The Crumbling Of Jackson Diehl’s Credibility

January 26, 2010

Not Jackson Diehl (as far as I know) but somehow apt

The game’s up Hugo. Revolution’s over, pack away the toys and let the grown ups take over. Yep, and the beret. Silly boy, trying to make your people healthier, better educated and more prosperous. Don’t you know that your revolution is “crumbling”?

Or so Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post would have it. Apparently, this week has seen the devaluation of the Bolivar, “massive power cuts” leading to the “possible collapse of the national grid” and “double digit inflation.” Venezuela is on the brink. According to Diehl, “Despite the recovery in oil prices, the Venezuelan economy is deep in recession and continues to sink even as the rest of Latin America recovers.”

Unnamed economists are predicting inflation of 60 percent, 70 percent, who knows? And apparently Chavez has had a terrible week in international terms. Diehl writes that “Haiti only deepens Chávez’s hole” adding that “As the world watches, the United States is directing a massive humanitarian operation, and Haitians are literally cheering the arrival of U.S. Marines.” (readers of this blog should know how sickening that statement is).

Apparently, the fact that a shambolic “election” in Honduras has rubber stamped a military coup which ejected the nation’s president is also a “victory for the United States, which was virtually the only country that backed the democratic election that broke the impasse.”

Meanwhile, Chavez opinion rating has dipped below 50 percent. Time for revolution.

This is truly serpentine stuff from the estimable Diehl, backing coups and airbrushing the image of the US Marine Corps after a week of shockingly inept disaster response.

On Venezuela, Diehl is peddling a particularly sinister line. He would have his readers believe that the nation is a basket case – ruined economically and politically by Hugo Chavez. Yet the truth is somewhat different.

As the Center For Economic and Policy Research found last year, Chavez has presided over an unprecedented improvement in living standards for most Venezuelans. Its study found (among other things) that since Chavez took control of the national oil company and its revenues in 2003, GDP has grown by 94 percent. Most of this growth has, contrary to those who see Chavez as a big government ogre strangling the Venezuelan little guy, been in the private sector. Moreover, Chavez has radically reduced Venezuela’s public debt, its foreign debt having decline from 25 percent to 9 percent under his presidency.

On social matters, the improvement has been striking. Infant mortality has dropped by a third. The number of primary care doctors in the public sector has increased by a factor of twelve. The percentage of households in poverty has decreased from 54 percent in 2003, to 26 percent in 2008, figures which “do not take into account increased access to health care or education.” Unemployment has dropped, more people are going into higher education (and literacy has rocketed) while more people are receiving pensions and social security payments.

But for Jackson Diehl, this is immaterial. He socialises amongst the Venezuelan elite (providing vocal support for the “NGO” Sumate, for example, which was funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy and took an active part in efforts to destabilize the Venezuelan government). It is the rich that concerns him, not the poor.

For example, he lent the support of the Washington Post editorial pages to Marcel Granier, a media mogul who ran one of the nation’s most popular television stations, RCTV. That was, until the government revoked RCTV’s license for supporting the 2002 coup against Chavez. While the president was being kidnapped and replaced, RCTV ran music videos and cartoons to distract attention.

RCTV’s production manager at the time, Andres Izarra, later told how Granier had instructed himnot [to] broadcast any information about Chávez, his followers, ministers, or any other person who might be connected to him.”

These are the kind of Venezuelan voices that Diehl likes to hear, and wants you to hear. And this bias towards the rich has led him into some funny predictions. For example, in the run up to a 2007 referendum on a proposed constitution, he predicted that “In a week and a half, abetted by intimidation and overt violence that has included the gunning down of student protesters, Chavez will become the presumptive president-for-life of a new autocracy.” According to Diehl, “Many people will abstain from voting rather than risk the retaliation of a regime that has systematically persecuted those who turned out against Chavez in the past.”

This was utterly wrong. Chavez subsequently lost the referendum, in an affirmation of Venezuelan democracy, and while people did abstain, this was widely thought to represent dissatisfaction amongst Venezuela’s poor than worries about civil liberties.

Diehl has consistently chosen hysteria over objectivity. As he wrote about RCTV in 2007, “Chavez is eliminating, at a stroke, the media that gave the biggest platform to his opponents” – which was nonsense. After the revocation of RCTV’s license, 79 out of 81 television channels in the country remained privately owned. Or, as he wrote in 2005, “The former coup-plotting colonel is well on his way to destroying what was once the most stable and prosperous democracy in Latin America.” That was after a 2002 coup sponsored by the U.S. and a year long strike in the crucial oil sector also thought by some to have been engineered by Washington.

