Shoddy Journalism: Critique of San Fancisco Bay View article on Venezuela

September 29, 2002

One of the things that blogs can do is keep journalists honest. The ability to link text to solid reference is unique to the blogging process. We have to take advantage of this to erradicate lies, misconceptions and propaganda from the news. I had not posted in the last few days because I was so annoyed at an article about Venezuela in the San Francisco Bay View, that I did not know even where to start writing about it or how to go about it. In the end after my brother’s comment (I agree with every single word he said) on it, I think I will concentrate on the factual inaccuracies of the article, providing a link whenever possible (the process can be endless!!). I can’t help commenting on other statements in the article that I strongly disagree with.


As pointed out by Tyromaniac, the term African-Venezuelan simply does not exist. There is certainly discrimination in Venezuela, but is not based on the color of your skin (except for racism against Indians) but mostly against women and what I would call social discrimination, that is discrimination based on social status. The country has a mostly mixed population, with about 20% white, 8% black, 3% indian and the rest mestizo. In fact the most recent report by the UN Committe on the elimination of Racial Discrimination that is on the web, mentions women, indians and poor but fails to mention blacks even once.


To call President Chavez the first multi-racial President Venezuela has had, is absurd and I have certainly never hear people call him “negro”. In fact the term “negro” in Venezuela carries a friendly connotation. In fact, the Minister of Education who is mentioned in the article had a TV program until recently calle Blanco y Negro, referring to the last name of one host and the fact that Minister Isturiz is black. In fact the racial mix in the country is such that look at the picture of Chavez’ wife (He is divorcing her). In fact Mr. Chavez is the typical mestizo with some indian blood. But he is no black. He might be a little darker than former President Luis Herrera Campins, but not by much.


That blacks have taken control of the University is to me no big deal. Barlovento is indeed an area populated mostly by blacks that arrived in the XVIth. century from other Spanish colonies as slaves. They were freed in the XVIIIth. century. That a black got to be its President is natural. The University was not created by this Government, has been around for a while, so what’s new?


While it is true that the new Constitution gives the right for indian tribes to recover their lands, there is no equivalent for blacks. What there is, is a controversial Land reform bill, which would allow the Government to takeover unused lands from the private sector. Curiously this “revolutionary”  bill would never give ownership rights to the farmer!!!. Moreover, I always wonder why the Government has to go and expropriate private lands when it owns close to 60% of the land of the country. How come we never talk about giving that away?. Finally, land for what? As with all Latin American countries, Venezuela has become largely an Urban country where true agricultural activities which are sustainable and profitable require large tracts of lands and technology.


President Chavez never received 70% of the vote in the two Presidential elections. He got 56.2% in 1998 and 60.3% in 2000. Yes, people voted for him, they thought he would bring a Governemnt of law and order and prosperity. Instead, the economy has shrunk by 9.8% in the first half of 2002 despite the two years of extremely high oil prices (This is the largest contraction in history). The currency has devalued from Bs. 776 on Jan. 1 to Bs. 1463 this week. Unemployment has hit 19.5% the highest in 20 years, despite the fact that there is a decree which prohibits anybody from firing anyone. I would like to know how can “small bussinesses flourish”, as the article says, with an economic contraction of close to 10%.


The article states that when President Chavez became President 80% of the population lived below the poverty line, I will not argue about the number, University studies that I  know of say it is less than 70%, but what I do know is that since Hugo Chavez became President 1.5 million people have joined the ranks of the poor. He has now been in power for four years, he can longer blame the past. He is on an ego trip. While he claims to hurt for the poor he bought a $65 million Airbus with jacuzzi for his trips abroad. He has spent six months of the three and a half years he has been in power travelling. He says summits are useless, but doesn’t miss one.


In April, Chavez had 19 people killed as they demonstrated peacefully against him and he resigned. His own Chiefs of Staff announced his resignation and there is a video where he states it explicitly. But when he realized they would not let him leave  the country and had to stand trial for the deaths, he refused to sign his resignation. (There is even a tape of him asking for US$ 7 million to leave). His party has refused to approve the nomination of an independent “truth” commission to determine what happened. Yes, some people tried to take over aftwerward with a coup, but he did resign beforehand. No more than 2,000 people took to the streets and most of them were looting, not calling for his return. Yes, Hugo Chavez was elected, so was Hitler in 1933. But as time goes on, Hugo Chavez becomes more and more dictatorial (see my previous posts on the Supreme Court). If the Courts rule against him they are terrible, if people want to demonstrate against him he decrees “special secirity” zones to stop them. Is that a democracy?


The truth is that people voted for Hugo Chavez looking for law and order and economic growth. They got neither. They did not vote for a revolution. Recent polls give him 30% of popularity, but in an area of indigenous population where his support is even higher, Chavez’ MVR party got less than 5% of the vote in a recent mayoral election. So even his supporters are no longer willing to go out for him.


Finally I reply to the closing arguments of the article:


1) Hugo Chavez has had a tendency to visit mostly undemocratic leaders. Look at my Fable. I have pictures with him with all sorts of dictatorial leaders, but I was able to find only two pictures with democrats. He visits Fidel Castro regularly. He calls the Cuban system “a sea of happiness” while the US has “savage capitalism”. Is this friendly towards the US?. No way. When a 1999 flood destroyed a whole state Chavez refused the aid of the US Army Corp of Engineers which was going to rebuild for free a coastal highway in two months. Two years later the highway is unfinished. (Curiously, this highway leads to some of the coastal towns whose population is mostly black…)


2) He did not condemn the attacks of Sept. 11th. Period. That is a fact. In fact, his then Minister of Foreign Relations, today Vice-President, even explained why. Only later when the US expressed outrage did they condemn it.


3) President Chavez has indeed condemned Colombian guerillas. But this is a recent position.


4) President Chavez wrote a letter to famous Venezuelan terrorist Carlos The Jackal in which he oppenly supports “his Cause”. Is this consistent with being anti-terrorist?


Yes, we will get rid of Mr. Chavez before he destroys the country and will replace him with a true democratic system. We will do it within his Constitution that he now disrespects. In fact, it is within the Constitution for him to resign and leave, we will take care of the rest. Sorry for the length…I could have gone on, the article is so bad.  


One last comment: How come these articles never mention Mr. Chavez attempted to overthrow the Government in 1992 in a bloody coup attempt?

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