accused Venezuela of providing three anti-tank rocket launchers to the FARC
(the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). President Chávez has
repeatedly denied the charge.
On August 5, Chávez held a special news conference with the international press
that lasted several hours. He presented evidence that the rockets were
among five that were stolen from the Venezuelan armed forces on February 25,
1995, when a military base was attacked by Colombian guerillas. This was
four years before he became president.
In an Associated Press article with the byline of
Christopher Toothaker published on the Internet on August 9, mention was made
of Colombia's accusation and that Sweden confirmed the sale of the weapons to
Venezuela (which happened in the late 80s). It also said that,
"Chávez denies aiding the FARC." But the article did not say anything
about the weapons being among those taken in 1995.
So I called Mr. Toothaker to ask why he omitted that. He replied that he
didn't "believe" that they were the weapons that were stolen. He added
that Chávez said the weapons involved were taken by the ELN, (the National
Liberation Army in Colombia). That was pretty much all of our conversation.
Afterwards I was thinking that maybe the weapons that the Colombia government
retrieved were taken from the ELN and not the FARC. It is difficult for
me to trust anything coming from the Colombian government. I thought about
calling Mr. Toothaker again to ask about that possibility, but decided not to
do so. I felt I would just receive another of his beliefs.
I, too, have beliefs and I often express them in my writing. But I write
commentaries. The Associated Press is supposed to present facts in their
news stories, not beliefs. Unless, that is, it is a religion and its
readers are supposed to accept whatever it says as an act of faith. The
fact that Chávez called a special press conference to explain the source of
those rockets seems to me to be a rather important fact that should have had a
place in Mr. Toothaker's article.
It ought to be noted that the Associated Press in Venezuela has its offices in
the building that is home to El Universal, one of the major opposition
newspapers. Having offices there is like trying to grow beautiful
smelling roses in a hotbed of onions. Not exactly the best place for a
news service that is should be presenting balanced reporting.
In contrast to the AP story, it was interesting that Eleazar Díaz Rangel,
editor of the Venezuelan daily Ultimas Noticias, devoted almost a third of a
page to the rocket matter. He said that President Uribe of Colombia had run
throughout Latin America telling the world his own story about the
rockets. And, "Naturally the international agencies spread this story,
and in hundreds of media in Latin America that is what was published and, you
can be sure, that version is what is believed to be true."
Rangel ended his comments by saying that it was once again proof that "lies
don't have such short legs."
On August 28, UNASUR met in Argentina for a special meeting about the
installation of U.S. military bases in Colombia. Colombia requested that
the meeting be televised in its totality. In Venezuela, it was broadcast
completely and TELESUR did so also. President Uribe used the event to
speak for about forty-five minutes. I am sure he wanted to use the meeting
as a media platform to defend his actions and to again toss accusations against
To the credit of the Associated Press, Michael Warren did a good job in
reporting on the event.
Unfortunately, it was
hard to find his article on the Internet. I found Mr. Toothaker's article
on the opening page of Yahoo the day it appeared.
Mr. Warren was recently named to a new position with the Associated Press
overseeing AP operations in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Judging from this article, that's good news. I just hope he examines
carefully the information that he receives from the AP office in Caracas.
Its reputation for balanced reporting is not a good one.
Searching for truth is not easy in Latin America in the midst of a war of
words. Or, better, a war of ideologies.
Charles Hardy is author of Cowboy in
Caracas: A North American's Memoir of Venezuela's Democratic Revolution,
published by Curbstone Press.
Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog, www.cowboyincaracas.com. You may write him at [email protected].