Latin America is well-known for its volatile political history of caudillos, corruption, economic instability and popular uprisings. Since the late 1990s some stability has descended on the region but the authoritarian tendency has never disappeared entirely. Fidel Castro, the most notorious authoritarian in the region, has maintained firm control of the Cuban populace for the last forty-eight years.
Now many men who apparently wish to follow Castro's example are coming (or returning) to power, including Evo Morales in Bolivia, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, the former Sandinista Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Because of Venezuela's vast oil reserves, Chavez has become particularly prominent and powerful in the region. He has made no secret of his contempt for the United States and the free market or of his admiration for Castro. One of his stated goals is to bring "21st Century Socialism" to Venezuela, and to do so he has nationalized many of the private companies within the country.
The most recent event in the Chavez Socialist drama came on May 27 when the dictator forced the popular Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), one of the few remaining independent media outlets in the country, to close. RCTV operated for fifty-four years, but criticized some of Chavez's recent policies and openly supported a coup d'état against him in 2002. Thus, it was a threat to the Socialist Revolution and had to be closed. Not satisfied with eliminating one television station from the airwaves, Chavez went after Globovisión, one of the few remaining independent stations in the country and the only one to air footage of the large demonstrations against the government's control of the press in the wake of RCTV's closure. Chavez, in a characteristic example of his double-speak, accused Globovisión of implicitly calling for his murder.
Although I am deeply concerned about the growing threat Chavez poses to his country, the region and the Western Hemisphere, I also am angered by the portrayal of Chavez in the mainstream media here at home. It will come as no surprise that the American media generally favors the political left. One would think, though, that Chavez's blatant violation of freedom of the press with the closure of RCTV and threat to Globovisión would elicit great outrage among our own press corps. Unfortunately, one would be wrong.
On May 30, the Los Angeles Times and the Kansas City Star ran an op-ed by Bart Jones that was so effusive in its praise of Chavez it would be difficult to distinguish from his official propaganda. According to Jones, "the case of RCTV-like most things involving Chavez-has been caught up in a web of misinformation. While one side of the story is getting headlines around the world, the other is barely heard." Apparently Jones believes it is his duty to persuade the American public that RCTV deserved to be closed by the government. The reason-it tried to oust a democratically elected leader. "A stream of commentators spewed nonstop vitriolic attacks against [Chavez] - while permitting no response from the government," he writes. Had an American network aided a coup against the U.S. Government, it would have been shut down and its owners jailed "in five minutes." But the benevolent Chavez allowed RCTV to remain on air for five years. It is evident that Jones believes the U.S. Government is not nearly as democratic as Chavez's.
Likewise, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an Associated Press interview entitled "Chavez Connects With Poor" on June 10. The article begins with Venezuelans yelling "I love you" to Chavez and giving him flower bouquets. This is not the typical dictator, you see. This man is a folk hero who plants kisses on the cheeks, heads and hands of those who try to see him. In his interview Chavez claimed that "what hurts [him] most is poverty, and that's what made [him] a rebel." Now he hands out homes and medical care to Venezuela's poorest, telling them this is what the Revolution can give them. Later in the article Chavez portrays himself as a martyr, a common theme of his political career. Because of his Socialist Revolution, he is condemned to death like Castro, and is forced to take security measures that are so extreme he ends up not having a personal life. Cue the violins. He never reveals who has condemned him to death, but it is safe to assume he means the forces of capitalism and American "imperialism" that he so frequently blames.
The problem with the mainstream media in America is that it is so enchanted by radical left-wing politics it can barely bring itself to condemn the actions of a dictator who so brazenly violates the freedom of the press. Of course, in America the media frequently equates Christian conservatives with fascist dictatorships and accuse them of trying to censor the press and eradicating all of our constitutional freedoms. But the truth is that an authoritarian streak exists all in leftist politics. Because of this, the media refuses, with few exceptions, to portray Chavez honestly, even when he violates its most sacred freedom. This should not come as a surprise to those of us who have followed the American media any significant period of time, but it should serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy of a large segment of the American media and the value that independent news sources have in our own culture and around the world. We should be thankful for the freedoms we have here, but we must be vigilant to protect them.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
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