The Tragedy of the New York Times

EspañolVenezuela’s democratically elected governments since 1958 were all either social democratic or Christian socialists. Parties of the right never even came close to winning national elections. Health care and public education, including universities, have been universally available and free since 1936. Anyone with knowledge of Latin America who visited the country in 1980 would have noticed that public health was not only available to everyone but also as good as the best private health care in the rest of the continent.

Yet New York Times reporters and editors have consistently reported on Venezuela as if Venezuela’s poor were neglected until a heroic, and always well-intentioned, Hugo Chávez arrived on the scene in 1998.

But the New York Times reporters and editors are honorable men, so are they all, all honorable men.

President Carlos Andrés Pérez, whom Hugo Chávez and New York Times contributor Nicolás Maduro tried to overthrow in a bloody coup in 1992, was the darling of the “progressive world” for two decades. Pérez, however, had already re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1974 and nationalized foreign and domestic oil and mining companies. Beginning with his government, foreign investment was not allowed in telecommunications, food distribution, and banking, among many other fields. Billions were spent on creating giant state-owned steel and aluminum companies, and oil production was curtailed because oil riches “corrupted the values of the Venezuelan citizen.” Oil income was  considered “The devil’s excrement.”

These same policies were not only continued but deepened by the governments that followed. All presidents before Hugo Chávez belonged to parties with membership in the International Socialist Movement. In fact, during the past 40 years, price increases for goods and services have not been subject to prior government approval for only three years (1991-94).

Yet the New York Times reporters and editors for 15 years have conveyed the impression that Venezuela was a capitalist economy prior to Hugo Chávez’s wonderful socialist paradise. But these reporters are honorable men. They all are honorable men.

Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the US State Department, and the European Parliament have made pronouncements regarding the total loss of judicial independence in Venezuela. During the last two presidential elections, the European Union has outright refused to send observers, stating clearly that the Venezuelan government would not provide an adequate environment for observers to do their jobs.

Yet the New York Times and its editors keep making references to Maduro’s legitimate election as Venezuela’s leader, and we know they all are honorable men.

Finding evidence of Cuban involvement within the Venezuelan administration is rather easy. Spain’s most prominent newspaper El País has run an extensive series of very well documented articles on that very subject. Any Venezuelan lawyer can provide ample evidence of rules, laws, and treaties now in force that allow Cuban police officers and other security personnel to carry weapons in Venezuela and even make arrests inside Venezuela. Copies of contracts given to Cuban government companies for the automation of Venezuela’s national ID and passport systems, its property and commercial registry, and all notaries are easy to obtain by anyone who tries.

Yet the New York Times reporter in Caracas claims the opposition leaders “offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions” of Cuban involvement.

When Venezuela’s last truly democratic president, Rafael Caldera, a man of the left who governed with a coalition of socialist parties, handed the presidential seal to Hugo Chávez in January 1999, Venezuela was in the midst of its worst economic crisis in a century. The price of oil, the key factor for the entire economy, would go as low as US$7 per barrel that year.

By 2005 the price of oil had recovered, and it reached what then was its highest level ever. It was this enormous windfall of petro-dollars that allowed Chávez, and now Maduro to claim a reduction of poverty levels. Their vaunted social programs are empty shells. They are gigantic Potemkin Villages with which they have fooled modern day Walter Durantys, and those who have allowed themselves to be fooled. Had one of Hugo Chávez’s predecessors, any of them, enjoyed an equal amount of resources, Venezuela would have been launched into prosperity. Chávez and Maduro have achieved the opposite.

French newspaper Le Monde is an important part of the French left. Some consider it almost the official journal of the French Socialist Party. Its editors recently published an editorial that ended thus: “One needs to account for ‘Latin Exoticism’ to understand why certain French intellectuals find some charm in ‘chavismo’. Mainly because this movement, either under Maduro or Chavez, curtails civil liberties, muzzles part of the press and mistreats all opposition. In reality ‘chavismo’ has become a nightmare.”

The New York Times, by giving equal weight to the opinions of Nicolás Maduro as to those of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, whose article it published last week, has caused great harm to the cause of democracy and prosperity in Latin America. One wonders who we will see next with an op-ed piece in the Times, Bashar Al-Assad maybe?

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