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Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media. For more information, sign up for our Latin America News Roundup or visit the archives.

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While media reports and U.S.-based human rights organizations tend to focus on attacks on the press in countries that have elected left leaders, the closing of La Nación in Chile has generated next to nothing from those some organizations and media outlets.

It was announced this week that La Nación, the 70 percent state-owned news outlet, would be closed. The print edition had already been shut down in 2010 after conservative president Sebastian Piñera took office. The state newspaper’s union issued a statement calling the move, “the culmination of an attack on press freedom” waged by Piñera, while adding that “Once again, the common people, the citizens, were shut out of the distribution of power and resources, this time regarding an historic publication.”

While Piñera cited economic reasons for closing the print edition, it seems unlikely that this was the only reason as, according to La Mostrador, La Nación had some $2 million in profits in 2011.

With the closing of La Nación, Chile’s written media is now almost entirely concentrated in the hands of two groups, El Mercurio Group (publisher of El Mercurio) and Copesa (publisher of La Tercera). The two media outlets, which were outspoken proponents of the 1973 coup that brought the Pinochet dictatorship to power, have received $5 million in government subsidies a year, in an agreement that dates back to the Pinochet regime. As Chilean journalist Francisco Martorell told Reports Without Borders last year, “This system, which had resulted in the disappearance of the opposition press, killed it off again after the return to democracy, although it had just barely been revived. To cap it all, there are now fewer print media in Chile than there were at the end of the dictatorship!”

Well, now there is one fewer, but don’t expect to hear much about it from the self-styled defenders of free speech.

CEPR’s lengthy report, “Collateral Damage of a Drug War,” continues to receive attention from the media and policy makers. The report is based on an on-the-ground investigation of exactly what happened on May 11, when four people were shot and killed and four others wounded in a joint U.S. DEA-Honduran counternarcotics operation in the Moskitia region of Honduras, and was co-authored by CEPR’s Alex Main with Annie Bird and Karen Spring of Rights Action, a human rights advocacy organization with decades of experience working in Central America.

The CEPR/Rights Action report is based on extensive interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses of the shooting and related events, as well as with U.S. and Honduran government officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske, and the then-DEA attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, Jim Kenney, as well as Honduran officials who took part in the autopsies and evidence gathering for the Honduran authorities’ investigation into the incident. The U.S. government, despite the admitted role of the DEA in the events, and the admitted use of State Department-titled helicopters in those events, has not undertaken its own investigation, nor has it taken any responsibility for the victims or their ongoing struggle to recover from the physical, mental and emotional wounds left over from May 11.

On Friday evening –a time when breaking news typically receives very little attention – the Honduran government released its own report on the events to the Associated Press. AP summarized the report’s findings: “that two victims of a shooting during a joint U.S.-Honduran anti-drug operation were not pregnant and none of the gunfire that killed anyone came from a law-enforcement helicopter…” and that “forensic tests show the bullets that hit the four people killed were fired horizontally, not from above. In addition, the slugs were from lower-caliber bullets used by M-16 rifles and not the heavier weapon mounted on the helicopter…”

The Honduran authorities’ findings, as reported by AP, depart from the evidence and the common points of the various eyewitness statements. In a lengthier follow-up article, I told AP’s Alberto Arce that the claims made by German Enamorado, chief of Honduras' Office of Human Rights are “simply…not credible, when confronted with forensic evidence and so much eyewitness testimony to the contrary.”

Here’s why:

For months, foreign policy circles in DC have been abuzz with a new acronym for a new supposed threat: a looming VIRUS (Venezuela, Iran, and Russia).  According to this theory, Venezuela’s recent cooperation agreements with Iran and Russia signal what is supposed to be our worst nightmare: Venezuela and Russia could be helping Iran develop nuclear weapons.  Thankfully, this week’s WikiLeaks releases have included two cables from Caracas, which handily refute any such fears.

Simply put, a cable from June 2009 tells us:

A plain-spoken nuclear physicist told Econoff that those spreading rumors that Venezuela is helping third countries (i.e. Iran) develop atomic bombs "are full of (expletive)."

The documentary film “South of the Border” examines how the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and other countries are depicted in the major U.S. media. Many major U.K. media outlets offer a similar treatment of Latin America. A recent analysis of BBC coverage of Venezuela in the Chávez years, for example, details numerous misleading statements and distortions. To take another case, The Guardian is currently prominently featuring a report from last year on “The rise and rule of” Hugo Chávez. The slideshow – almost a sort of mini-documentary – is done by South America correspondent Rory Carroll, and it provides a good example of the kinds of distortions and one-sided, de-contextualized information on South America that have appeared in many Guardian news reports over the past several years.

The slideshow begins violently, with the sound of gunshots and images of the failed 1992 coup d’etat launched by Chávez and other military officers. A barebones description of the coup quickly segues into an explanation that “Chávez … instead of shooting his way into power … seduced his way,” since “the poor were angry”, as Carroll puts it. There is no mention of the exponentially more bloody episode that would help explain how divided Venezuelan society had become prior to ‘92, and why the coup attempt was so popular: the 1989 caracazo, protests against IMF-mandated economic policies which were crushed by the Venezuelan military and police, resulting in hundreds and possibly thousands killed as troops fired on demonstrators.

Social Spending in Venezuela (1990-2005) 

 

Social Spending (including Soc Sec)
  Millions of Bolivares % of Public Spending % of GDP
1990 172271.3 29.9 7.8
1991 286635.9 35.8 9.8
1992 402292.1 40.1 10.1
1993 440023.6 40.0 8.3
1994 652605.1 33.7 7.8
1995 1037334.7 36.9 7.8
1996 2080229 32.3 7.3
1997 4113750.5 38.6 9.8
1998 4111346.1 34.7 8.2
1999 5607402.7 38.5 9.4
2000 8782242.8 37.3 11.0
2001 10778508.8 38.4 12.1
2002 12107275.2 38.2 11.2
2003 16224911.7 39.0 12.1
2004 25068023.3 41.4 12.1
2005 38781871.5 44.9 13.2

Source: SISOV (http://www.sisov.mpd.gov.ve/home/index.php)

 

Social Spending (minus Soc Sec)

 

  Millions of Bolivares % of Public Spending % of GDP
1990 157462.2 27.3 7.1
1991 261776.5 32.7 8.9
1992 366881.1 36.6 9.2
1993 399303.3 36.3 7.6
1994 568795.8 29.3 6.8
1995 903411.6 32.2 6.8
1996 1761219.1 27.3 6.2
1997 3467903.3 32.5 8.3
1998 3416919.5 28.8 6.8
1999 4429408.4 30.4 7.5
2000 7019333.9 29.8 8.8
2001 7716175 27.5 8.7
2002 9049090.9 28.6 8.4
2003 11674748.1 28.1 8.7
2004 18475914 30.5 8.9
2005 29685076.6 34.4 10.1

Source: SISOV (http://www.sisov.mpd.gov.ve/home/index.php)