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Letter from Venezuela's Communications Minister to the Washington Post
Jackson Diehl Deputy Editor, Editorial Page The Washington Post 1150 15th Street NW Washington, DC 20071 March 25, 2008
Dear Mr. Diehl,
Over the past several years, we have informed you of our concerns regarding the hostile, distorted and inaccurate coverage of Venezuela in your newspaper, and particularly on the Editorial Page. Previously, we communicated our alarm at the unbalanced reporting and writing on Venezuela during the period 2000-2006, which evidenced one-sided analyses and false claims regarding President Chávez's tendencies and events within the country. Since then, however, the Post coverage has gotten worse. More editorials and OpEds have been written this past year about Venezuela than ever before, 98% of which are negative, critical, and aggressive and contain false or manipulated information. We are therefore led to believe that the Washington Post is promoting an anti-Venezuela, anti-Chávez agenda.
President Chávez has been referred to in Washington Post editorials and OpEds during the past year as a "strongman", "crude populist", "autocrat", "clownish", "increasingly erratic", "despot" and "dictator" on 8 separate occasions and his government has been referred to 7 times as a "dictatorship", a "repressive regime" or a form of "authoritarianism". Such claims are not only false, but they are also extremely dangerous. The U.S. government has used such classifications to justify wars, military interventions, coup d'etats and other regime change techniques over the past several decades.
Far from a dictatorship, President Chávez's government has the highest popularity rating in the Venezuela's contemporary history and Chávez has won three presidential elections with landslide victories and several other important elections, including a recall referendum against his mandate in August 2004, which he won with a clear 60-40 majority. Hugo Chávez is the first president in Venezuela's history to include the country's majority poor population in key decision and policy-making. The creation of community councils that govern locally and the increase in voter participation are clear signs of a vibrant, open democracy, demonstrating that Venezuela is far from a dictatorship.
The Editorial Page inaccuracies and distortions extend beyond the mere labeling of President Chávez. On more than 11 occasions, editorials and OpEds have falsely claimed that President Chávez "controls the courts and the television media". Venezuela has five branches of government - all of which are autonomous from one other by Constitutional mandate: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, the Electoral and the People's Power. Unlike the United States, which allows for the Executive to appoint supreme court justices, in Venezuela, the high court magistrates are determined through a selection process and a vote in the National Assembly. The Executive branch in Venezuela plays no role in the assignment of judges to the courts. Communications media in Venezuela continues to be majority controlled by the private sector, despite what the Post Editorial Page claims.
Post editorials and OpEds also erroneously referred to the constitutional reform package last December on more than 8 occasions as enabling President Chávez to "rule indefinitely" or become a "de facto president-for-life". The Constitutional reform did seek to abolish term limits, but not elections. Venezuelans would still have the right and duty to nominate candidates and vote for them in transparent electoral processes. Interestingly, the Post made no similar accusations against President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia when he twice made moves to change constitutional law to permit reelection to a second term. Uribe succeded in 2004 and is now again seeking to amend that law so he can run for a third term. Where are the Post's cries about dictatorship and de facto president-for-life in Colombia?
The Post has also severely manipulated and outrighted censored information about economic growth in Venezuela. Twice, recent publications on the editorial page described the Venezuelan government economic measures as "disastrous, crackpot economic policies". Under Chávez's economic policies, extreme poverty has diminished to an all-time low of 9.4% (2007) from a high of 42.5% in 1996. Unemployment has been reduced to 6.9% (2007) from 16.6% in 1998. Minimum wage has been raised substantially during the Chávez government to become one of the highest in the developing world, and there has been a significant reduction in Venezuela's public debt. Chávez also paid off Venezuela's loans to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and has increased investment in the nation's agricultural production industry.
Nevertheless, the Post fails to reflect any of these positive, progressive advances in its coverage and statements on Venezuela. Instead, Post editorials are dedicated to accusing President Chávez of engaging in an "arms race" (4 occasions), "violating human rights" (3 times), "facilitating/endorsing drug-trafficking" (6 times) and "promoting an anti-American agenda" (6 times). Worst of all, despite Chávez's own statements to the contrary, the Post continues to perpetuate the dangerous myth that Chávez is an "anti-semite" "aligned with terrorist nations or groups" (9 times).
Mr. Diehl, you should certainly know that the United States is currently waging an international war against terrorism. Within that framework, the Bush administration has clearly stated that those nations associated with or friendly to terrorist states or groups can be subject to preemptive invasion or intervention. Are you seeking such an end in Venezuela?
Your editorial on February 15, 2008, "Mr. Chávez's Bluff", goes one step too far. The piece is an outright call for a boycott of Venezuelan oil, an act that would irreparably harm both the peoples of Venezuela and the United States. As the Post applauds the mafia tactics of one of the world's wealthiest corporations, ExxonMobil, it's evident that its allegiance lies with corporate profits over people's rights.
And your latest editorial on March 5, 2008, "Allies of Terrorism" is well beyond a mere criticism of President Chávez's policies; it's a direct threat to the people of Venezuela. By accepting at face value - with absolutely no investigation or verification - the documents alleged to have been found on a computer belonging to Rául Reyes from the FARC, the Post recklessly condemns both Venezuela and Ecuador as nations that promote and harbor terrorism and justifies the most violating, reviled and dangerous Bush doctrine of modern times: Preventive War. By comparing Colombia's violation of Ecuador's sovereignty to a US attack against al-Qaeda, the Post shamelessly validates the most irrational war in history and calls for its expansion into Latin America. We find the Post's defense of the violation of Ecuador's sovereignty and its satisfaction with such aggressive - and illegal - tactics, together with the warning that Venezuela is in "danger", extremely disturbing.
We are outraged with the Washington Post's editorial coverage of Venezuela. The Post was once the bastion of genuine investigative reporting and truth-seeking. Those days are well gone and the Washington Post has now become nothing more than a tabloid serving special interests. The noble principles Eugene Meyer envisioned for the Washington Post in 1935, including "telling the truth as nearly as the truth can be ascertained", "telling ALL the truth so far as it can be learned, concerning the important affairs of America and the world and "the newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public persons," have been violated by editors like you, Mr. Diehl, who have chosen to promote a harmful personal agenda instead of ensure the ongoing greatness of your newspaper.
AndrÃƒ©s Izarra Journalist Minister of Communication and Information Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela