In the USA, the former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues to be labeled a “dictator,” a “despot” and a “tyrant” who oppressed his country during his 14 years in office. The image is inconsistent with the reports of elections monitors who have declared Venezuelan elections to be among the most free and democratic anywhere in the world.
In response to what many see as an ongoing media bias, activists, prominent academics and political critics have written a letter to New York Times (NYT) Public Editor Margaret Sullivan asking her to address allegations of bias in stories about Venezuela and Chavez.
“The Venezuelan electoral system is one of the most advanced automated systems, not just in the hemisphere but in the entire world,” said Hector Vanolli, director of the Carter Center in Venezuela.
The leader of the Bolivarian Republic passed away in March after a long battle with cancer but remains a popular figure in Venezuela due to his support for a nationalizing industries and using state revenues to fund social welfare programs. Chavez’ policies helped reduce infant mortality and slash extreme poverty nationwide by 72 percent.
There is little mention of these gains in the NYT, one of the most popular papers in the U.S. with a daily circulation of 1.5 million last year.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, along with filmmakers Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, are among the growing number who have already signed the letter to Sullivan urging the NYT to address what peace advocates claim is a repeated mislabeling of the popularly-elected leader.
Stone, a prominent supporter of the the Bolivarian economic system, produced a hit documentary called “South of the Border”, in which he traveled through Venezuela, highlighting many of the economic and social gains achieved during the Chavez era. More than 550 others have co-signed the letter as part of the growing campaign.
“In the past four years, the Times has referred to Chávez as an ‘autocrat,’ ‘despot,’ ‘authoritarian ruler’ and a ‘caudillo’ in its news coverage, When opinion pieces are included, the Times has published at least fifteen separate articles employing such language, depicting Chávez as a ‘dictator’ or ‘strongman,’” the letter reads.
In reality, Chavez was a popularly-elected leader who enjoyed widespread support among poor peasants and workers throughout the South American country of 29 million. He won 16 separate elections and referenda in transparent balloting described by elections monitors as being among the most transparent and democratic in the world.
“As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter last year.
The letter continues, juxtaposing the Venezeula coverage to the neutral titles NYT reporters gave U.S. allies in Honduras who took power forcefully through a military coup.
“Over the same period — since the June 28, 2009 military overthrow of elected president Manuel Zelaya of Honduras — Times contributors have never used such terms to describe Micheletti, who presided over the coup regime after Zelaya’s [Manuel] removal. Porfirio Lobo, assumed the presidency after winning an election held under Micheletti’s coup government. The elections were marked by repression and censorship, and international monitors, like the Carter Center, boycotted them. Since the coup, Honduras’s military and police have routinely killed civilians,” activists write.