Sunday, August 31, 2008

NYT Wrong on Latin America, Again

On August 22nd, The New York Times ran a startlingly misinformed (and misinforming) editorial crtiticizing President Uribe's decision to push through a law permitting another presidential reelection--along with his habit of attacking the judiciary and generally ignoring his country's laws. 

While all of this is true--Uribe does these things and they should be criticized--the Times makes the peculiar argument that these moves would "tarnish his legacy." Excuse me, but what legacy does the president with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere (ok, maybe after our own prez) who maintains close, historic ties with right wing paramilitary death squads, what kind of legacy does he have that can be "tarnished"?!

The Times also gives Uribe credit for recent blows dealt to the FARC. While the FARC don't need any help tarnishing their own record, it is a mistake to believe that Uribe's militarist strategy will lead to a solution to Colombia's long running internal conflict. The FARC have survived a lot of golpes in the past. Colombia needs leadership on both sides of the conflict willing to sit down and negotiate a peaceful solution.

The Times goes on to make the truly absurd argument that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are the truly authoritarian governments in the region:

Colombia’s neighborhood has too many authoritarian-minded leaders. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, leveraged his enormous popularity to take control of virtually every aspect of his country’s political and economic life. Venezuela’s voters wisely blocked his plans for indefinite re-election. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are also trying to amend their constitutions so they can run again.

While the Times is right that Chávez's proposal to allow for indefinite reelection was a bad move, they disingenuously and misleadingly suggest that Morales and Correa are trying to do the same.

As Ecuador's ambassador to the U.S. pointed out in a letter to the editor, the proposed Ecuadorian constitution would allow Ecuadorian presidents to run for reelection just once for a second four year term--um, urg, the same as here in U.S. The proposed Bolivian constitution also allows for one, just one, reelection.

Anyways, while I may disagree with the idea of indefinite reelections, it falls within the framework of electoral democracy and people have a right to vote to change their laws to allow for it. The U.S. didn't limit presidents to two potential terms until 1951. Remember FDR?

The Times insults the victims of state and paramilitary violence in insinuating that the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela are somehow more repressive than Colombia. While Venezuela's government was wrong to propose indefinite reelection--and that's why the people voted it down--it is not the Latin American country where opposition politicians and activists are regularly assassinated. That is Colombia. If it happened in Venezuela, trust me, it would be on the front page of The Times.

The Colombian state-backed machine of political violence doesn't make the front page as often as attacks on Chávez, Morales and Correa. And just why is that?

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