The New York Times (4/10/20) published an article describing the horrendous shape of the Venezuelan healthcare system. The human interest story, written by Julie Turkewitz and Isayen Herrera, followed several women through their nightmarish journey of childbearing in a broken medical system. The piece would be outstanding reporting, had it not fumbled the most important aspect of the story: how and why the system is as bad as it is. In true “manufacturing consent” fashion, the piece downplayed the US role in destabilizing the Venezuelan economy, and instead pointed to President Nicolás Maduro’s “authoritarianism” as the primary cause of the crisis.
The piece appeared on the Times’ front page on Saturday. The section of the piece visible on the front page pointed to Maduro as the cause for Venezuela’s healthcare problem, saying the system had been “crippled by a broken economy overseen by an increasingly authoritarian government.”
The story continued on an inside page, where it finally referenced the US role in creating the desperate conditions. The reporters briefly mentioned that Maduro claimed that US sanctions had some effect, but quickly brushed the claim aside, citing “analysts and critics” who said that Maduro’s charge had “only some weight.”
To back this up this dismissal, the authors cited Feliciano Reyna, the founder of a nonprofit known as Action for Solidarity. Reyna blamed the Maduro administration for refusing to accept help from aid organizations. He indicated that despite the sanctions, the country would be able to receive the supplies it needed from those organizations.
However, a few paragraphs later, the piece stated the government had been attempting to receive help through the Red Cross for nearly a year now, throwing Reyes’ criticism into doubt. The contradiction was not addressed by the reporters, and the doublethink was allowed to go unchallenged, even as the piece acknowledged that the Red Cross has been failing to meet Venezuela’s needs, due to a lack of funds, and quoted Venezuela Red Cross leader Louis Farias, who said that their chapter’s call for help “didn’t get the backing [they] had hoped.”
The New York Times omitted other statements from the Red Cross organization that shed more light on the role the US has played. Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, stated publicly last year that he believed that “political will” was behind the lack of funding for Venezuela. He said that there are some who wanted “to use the civilian population, their desperation, as a tool to destabilize the country.” Rocca pointed out that “it is easier to receive funds for Syria and even for Yemen.”
Later in the piece, the reporters cited economist Asdrúbal Oliveros, who claimed that “Mr. Maduro had simply chosen to prioritize the import of oil and food over medicine.” Oliveros believes the calculus was based on the fact that “pregnant women and sick people don’t protest—but that hungry people do.” No explanation was offered for why it’s Maduro’s fault that his administration has been forced to choose between essential resources for his country.
The piece merely calls Oliveros “one economist,” failing to disclose that he has been part of the Venezuelan opposition backing would-be president Juan Guaidó in an ongoing US-backed coup attempt against Maduro. Oliveros was described by the pro-Guaidó publication Americas Quarterly (4/18) as one of the “10 People Who Will (One Day) Rebuild Venezuela.”
The New York Times and other elite media have played an important role in mobilizing the US public against the Maduro government. They have highlighted the very real hardships on the ground, while casting blame for them almost exclusively on the “authoritarian” Maduro government (which, despite media’s constant implications, won an internationally observed election with more than 4 million more votes over the president’s closest rival—FAIR.org, 5/10/19). They consistently downplay the role of US sanctions in contributing to the dire economic situation (FAIR.org, 2/6/19, 6/26/19, 3/25/20).
If the Times were concerned about the fate of the women it profiled, and the state of Venezuelan economy, the paper would direct its readers to the sources of instability for which they bear the most responsibility. US sanctions have decimated the Venezuelan economy, as was predicted by analysts when they were first imposed. One 2019 study from the Center for Economic Policy Research found that the sanctions had indirectly caused the deaths of 40,000. Portraying Maduro as the sole reason for the country’s crisis is factually incorrect and journalistically irresponsible.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.