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New York Times Apology: As a Venezuelan I Accept It — about Time!

By: Luis H. Ball - Jun 22, 2016, 9:58 am
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The New York Times’s apology: as a Venezuelan, I accept it, but it comes after they legitimized Chávez’s dictatorship. (wikimedia)

Since 1999, the New York Times’s reporters and editors consistently reported on Venezuela as if the country’s poor were neglected until a heroic and always well-intentioned Hugo Chávez arrived on the scene.

They ignored the fact that, since 1958, Venezuela’s democratically elected leaders were all either social democrats or Christian socialists. Parties of the right never even came close to winning national elections. Healthcare and public education, including universities, have been universally available and free since 1936.

Anyone with knowledge of Latin America or 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 healthcare found in the rest of the continent.

Yet, reading NYT’s coverage of Venezuela over the last 17 years, one finds nothing but praise for Hugo Chávez and his “unprecedented” social programs.

President Carlos Andrés Pérez, whom Hugo Chavez, and the NYT contributor Nicolás Maduro, tried to overthrow in a bloody coup in 1992, was the darling of the “progressive world” for two decades. Mr. Pérez, who re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1974, nationalized foreign and domestic oil and mining companies.

Beginning with his administration, foreign investment was not allowed in telecommunications, food distribution or 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.”

These same policies were not only continued but were deepened by the administrations that followed. All presidents before Hugo Chávez belonged to parties with membership in the International Socialist Movement.

Over the past 40 years, private companies in Venezuela were free to set the prices for the goods they sold without prior government approval for only three years (1991-1994).

For years, however, NYT reporters and editors conveyed the impression that Venezuela was a capitalist economy prior to Hugo Chávez’s wonderful socialist paradise. The poor, they claimed, were never better off.

Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC), the U.S. State Department, and the European Parliament made many pronouncements regarding the total loss of judicial independence in Venezuela.

During the last two presidential elections, the European Union refused to send observers, stating clearly that the Venezuelan government would not provide an adequate environment for the experts to do their jobs.

Yet the NYT and its editors kept making references to Mr. Maduro’s legitimate election as Venezuela’s leader in 2013.

Finding evidence of Cuban involvement within the Venezuelan administration is rather easy. Spain’s most prominent newspaper, El País, ran 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 for anyone who tries.

But as late as 2014, the NYT reported from Caracas that 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 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, got as low as US$7 per barrel that year.

By 2005, the price of oil recovered and reached its highest level as of that date. It was this enormous windfall of petro-dollars that allowed Chávez, and later Maduro, to claim a reduction of poverty levels.

Their vaunted social programs were empty shells, as it is now evident. They were gigantic Potemkin Villages with which they fooled those who allowed themselves to be fooled. The surprise is that it was the hard-nosed New York Times that swallowed their story.

Had one of Hugo Chávez’s predecessors, any of them, counted with an equal amount of resources, Venezuela would have been launched into prosperity. Chávez and Maduro achieved the opposite.

As in Soviet Times

The NYT once counted among its own the now-infamous Walter Duranty, Bureau Chief in Moscow for the newspaper from 1922 to 1936.

Duranty, an avowed communist, hid from the world the horrible “Holodomor,” the mass death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians carried out under direct orders of Lenin and Stalin.

The NYT later called his work “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”

In the case of Venezuela, its reporting and editorials during the last 17 years contributed to legitimizing a dictatorship born of fraudulent elections.

The Grey Lady” also weakened an already weak opposition by using the word “radical” against any leader that called the regime by its name.

In 2014, the newspaper disheartened the opposition movement by publishing an opinion piece by Nicolás Maduro himself, which was evidently written for him by his paid US publicists.

Lately, the NYT’s reporting on Venezuela has improved, and its editorial this week was perfect.

Is all forgiven? One would hope that the editors of America’s leading newspaper would have learned of the harm caused by their zeal in believing in the good intentions of socialists everywhere.

No more Walter Durantys please!

Luis H. Ball Luis H. Ball

Luis H. Ball is publisher of the PanAm Post.