John Dinges on
Posted to www.marxmail.org on
Dear John Dinges,
I stumbled across your CJR article on the Venezuelan press
through a rave review on Marc Cooper's blog. Since Marc, who apparently is an
old friend of yours from Allende's
To begin with, I must commend you for a bravura centrist
performance. By staking out a position between the "extremism" on
both sides in
Since 9/11 NPR's
ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, has devoted a number of
his columns at npr.org to the network's coverage of the Bush Administration and
the wars in
Although I will give you credit for acknowledging Chavez's
popularity among the poor and for distancing yourself
from the kind of hysteria in liberal circles in the
Let me cite it in its entirety:
Teodoro Petkoff may be the closest thing to a genuinely
independent journalist in
Petkoff is optimistic about the future of both democracy and the media. More than devotion to journalistic principle, it is the prospect of six more years of Chavez, plus the fear of sanctions under the new press laws, that have put the media owners on a more balanced path, he says.
Let us perform an exegesis on this ungainly clot of prose
that might pass muster in the
Far from having qualms
about his new job, the socialist minister assures foreign investors about
When Petkoff was finance minister, he had a chance to
demonstrate his commitment to Venezuelans about the benefits of "long-term
investment." In a
Venezuela is trying to attract investment in oil and petroleum derivatives, mining, tourism, telecommunications and construction. And it is seeking buyers for shares in enterprises to be privatised, including aluminum, steel, telephones, electricity, tourism and transport.
The Agenda, whose stringent adjustment of the buying power of Venezuelans - four out of five of whom are poor - began to go into effect in April, with the aim of taming inflation and restoring fiscal balance based mainly on higher revenues.
The government instrumented a sixfold rise in fuel prices - the oil sector is a State monopoly - and its second 70 percent devaluation in four months. And it freed up the currency, prices, rates on public services and interest rates, while parliament was asked to raise sales taxes from 12.4 to 16.5 percent.
So beneath all of Petkoff's lofty phrases about "democracy" and "investment," we discover a track record that led to the class polarization that swept Chavez into power and that keeps him there now.
Finally, on the question of Chavez's alleged human rights violations, I think it is useful to remember the state of affairs that existed in Venezuela in the period that Petkoff waxes nostalgic for:
Between October 1994 and September 1995, security forces killed 126 people, 46 in extra judicial executions, and 28 while they were in police or military custody. Authoritarianism and repression are growing. Of 13,941 arbitrary detentions, 94 per cent occurred during anti crime operations mainly in poor neighbourhoods. Amnesty International has detailed many examples of miscarriages of justice and claims that the main perpetrators of human rights violations are agents of the state. It is not that the country is lawless. On the contrary. There is, for example, a Vagrancy Act in operation which allows the police to arrest and detain without charge, and for up to three months, anyone considered "vagrant". As the local police stations cannot cope with so many detainees it has become common practice to "sell" them to the bigger prisons where the most horrible and horrifying abuse is meted out to them. It is hardly surprising, that AIDS has become rampant within the prison system; hardly surprising that up to four prisoners die each day in captivity. (The Irish Times, October 17, 1996)