The New York Times and the death of President Hugo Chavez

The New York Times and the death of President Hugo Chavez
Michael Rissler
One could not help but wonder when the hammer would fall from the New York Times.  Always essentially attacking the work of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and reaching as far as possible to cast events in an anti-Chavez light, it was inevitable that disdain would come forth stronger after his death, and so it was on March 8 in an article entitled “On Eve of His Funeral, Debating Chávez’s Legacy.”  Of course, it was not a debate, but rather a cleverly written diatribe against Hugo Chavez’ 14- year legacy that reached not only Venezuela, but all of Latin America and the world.
                No one of fair mind would view the Times’ article as a “debate.”  It was a carefully designed effort to discredit the major accomplishments that Venezuela has made in the last more than a decade.  The article says, “Venezuela had one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region during the 14 years that Mr. Chávez held office, according to World Bank data. It has high inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods. It has one of the highest rates of violent crime, and it is riven by bitter political divisions.”  This description, in fact, could be cast at most countries in the world and it is certainly a good description of the history of Latin America when it was under the economic and military thumb of the United States.  For most of the people of Venezuela who have languished in poverty for centuries while the upper class has more recently benefited from Venezuelan petroleum resources, the 14 years of Mr. Chavez’ leadership means that the economy has grown and benefit most Venezuelans greatly .  Do people in the United States know that there is free, universal health care for all Venezuelans due to Mr. Chavez’ leadership?  Do people in the United States know that there is now free education for Venezuelans, including university studies?  The significance of these achievements is immense and the United States cannot claim such accomplishments for its people, in fact, just the opposite.  It should be remember that millions of low-income people in the United States received low-cost fuel oil to heat their homes due to the policies of Hugo Chavez.  Without a doubt this kind of generosity was galling to opponents of the government of Venezuela who live in the U.S.
                Other descriptions throughout the article work hard to make the worst interpretation and accusations possible.  Belittling the fact that Venezuela has the largest reserves of oil in the world, it cast this fact, too, in a negative light.  Then much of the article took issue with Chavez’ popularity, the way he died, how his body is to be treated, even “debating” whether he had lapsed into a coma or died from a heart attack.  Even the speculation that the vice president, Nicolás Maduro, will win the upcoming presidential election was credited solely to riding “a wave of loyalty and grief over Mr. Chávez’s death.”  Certainly, it would argue, that it could have nothing to do with the fact that the majority of the people of Venezuela have benefited from 14 years of reforms that have lifted people out of destitution and invisibility in a country that while it was a stout ally of the U.S. was essentially like all of the past states that were firmly under the economic and military control of the United States—vastly poor, oppressed with violent military governments, and with small leadership classes that grew always richer while the continent as a whole increased in want. 
As just one representative of this U.S. legacy, the small country of Nicaragua had a more than 40 year dictatorship by a father and two sons named Somoza.  They were allies of the United States government and its brutal policies.  The last member of the triumvirate bragged that he had a ranch and it was named “Nicaragua.”  In fact, he owned something like 50% of the wealth of the country.  The father was put in charge of the country under a U.S. trained military force earlier in the 20thcentury, and finally, when a broad coalition of Nicaraguans rose up and overthrew the last Somoza, he fled to Miami, as countless despots from Latin America have done.  Furthermore, when a truly popular movement ended that long dictatorship in the summer of 1979 and began to make reforms that immediately improved the people’s lives, the new President Reagan launched a counter-revolution made up of former members of Somoza’s National Guard.  More than 50,000 Nicaraguans died as a result in the decade of the 80’s.  The reforms were destroyed, and eventually the whole ugly and sordid mess became known in the U.S. as the “Iran-Contra Affair” in which Reagan and his cohorts went against Congress and covertly sold arms to Iran and then funneled those funds into supporting anti-government forces in Nicaragua.
This, too, is a familiar pattern in the history of Latin America (and the world) where the United States has stood for oppression, anti-democratic oligarchies, and attempted economic and military hegemony.  While many in the U.S. do not realize it, the United States is not seen as either benevolent or reforming in the world, but rather as a force for destruction and repression.  Post World War II United States is known for its overthrow of democratically elected governments in such countries as Guatemala, Turkey, Chile, and…well, the list is long.  Look it up.
In fact, in 2002, the United States participated in the attempted overthrown of the Venezuelan government when Hugo Chavez was president.  He was sequestered and imprisoned, but in just hours the people and main force of the Venezuelan military demanded that he be reinstated and the rump government that had been put into place, collapsed with Chavez returning to office.  The New York Times must have worked hard to find people it could quote in Latin America to paint a negative image of Venezuela’s and Chavez’ accomplishments.  Their attempt is at best, pathetic, and certainly not a debate.  They even tried to list some countries that were representative of departing from the example of Venezuela.  One such country was Chile, which President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger did everything possible to destroy when the democratically and moderate president, Salvador Allende, sought reforms to benefit the country.  This overthrow took place on another September 11th (1973)and ended in the death of President Allende.  Brazil was another country cited and the U.S. record there is equally horrendous, supporting violent military governments.  This, too, is a well-known pattern throughout the Southern Cone of Latin America where Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil were ruled by military governments that killed thousands and disappeared thousands more over the course of nearly a decade, all these brutal governments were allies of the United States.  When the U.S. could not repeat the pattern in Venezuela and growing independence has developed against the hegemonic efforts of the U.S., of course, the wrath grew against the independence, honesty, and success of the leadership of Hugo Chavez.
We can credit the New York Times with serving as the mouthpiece for this dismal history and ongoing dismissal of the most powerful reforms that have ever been seen throughout the continent in the last five centuries. 

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