Saturday, April 20, 2013

The carnival-mirror world

Oh, right. I was reminded this week of why it’s important to continue to contest the misrepresentation of Central and South America in the US media.

The piece contains a clip of this exchange between Matthew Lee of the AP and Patrick Ventrell, spokesman for the US State Department:
MATTHEW LEE: Even though after—after—after the vote has been certified—after the election has been certified, you still think that there should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, under the Venezuelan constitution, it’s ultimately up to the CNE to certify—

MATTHEW LEE: Well, I understand that—

PATRICK VENTRELL: —the election results, which they’ve done.

MATTHEW LEE: —but what’s the U.S. position? Is the U.S. position that there still should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, our position is that—

MATTHEW LEE: —or the Venezuelan people to have confidence?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Our position is that—let me finish, Matt. Our position is that resolving these irregularities would have engendered more confidence in the Venezuelan people in the quality of this vote. And so, that is the concern we’ve expressed. But in terms of where we go forward, I just don’t have anything more for you today.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, OK. So are you prepared to congratulate Mr. Maduro on his victory?

PATRICK VENTRELL: We’re not there.
The US government's reputation should long precede it. Its representatives should never be able to make statements like this without being roundly jeered. Any suggestion that the US government respects and defends electoral democracy and constitutionality in the region is laughable.

Their concerns about the quality of the vote? The US government has been trying to destabilize and undermine the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia since Chávez and Morales were elected. They were involved with the 2002 coup in Venezuela, and rushed to repeat the story that Chávez had resigned and to recognize the coup regime. They kidnapped Haiti’s democratically elected president in 2004. They refused to acknowledge that the 2009 coup in Honduras was illegal and unconstitutional, hastening to legitimize the coup regime and to recognize a president “elected” in a process that was widely condemned by electoral observers and welcome a government that has committed widespread human rights abuses, including the murders of journalists, educators, activists, and lawyers. And this is all against the backdrop of a long history of overthrowing elected presidents and backing brutal dictatorships in the region. They should not be able to feel comfortable making public statements like the one above.

But the stories I’ve read in the mainstream press completely fail to challenge the US government’s narrative or self-presentation. And now, the CNE has announced that there will be an audit of the votes, and the New York Times report begins: “In the carnival-mirror world of Venezuelan politics,…”.

This isn’t a game. This manipulation has consequences for millions of people in these countries, and that means journalists have a heavy responsibility when they present information to the public. When they simply repeat the spin of US officials or corporate PR hacks, when they treat political life in the region as a joke, when they psychologize real political concerns, they play a role in the manipulation and in the undermining of democratic politics. And this isn’t about liking or supporting these presidents, their parties, or their projects or letting their actions go unchallenged. It’s about a basic respect for the electoral democratic process* – the same basic respect people expect for our own.

Some of these journalists are in fact sympathetic to rightwing causes and know what they’re doing. I suspect that some others, though, have simply become habituated to writing about politics in the region in this naïve, arrogant, absurdly condescending fashion. It's the norm. But it has to stop. The carnival-mirror political world here is the one they serve to create through their rhetoric.

*Which is far from the anarchist-democratic ideal, but a lot closer to it than military dictatorships and corporatocracies.

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