Archive for the ‘UK press’ Category

Pichikatero journalism

PJ O’Rourke joked in his book ‘Holidays in Hell’ that a certain hotel in Albania was highly rated by journalists for the fact that the cocaine on sale in its nightclub was no better or worse than in London or New York, and that the reception staff were amenable to disguising bar tabs as laundry bills for those on expense accounts. If only he wrote for the Guardian – more unlikely things have happened, come on – he could have put the blow on his expense account as well. It looks like Jonathan Franklin has.

Franklin’s article in the Grauniad adopts a scandalised tone to expose the world of cocaine lounges in La Paz, painting a picture of small salons of depravity filled with moneyed Euro-American tourists paying to get high. The title of the piece is ‘The world’s first cocaine lounge’, which you could say was the first indication that the hyperbole of the article doesn’t quite live up to reality. World’s first? What, really? Has Mr Franklin ever been backstage at a music or film industry awards do? Has he ever been to some of the wilder parties in Bogotá, or even L.A? Not that I have, mind, but it doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to deduce that discreet nightclubs where a line or two is available alongside your drinks as a main feature of the place is hardly a global novelty.

But let’s not let that get in the way of a pleasant moral-high-ground buzz. There’s a whole wrap of misinformation to get through, so let’s start chopping.

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Let’s start with the bad stuff first, shall we?

A video report telling us that large landholders don’t like the new agrarian reform much. You know what? British MPs don’t like the new focus on their expenses much, either, because it shows some of them to be grasping, out-of-touch toerags who think they’re above the reach of the law. Much the same thing’s happening here. Just let me say it again: Bolivia’s latest land reform is moderate and reasonable. It doesn’t confiscate land from anyone who can prove that they acquired it legitimately, and who isn’t committing human rights abuses on it or using it only for property speculation. It limits new land purchases to 5,000 Ha, which if you think about it, is an enormous stretch of land, and it’s not retroactive.

The misrepresentation of the land reform isn’t really what annoys me about this, though. What gets me is the airtime and attention paid to the viewpoints of people who are already amply represented in the foreign media. Ron Larsen is an appealing character to feature, because he’s a hero to those who see the Morales government as barbaric, xenophobic expropriators of foreign investment, and a ideal bad-guy figure to the Bolivian press (and whisper it, government) who seize on his (no doubt carefully cultivated) cartoonish cowboy persona – north American, wealthy, cheerfully racist and closely linked to the autonomista leadership in Santa Cruz. He’s probably being interviewed because his estate was most prominently highlighted as the place where many Guaraní people were living in conditions ‘analogous to slavery’. So why not interview some of the people who were analogous to slaves, eh? One of the many human rights abuses shown to have been committed in Alto Parapeti was that the serfs living there weren’t allowed to speak with journalists or human rights organisations, but that particular right doesn’t matter so much if the press don’t take an interest in talking to them anyway. By giving interview time (and a sympathetic airing) to Larsen and to a representative from the government, but not interviewing any of the serfs of the estate, it denies them a voice, leave them as background and end up perpetuating the silent Indian stereotype which is so infuriating.

Andres Schipani, on the other hand, has provided us with a story which does call on indigenous voices, and makes the Guaraní people of Alto Parapeti more than mere scenery. In this piece for the BBC, he actually goes and talks to some of the people kept in conditions of servitude on Larsen’s ranch. Their stories are distressing, but inspiring, and the statements from Victoria Tauli Corpuz, representative from the Un Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues are worth your consideration. She has this to say:

We find this situation of domination and violent rule of the landlords over the indigenous people unacceptable … we think this is a gross violation of the basic political, social, economic and cultural rights

She’s also on record as saying that the Cruceño Autonomy Statutes of last year ‘promote, conceal, strengthen and reproduce the practice of servitude’.

Fellow travelers of the autonomy movement in Santa Cruz should be well aware that their political aims are determined by business interests, not popular ones, and that these are the autonomy statutes which were ‘approved’ in bogus, non-recognised, privately-funded ‘referenda’, so no-one should really be taking them seriously anyway. Even so, there are still those who are inclined to be sympathetic to any region trying to break away from the OMG!eebilmarxistdictatorship of Evo Morales, and hopefully this announcement, as well as April’s assassination plot, will make them wake up to a fairly basic truth: it’s not a good idea to give massive feudalist* landlords control over their own pet autonomous Ministry for Agriculture, let alone their own organisations for the defence of human rights. Do you think someone could send a memo to the folks at WorldFocus.org?

*Alright, Jarrett, you win that one.

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So a friend who works in the City told me the other evening, anyway. Which means I shouldn’t have been quite so astonished at the Financial Times coverage of the referendum, which is both balanced and informative. (The coverage in the Morning Star, we’ve already established, is top-notch (-; )

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s popular leftwing president, has claimed his second big electoral victory in six months with the endorsement of a new constitution that he promised will pave the way for true equality for the country’s indigenous majority.

Initial results show 60 per cent of Bolivians voted in favour of the new charter, which puts a cap on the size of landholdings, extends state control over resources such as natural gas, removes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and introduces community justice and the election of judges.

Well, it’s almost 62% actually, but who’s splitting hairs? (Oh, right. Me.)

