Latin America through Herald eyes
News stories, column tell
By Max J. Castro
Hugo Chavez’s crushing victory
in Venezuela, coming on the heels of the electoral success of militantly leftist
candidates in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, raises an obvious question: What
in the world is going on in Latin America?
One place one might look for
answers is The Miami Herald, the U.S. newspaper with the most
extensive coverage of the region. And, indeed, one can find numerous Herald
news stories that give ample clues about the source of Latin America’s
discontent with the status quo.
Take, for instance, “Hunger’s
Harm,” an article by Herald reporter Nancy San Martin that appeared in
the paper on December 11. This excellent piece starts with the tale of Antonio,
a three-year old child in Guatemala suffering from malnutrition whose “patchy
skin is thin and saggy, like that of a shrunken old man.”
The article goes on to reveal
that Guatemala has the sixth highest rate of malnutrition in the world (and the
highest in this hemisphere), higher than that of many poorer countries. A local
physician calls malnutrition, which afflicts indigenous Guatemalans especially
hard, a “constant” problem. It is one that sows death and profound physical and
The solution is prevention
through better nutrition for the rural poor. Failing this, something at least
can be done to mitigate the harm. But, according to the Herald story, many
severely malnourished children don’t receive even this because “[T]reatment
costs about $900 per child, and though parents are asked to contribute only
about $40 of the cost, that is a small fortune in a nation where the
distribution of income is highly unequal and as much as 75 percent of the
primarily indigenous rural population lives on less than $2 per day.”
Guatemala, of course, is not
one of the countries that has gone left. Indeed, there is obviously no Chávez
clone here giving “populist” subsidies to the poor, especially the Indian poor.
Yes, the people of Guatemala were way ahead of their time when in the 1940s they
voted into power their own, much quieter version of Chávez, the social democrat
Jacobo Arbenz, who was committed to land reform and social justice.
But what poor Guatemalans got
for their trouble was a successful CIA-organized counterrevolution against the
elected government and decades of horrific repression during which hundreds of
thousands of indigenous Guatemalans were murdered. Even after the return of
electoral democracy, those who have dared to denounce the killers are murdered.
Is it any wonder that Guatemalans are reluctant to vote for the left? Foreign
intervention, ethnic cleansing, and decades of repression taught Guatemalans a
lesson, and they obviously learned it. But for how long and at what cost?
Many other countries in Latin
America failed to learn the same lesson or have unlearned it since the dark
decades of the dirty wars and the disappeared. There are many factors that
account for the rise of the left in Latin America, but inequality and social
injustice, evidenced in extreme form in Guatemala but present almost everywhere
in the region, surely are central among them.
The Herald’s coverage
of the region, to the paper’s credit, accurately reflects the facts about
poverty and injustice in Latin America. When it comes to the opinion pages,
however, it is a completely different story.
Scour the contributions of the
paper’s three columnists who concentrate on Latin America, Andrés Oppenheimer,
Marifeli-Pérez-Stable, and Carlos Alberto Montaner, and you will have a hard
time finding anything about social injustice, inequality, and poverty, or
their possible connection with political trends. Nor will you find much in the
way of analysis or explanation of, for example, the reasons for the successive
ballot victories of Hugo Chávez.
What will you find instead?
ideological sloganeering and hand-wringing (“Drop
populism; embrace markets,” Marifeli Pérez-Stable, October 3 (“Will
democracy be strengthened?” Marifeli Pérez-Stable, October 26). The latter
article, on Nicaragua, is a good segue to the next point, as it contains the
following statement: “Having Ortega at the helm again is a nightmare.”
The prize for this kind of
“analysis” goes to Andrés Oppenheimer who, having lost hope that Chávez would be
defeated at the ballot box, tries to launch a preemptive strike to undermine the
legitimacy of the election by publishing a column on its eve that calls into
question Chávez’s victory even before it is consummated (“Tainted win awaits
Chávez,” Nov. 30)! The Chávez margin of victory, 62 to 38 percent,
and the admission of defeat by the opposition candidate, makes Oppenheimer look
silly, which may be the reason he has since taken a break from writing about
These are only a few examples.
There is, of course, not a word about the many Antonios in Latin America in any
of this kind of analysis and very little about the social realities that
underlie the advances of the various strands of the left in Latin America. When
it comes to Latin America, the Herald seems to serve two masters,
journalism as reflected in its coverage and the hard right constituency in Miami
whose views are amply and monolithically reflected in the opinion pages.