Saturday, June 09, 2007

Radio Caracas, Kashmir and the courtship of Haiti

Continuing on the theme of free speech alluded to in recent posts here about Samir Kassir, Jacques Stephen Alexis and the film The Price of Sugar, I was struck by last week’s editorial in The New York Times by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, who governed that Andean nation from 2001 until 2006 and is currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

The editorial, regarding the shuttering of Radio Caracas Television by the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, makes some apt and perceptive points on respect for freedom of the press and commitment to the tenants of democracy that would do well to be studied not only by Mr. Chavez himself, but also by the Bush administration and political leaders in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to name only other three countries.

Having never visited Venezuela, I can’t claim to speak as any authority the particulars of the case, but having served as a correspondent in several highly tumultuous countries where an oligarchic elite, rancid political class and pseudo-populist demagogues often violently square off to the detriment of their people (Guatemala, Haiti and India spring to mind), it seems fairly clear to me that Radio Caracas Television, in addition to being one of the oldest television stations in Latin America and something of an institution in Venezuela itself, was also was, at least at times, a bit of a mouthpiece for anti-Chavez, seditious propaganda over the years (although judging from the crowds protesting the closure station’s in Caracas that is evidently what at least some in the Venezuelan population wanted to hear).

But, at the same time what about Mr. Chavez’s own professed commitment to democracy? This also bears serious scrutiny, and is certainly not without its blemishes. What of the Chavez-lead 1992 coup attempt against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, himself democratically elected? Granted Mr. Chavez's move came after the caracazo, as the Pérez government's violent suppression of anti-government rioting in 1989 became known, but does that justify overturning the constitutional order? As we have seen in Haiti, where a democratically-elected government that did not respect the rules of democracy was overthrown by extra-constitutional means, these are not simple questions.

And this is exactly the grain that Alejandro Toledo grasps in his Op-Ed.

“Presidents may be elected democratically, but it is more important to govern democratically, even with an opposing press that reports different opinions,” Toledo writes with admirable clarity. “Latin America's common enemies are poverty, inequality and exclusion — not dissident thought. Hunger is not fought by silencing critics. Unemployment does not disappear by exiling those who think differently. We cannot have bread without liberty. We cannot have nations without democracy.”

Reporting on countries where the killing of journalists is a disturbingly frequent occurrence and where, as my friend Dilip D'Souza notes on his blog, dissenting voices are often meant with violence, these words are welcome.

They are even more so, living in a country, as I currently do, where the government sees fit to fashion laws and procedures that permit withholding evidence from criminal defendants, denying defendants the right to file habeas corpus petitions, establish military tribunals, retain the right to send people to secret prisons abroad and gives immunity to government agents for acts occurring during interrogations. These are indeed not idle concerns, even if the courts do seem to be regaining some of their senses. But it is good to read clear and eloquent calls for moderation, liberal humanism, if you will such as Mr. Toledo’s.

Speaking of alternative points of view, for those interested in an authentic, objective, on-the-ground take on the struggles of the citizens of both Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, I highly recommend checking out the daily news feeds from the Greater Kashmir website. It was recommended to me one day as I sat chatting and drinking kehva with two friends at a second-floor restaurant across the street from the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, and I have been a very regular visitor to the site since then.

And finally, there was a rather interesting article by Tahiane Stochero on the political football Haiti has to some degree become in today’s Estado de Sao Paulo.

For such a small and, economically and geopolitically speaking, relatively insignificant country, Haiti has been the object of the recent attentions of not only the United States and Brasil, but also of the aforementioned Mr. Chavez's Venezuela, Cuba, China, Taiwan and Bolivia. Perhaps the vodou has finally started to work on someone with money instead of just impoverished journalists, filmmakers and anthropologists.


Babette said...

I was just down in Pedernales, on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, where they broadcast the Venezuela TV station, now the government TV station and was treated to a still picture of Chavez from 9PM on. Evidently there is not enough
'acceptable programming
' to fill up the night time. The news talking heads are also from the DR and Peru and Ecuador which I watched are also expressing grave concerns about the TV station closing. One of the points that they kept making was that Chavez had won, I think, ten election while the opposition station was on the air, so why close it now?

I'll wager that the only support for this move will come from the much publishing "hard left" inside the US and Canada who seem to have a romance with dictators from the left. I wonder why they don't adore Lula or Michele?

Michael Deibert said...

Very good point, Elizabeth.

I have never understood why democratic, progressive leaders such as Lula and Preval ,who struggle mightily against entrenched elites and often the corruption of some of their own allies, are left essentially to fend for themselves by many sectors of the international left, while those with much weaker democratic credentials and much more tenuous accomplishments in the way of improving the lot of the disenfranchised in their countries such as in Haiti, are lionized by North Americans sitting, as usual, safe at home.

As most of these so-called “radicals” remain silent while Preval and Lula struggle to re-shape their countries, I would wager that it is because, as many of them hail from fairly affluent backgrounds, they are perhaps a bit uncountable when actually having to deal with the nitty-gritty details of good, progressive governance. It’s so much safer to yell “aba” or “a vie” that to talk about reforestation and irrigation in the Plateau Central, improving the roads down to Jacmel from the hinterlands or creating an honest, de-politicized police force.

Preval and Lula and progressive, democratic leaders like them deserve are support, not blind loyalty, but support for the good things they are trying to do.