It even covers the distintegration of the existing opposition, in a cloud of arrests, foam-mouthed racism and recriminations. Sharp! The FT is the first foreign newspaper I’ve seen to acknowledge the fault lines in the opposition, never mind the wave of arrests and criminal prosecutions that followed the violent uprisings and attempted coup d’etat in September. But oh ho ho, what’s this we read?

Carlos Mesa, former Bolivian president, has pledged to form a new party to contest the elections.

“The radicalised opposition in Santa Cruz played to regionalism and racism,” he said. “Now with presidential elections in December we’re going to have a lot of people trying to figure out how to form a national opposition that can go after a piece of Morales’ base . . . they are likely to fall somewhere between Podemos and Morales [on the political spectrum].”

For which one might be tempted to read, ‘Carlos Mesa, respected historian and journalist but, let’s be honest, less than adequate at the Presidency when it was thrust into his hands, fancies another crack at power because he thinks he might be able to get it right this time’. One might be tempted. If one were uncharitably inclined.

Or one might be tempted to read more into it and start sniffing out the beginnings of the USA trying to establish an economic stranglehold a toehold in Bolivian government once more. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…

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Starry Starry Morning

funny pictures

Awesome! The new constitution has been approved in the referendum – as of the time of writing, the official count by the National Electoral Court gives the Yes vote 59.53%, with 69% of the vote counted. It’s enough to be decisive already, but as votes from remote rural areas are counted and included, the percentage of the Yes vote is almost certain to rise, as rural people are more likely to vote for the new constitution. Observers from the Organisation of American States affirmed that voting in the referendum was free, fair and characterised by ‘peacefulness and civic behaviour…without violence and with respect for the diversity of opinion”: Mercosur also praised the transparency of the process. You wouldn’t know it to hear the wounded howls of the opposition. But then who asks a group of people who claim that their privately-funded, mostly-illegal consultation exercise unrecognised by any international body counted as a legitimate referendum, their opinion on what a legitimate election looks like?

But apart from that source of jubilation – or stemming from it – the Morning Star ran the article that I wrote about it pretty much unedited. And it looks like I’m getting a review copy of Unresolved Tensions, Bolivia Past and Present, which I had been hankering after but couldn’t afford (although if you’ve got it, there are far worse ways to spend twenty quid). Today definitely makes up for all those dispiriting moments groaning in front of my computer screen at the carnival of ridicule and racism Bolivian politics can sometimes become. Anchitapuni kusikushani – today’s made me really happy.

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I wasn’t necessarily expecting approval, Telegraph, I mean, I know you better than that. A bit of distortion, a bit of pro-right wing slant, I thought I could handle it. But when you start out with an article that gets it mostly right, even with a hint of sympathy, it makes it all the more jarring when you drop three clangers in a row. You’ve disappointed me. In several places. I don’t feel I have much option but to point them out. I don’t want us to have to have this talk again, alright?

(The constitution) proposes limiting land holding 12,400 acres, effectively stripping several eastern property barons of their main source of agricultural wealth.

There is a new limit to the size of landholdings. Correct. It is not retroactive. This was a huge concession to the opposition, made in order to get them to come to the dialogue table. Nobody is going to be stripped of the source of their agricultural wealth if they’ve already got it and if they’re not using indentured or forced labour to farm their lands. So steer clear of the human rights abuses, and you can keep your humiiilde terrenito of a mere 25,000 hectares. Nobody is going to touch it. Clear?

Thirty-six indigenous towns and groups would win the right to territory, language and “community” justice under the new basic law.

As may be inferred from the previous point, no-one is going to be confiscating much territory and handing it over to indigenous groups any time soon, so I don’t know what the ‘right to territory’ specifically refers to. But hey, who needs to refer to actual changes in the law when you can make a nice sweeping generalisation? Like saying a group has ‘a right to language’. Sounds nice. And I get it, I mean, I do, I’m really familiar with the pressures that cause indigenous people to stop speaking their language, but I don’t think this is really a constitional change per se. I’ll read the text more thoroughly and get back to you on that, though. I’m pretty sure the previous constitution had some rather unmistakable things to say about indigenous peoples’ right to speak their own language. What it didn’t have and this one does, was a requirement that civil servants and schoolteachers have a grasp of at least one native language. It was always an asymmetry in the bilingual education reforms that indigenous children were expected to be educated in Spanish and their own language, whereas kids in the city never had to learn any language but Spanish.

Now, for extra points, here’s the howling error:

It would also scrap the single-term limit for the president, allowing Mr Morales to stand for re-election. He has proposed early legislative and presidential polls in Dec if the new referendum passes.

Remember what I was saying not ten hours ago about attempts to play dog-whistle alarmist politics by mentioning term limits? The article already tells us sternly that (t)he opposition…fear that Mr Morales’ march towards a socialist state is taking their nation into the orbit of Venezuela’s fervently anti-US president, Hugo Chavez, and further away from economic efficiency, so that’s the obligatory Chavez mention out the way. Leaving Evo’s relationship with the Venezuelan loudmouth aside, what is this nonsense about abolishing a single-term limit? Telegraph, there is no single-term limit. You can run for president of Bolivia as many times as you want (just ask Manfred Reyes Villa), so long as you do it discontinuously – no consecutive terms. The new constitution, by restoring the pre-1994 two-term rule, is actually limiting how long the president can stay in office. For now 😉

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