It’s incredible how one-sided, misleading and cherry picking the mainstream media has been on recent events in Bolivia. Actually, it shouldn’t be surprising. Wouldn’t it be surprising if the New York Times presented a balanced account of what is happening, publishing both sides of the story in equal fashion, as is its professional obligation? In today’s NY Times article “‘I Assume the Presidency’: Bolivia Lawmaker Declares Herself Leader,” journalist Clifford Krauss presents a picture in which Evo Morales is instigating chaos in Bolivia, and implies that opposition-leader Senator Jeanine Añez Chávez has courageously assumed the position of acting president in order to bring order to the nation. Nothing about the fact that Morales was ousted in a coup. After all the military ordered Morales to resign. Instead Krauss writes “Mr. Morales’s abrupt departure had come after the armed forces sided with protesters who accused him of rigging an election to stay in power.” The term “sided with protesters” is a far cry from ordering a president to resign.
In fact, this scenario is a near duplication of what happened in Venezuela on April 11, 2002 when the military threatened to bomb the presidential palace after which the Venezuelan opposition denied that a coup had occurred – same playbook. Krauss and other mainstream journalists either decontextualize or miscontextualize Morales’s decision to resign.
Nor does Krauss make reference to the right-wing mobs which have attacked Morales’s followers, busted into their homes and destroyed some of them and bullied and humiliated María Patricia Arce, a mayor in the department of Cochabamba and member of Morales’ MAS party, who was forced to walk barefooted for three miles covered with red paint while she received punches. Instead Krauss makes it appear that what is in effect armed right-wing vigilantes who act with the blessing of security forces are ill-defined and not so bad. Consider the following quote from Krauss:
“A New York Times reporter watched about 20 motorbike-riding civilians armed with metal pipes and chains travel out of Cochabamba’s main police station, as police officers saluted them and gave thumbs up on the way out. The riders did not carry any political affiliation, but Cochabamba’s Police Headquarters had flipped its allegiance to the opposition last Saturday, triggering a national wave of police mutiny that brought Ms. Añez to power.”
Krauss also fails to mention that the racist mobs which created the chaos in the first place have shouted out anti-indigenous slogans and have burnt the indigenous flag known as the whipala, in tandem with their repudiation of the constitutional principle that Bolivia is a pluri-national state. Nor does Krauss come close to pointing to the courage of Morales’s supporters who are on the streets in spite of brutal repression. Instead, Krauss writes “Ms. Añez’s proclamation, however, has not put an end to sporadic political violence and opportunistic looting unleashed by Mr. Morales’s resignation.” Words do matter. What does “opportunistic looting” mean Mr. Krauss?
Indeed, the situation recalls the events of October 2002 when Carlos Mesa (who as presidential candidate refused to recognize the official count in last week’s elections) was vice president and brutal repression resulted in dozens of deaths forcing President Sanchez de Lozada to resign.
Krauss is obviously supportive of Añez Chávez’s maneuvers in which the nation’s highest constitutional court validated her self-proclamation. And yet this is the exact scenario of what happened in Venezuela in July 2017 when President Maduro succeeded in putting an end to four months of violent protests by sidestepping the National Assembly and calling elections for a constituent assembly. The move was ratified by Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal. And yet for that the Trump administration and the mainstream media have called Maduro nothing less than a dictator, a dictator of the worst kind.
Unlike a few scattered quotes from Morales, Krauss’ article contains 6 paragraphs in a row in support of Añez Chávez beginning with: “Some political and legal analysts said the steps taken by Ms. Añez and the assembly members present for her announcement were extraordinary but necessary, because members of Mr. Morales’s party had boycotted the scheduled session at which they were to select a new president.” And a few paragraphs down: “the new president’s controversial proclamation was greeted with a visible sigh of relief, if not mass celebration.”
In 1897, Adolph S. Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, came up with the iconic slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” Can anybody take that seriously anymore?
Steve Ellner is an Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives and a retired professor from the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela. His edited Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings was just released by Rowman and Littlefield.