that historically have been disenfranchised in Venezuela, while a lighter-skinned elite has traditionally wielded power.

Carroll does mention that “George Bush backed a coup against Chávez, but it backfired. The commandante emerged stronger, and really, really angry. He called Bush a devil, a donkey, an alcoholic, and Mr. Danger.” (In keeping with tradition for the vast majority of English language media, Carroll provides no explanation for the literary allusion embodied in the latter name. Without context, it sounds like a bizarre term invented by Chávez.)

The Bush administration did more than “back” the 2002 coup; it was involved – including by funding some of the groups involved in the coup – as is explained in “South of the Border” and declassified CIA documents. You can see a summary of the most important evidence of this involvement here.

Carroll concludes with the requisite “Venezuela is in crisis” theme:

Chávez’s 10th anniversary comes at a difficult time. Opposition is once again growing. Corruption and incompetence have left public services in tatters. Violent crime has soared, the streets are filled with rubbish, and hospitals are crumbling. Even some of the poor have turned against the president. And now oil prices are tumbling. There are tough times ahead for Chávez and Venezuela.

Carroll apparently feels no need to offer any evidence for these sweeping claims, as he offers none, and he ignores evidence to the contrary. Counter to the “growing” opposition claim, Angus Reid Global Monitor noted – just before Carroll’s slideshow was first posted, in February 2009 – that support for constitutional changes backed by Chávez was the most popular response in polling. Carroll may claim that “public services are in tatters,” but the data shows that roughly four million more Venezuelans now have access to clean drinking water, and over five million more Venezuelans now have access to sanitation than in 1998. Hospitals “crumbling”? Infant and child mortality has been cut by over one-third, and post neonatal mortality by over one-half, since 1998. And perhaps most important of all, poor people have access to free health care.

“But for now, Hugo Chávez is still popular, and still powerful.”

This acknowledgement, which Carroll is forced to admit since, after all, Chávez and his political parties have won election after election over the past decade, is followed in the form of the usual anecdotal quotes from people in Caracas. Statistics and other evidence of Venezuela’s economic and social progress – especially since the Venezuelan government got control of the oil sector – are ignored.

Carroll’s slideshow fits a pattern of similar distortions in his written reports, which have suggested, for example, that “Chávez is winning the media war,” and that “robust, critical, independent journalism” might soon no longer be tolerated in Venezuela (despite that the great majority of Venezuelan media remains privately owned, and the majority of the media, as measured by audience, is hostile towards the government); or that “the [Venezuelan] government seized control” of oil projects, when in fact there had been long negotiations with the companies over the terms of new contracts, with about 90 percent of the contracts re-negotiated, and the remainder (with Exxon-Mobil and Conoco) going to the World Bank’s arbitration court.

Categorie(s): UnSpin