In his recent review for The New York Times, Larry Rohter stages a valiant attempt to discredit the new Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border”, which favorably portrays Latin American governments that enjoy considerable popular support. Among Rohter’s compelling evidence of the film’s “misinformation” is that Stone pronounces Hugo Chávez’ last name incorrectly.
As part of their rebuttal clearly proving that Rohter is the one peddling misinformation, Stone and the film’s screenwriters Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot detect a conflict of interest in the fact that the The New York Times review has been penned by the same author who wrote the following analysis after the 2002 coup d’état against Chávez:
“Neither the overthrow of Mr. Chavez, a former army colonel, nor of [Ecuadorian President] Mr. [Jamil] Mahuad two years ago can be classified as a conventional Latin American military coup. The armed forces did not actually take power on Thursday. It was the ousted president’s supporters who appear to have been responsible for deaths that numbered barely 12 rather than hundreds or thousands, and political rights and guarantees were restored rather than suspended.”
Further support for the concept of the nonmilitary-coup-nonetheless-conducted-by-the-military was provided by the U.S. State Department in the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras and generated a lot of official stuttering during press briefings dedicated to conceptual explanation. Rohter appears to have limited his questioning of vocabulary accuracy in the Honduran context to a 1996 article in which he adds quotation marks to the term “sweatshops”; the appearance elsewhere on the Internet of a slightly different version of Rohter’s Venezuelan coup analysis cited above—with differences including the elimination of the term “Mr.” and the substitution of the words “a dozen” for “12”—meanwhile indicates that Rohter may now have even more ammunition with which to oppose the documentary’s factual basis.
Not clear, of course, is how the term “barely” factors into casualty counts, and whether Rohter’s twelfth casualty only died after being suckered in by pro-Chávez propaganda. Also not clear is why it is necessary to minimize deaths if you are blaming them on the enemy anyway, or why other mainstream news outlets reported that “[m]ore than 100 people died in events before and after the coup”, in addition to excluding the word “barely” from headlines like “Venezuela coup linked to Bush team.”
“Barely” is also excluded from the February 2009 The New York Times report on the Venezuelan referendum on abolishing term limits for public officials, which categorized Chávez as “decisively” winning despite Rohter’s 2002 decree that Chávez’ failure “to find a way to deliver the prosperity and higher living standards that he had promised… ultimately assured [his] downfall.” Commitment to prosperity and higher living standards was further called into question last year by the elderly Venezuelan street sweeper who refused to sell me her Chávez baseball cap.
Below are several of Amelia Opalinska’s photographs of our visit to Venezuela. Taken the day before the referendum, they feature barely a dozen Venezuelans oblivious to Chávez’ downfall.