ANOTHER LETTER THAT WON’T GET PUBLISHED
After reading this column in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, I was motivated to respond. My response is reprinted below, and this is the only place you’re likely to read it. Enjoy.
Once again, a major local newspaper prints an anti-Hugo Chávez diatribe that is replete with distortions and invective, but short on accuracy and facts. Dennis Byrne’s clumsy attack on Venezuela’s popularly elected leader (“Not another Chavez chump”, 1.16.2006) would be humorous if the Tribune ever printed a story that gave factual balance to Byrne’s smear job. I would hope that the Tribune made a mistake in allowing such an avalanche of misinformation to be printed without an opposing viewpoint.
Byrne attempts to demonize Chávez by equating him with Osama bin Laden. “His hatred of America is almost as clear as Osama bin Laden’s,” Byrne writes. However, according to Byrne himself, Chávez demonstrates this hatred by offering discounted oil to financially strapped communities in the U.S.; this gesture was extended after the price increases that followed Hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, Chávez welcomed with open arms a delegation of U.S. citizens who brought a message of support to Venezuela’s populist executive. Byrne crassly dismisses this delegation– including such notables as Harry Belafonte, Dr. Cornel West, and long-time labor organizer Dolores Huerta– as “the usual chumps.” Is this the sort of enlightened discourse that the Tribune would have its readers pay for?
Byrne also wags his finger at the Chávez government’s human rights record, citing Amnesty International as a source. This is the same Amnesty International that Byrne pilloried in a May 30, 2005 column (published in the Tribune) about the Bush Administration’s extra-legal detainment facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More importantly, though, the Amnesty International report to which Byrne likely refers points to questionable and violent activities by Chávez’s opposition as well as by Chávez’s government. It is worth noting that the violations Amnesty ascribed to the Chávez government were not unlike the treatment given to protestors at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Byrne’s makes other assertions which are belied by facts. He accuses the Chávez government of election fraud. The 2004 referendum, instigated by Chávez opponents who boasted of financial and political ties to the GOP, was won handily by Chávez in a vote that was certified by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center. Byrne also claims that Chávez has engaged in the “suppression of free expression, dissent and the press.” All the privately owned media companies in Venezuela, companies which frequently broadcast non-stop diets of anti-Chávez propaganda, and which openly supported the failed right-wing coup attempt of 2002, are allowed to operate without government hindrance.
It is clear that Dennis Byrne has an axe to grind against Hugo Chávez, and he doesn’t let facts get in the way of his vilification of the democratically elected Latin American leader. I will not waste time speculating Byrne’s motivations. However, I must ask the editorial board of the Tribune if it, too, has an axe to grind against Chávez, or if it is simply Tribune editorial policy to allow negative propaganda aimed at the Bush administration’s political enemies– foreign and domestic– to be promoted without balance. In any case, we all know the consequences of having an electorate that is badly misinformed about its government’s foreign policy decisions. The Tribune needs to do a better job of informing its readers.