As a source of information about Venezuela, he can hardly be trusted, yet he has enormous reach as Deputy Editorial page Editor at the Post, and it’s important to interrogate what he writes.

Diehl is part of a cluster of opinion formers who make capital out of denigrating Latin American “populism.” The mistakes of leaders like Chavez are seen as deviations from good policy and “liberal democracy” while any notion that Venezuela before Chavez was worse are erased. Similarly, Chavez’ foreign policy, which is centred around anti-imperialism, is seen as either a piece of demagoguery or a buffoonery – or both.

Yet historically, these are shaky positions to take and I’d like to show that using two pieces of evidence.

Firstly, an article from 1984, which gives a horrifying picture of the nation’s judicial system. This Venezuela is a nation where “the overcrowded prisons and their squalid conditions are mostly secluded from public view” while “Charges of judicial inefficiency, corruption and political cronyism are to most people here little more than a blur of headlines.”

At the Justice Ministry, “rats gnaw the evidence of forgotten cases” – eating away the chances of release and mercy for the “more than 75 percent of the 24,000 persons in national prisons [who] never have been convicted of a crime.”

Corruption is endemic. As one local source tells the journalist, “The corruption and bad administration has arrived at such a point that no one in Venezuela believes in justice anymore.”

So anyone who tells you that Chavez has “ruined” Venezuela is making an interesting claim, at best.

Secondly, another article from the 1980s. This time, the journalist is writing about Venezuelan responses to the Falklands War. As he writes:

“A major factor in the popular support for Argentina–measured at 96 percent by a Gallup Poll during the conflict–is Venezuela’s own territorial dispute with neighboring Guyana, a former British colony. Venezuelans blame Britain for seizing 150,000 square miles of Venezuelan territory in the 19th century, and still recall that a British war fleet was posted off the Venezuelan coast to enforce the claim.”

Invoking a tradition of anti-imperialism, one local magazine writer tells him that “We accept Argentina’s case because we have been bitten off ourselves by the British Empire.”

“Within days” of British troops being deployed, “There were street demonstrations against both the United States and Britain, and television stations promoted solidarity blackouts of house lights.”

As a partial result, Venezuela’s government moved closer to Cuba, while it sent its foreign minister to a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution where he told an audience that his nation expressed “profound disagreement” with the United States for “putting itself at the side of the imperialist and colonialist aggressors” in the Falklands.

Both of these examples shed interesting light on today’s Venezuela, the anti-imperialist tradition of which is barely known about and derided by commentators like Jackson Diehl, which is bitterly ironic as the writer of both sources was….Jackson Diehl.

[The first article comes from the Washington Post, November 16, 1984 “Rats Gnaw Venezuelan Justice; Rush to Development Leaves Courts, Prisons in Last Century.” The second is also from the Post, August 1, 1982 “Venezuela Reexamines Close Ties to U.S. in Falklands Aftermath.”]


3 Responses to “The Crumbling Of Jackson Diehl’s Credibility”

  1. kiosa Says:

    Radio Caracas TV, and its closing, is the hallmark of the struggle for democracy in today’s free world.

    Corporate Media leverages what’s known as the “Orienting Response”. Commercials, in particular, leverage the OR. By constantly distracting the viewer, Corporate Media monopolizes the viewers attention — as it systematically destroys the viewer’s ability to sustain attention any where, any time, ever.

    The ability to pay attention and remember more than the last 5 minutes is a mission critical skill in any democratic society.

    Venezuela has taken one giant step closer to democracy with their new law stating that televised media can’t have more than one commercial break per show.

    Uh oh. Bye bye RCTV business model. So sorry. Lo siento.

  2. kiosa Says:

    On average, television edits occur every four seconds.

    Perhaps next the Bolivarian Republic might want to consider how many times it can reasonably permit televised media to impose an edit, on average.

  3. Watson Says:

    Who is really interested in the misrepresentation of Venezuela in the media? I don’t think you can stop propaganda like Diehl’s, and exposing it has little effect. It is probably more important to find ways of making Americans better-disposed towards Chavez. Could movies help?

    Thanks for your points kiosa? Are you in Venezuela?

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