Latin America - a Neocolonial View from the Irish Times
By Stephen Sefton & Jorge Capelán, Tortilla con Sal
Tuesday, Jun 2, 2015
|Anyone looking for a prize specimen of neo-colonial psychological warfare against the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean could hardly do better than consider Mick McCaughan's December 2014 article in the Irish Times. McCaughan may well have broken all existing records for compressing more inaccuracy into one single sentence than any fellow imperialist Western Bloc propaganda competitor. Here we go...."Nicaragua’s president Daniel Ortega (1979-1990 and 2007-present) escaped charges of sex abuse and corruption by cutting a deal with old enemies and changing the constitution to enable perpetual re-election and with it, perpetual immunity."
Every single assertion and implication in that sentence is factually incorrect. While between 1979 and 1984 he coordinated the country's government of national reconstruction, Daniel Ortega only took office as Nicaragua's President in 1985. In or out of public office, Daniel Ortega has never been charged with any act of corruption either within Nicaragua or outside it. Over the last five or six years, consistent opinion polls have shown that well over 60 percent of Nicaraguans approve of Daniel Ortega. More recent opinions polls over the last year or so indicate that over 70 percent of Nicaraguans approve of him and his presidency.
Even so the Irish Times published a photograph of an election campaign poster of Daniel Ortega with the caption "A wall painting for Daniel Ortega’s 1996 election campaign. The Nicaraguan president, whose current term is due to run until 2016, has since changed the constitution to enable perpetual re-election (and, with it, perpetual immunity)." In fact, since 1996 there has been no change to Nicaragua's Constitution that allows Daniel Ortega to run for re-election. Other articles were reformed by the end of 2013, but none of them had anything to do with that issue.
In 2010, in response to a submission referred to it by Nicaragua's Electoral Council, the Supreme Court's constitutional division ruled that questionable reforms to the Constitution railroaded through Nicaragua's legislature without democratic consultation in 1994 were inapplicable in the case of articles in the original 1987 Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to all Nicaraguans to stand for election to public office. Nicaragua's law is no different from that of many European countries where political leaders can be re-elected as often as their electorates want.
Nicaragua's constitution has a clear procedure for removing parliamentary immunity from politicians accused of wrongdoing. This happened in the case of former President Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo which McCaughan mentions. But neither McCaughan nor his Irish Times editors seem to notice that Alemán's prosecution makes nonsense of the article's prominent claim that parliamentary immunity in Nicaragua affords permanent protection against prosecution in the case of Nicaragua's current President Daniel Ortega.
McCaughan is similarly confused in the case of the allegations of abuse against Daniel Ortega by his step-daughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez. In fact, Daniel Ortega renounced his parliamentary immunity and undertook legal proceedings in his defence prior to the case failing due to the Nicaraguan legal system's statute of limitations. Narvaez subsequently reconciled with Ortega and publicly asked the media to refrain from commenting on the case. McCaughan and the Irish Times have no factual support for their claim that Daniel Ortega cut a deal with former political enemies to avoid the allegations made by Narvaez.
One reason to take strong exception to McCaughan's account as published by the Irish Times is that the article leads with this gratuitous and factually inaccurate attack on Daniel Ortega. But perhaps even more objectionable is the article's fundamentally false neocolonialist premise. Far from showing that Latin America's public institutions are irredeemably corrupt, McCaughan in fact demonstrates that democratic and legal institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean work very well in bringing to account powerful politicians guilty of corruption and human rights abuses.
The contrast could hardly be greater with the reality in North America and the countries of the European Union. The modern history of the United States and Europe is full of examples of politicians escaping accountability, gaming their countries' legal systems despite egregious wrongdoing. Ronald Reagan's clear involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal is one example. The theatrical prosecution of then President Clinton, in which he clearly dissembled about a young female intern performing fellatio on him, figures as pale farce when compared to wholesale corruption of U.S. politicians by corporate funding, the venal multi-billion dollar US system of military procurement, the nefarious prosecution-skewed plea bargaining in the U.S. criminal justice system or the country's chronically delinquent financial system.
Since 2008, that system has overseen the greatest transfer of wealth from taxpayers to U.S. corporate elites in the country's history and the progressive destruction of living standards for the U.S. majority. Not a single senior banker or politician has been prosecuted for their role in that unprecedented financial and economic debacle. To the contrary, senior U.S. government functionaries have brazenly argued that it is impossible to prosecute leading bankers without threatening the stability of the US and international financial system.
All that is without recalling persistent scandals in Europe, for example involving the former ELF French oil multinational, or Tony Blair's infamous cover up of billion dollar bribery and corruption by British Aerospace in the Middle East. On a lower scale of corruption in relation to Ireland, one has also to consider how the notoriously corrupt Fianna Fáil party, with its Green Party coalition partners, bailed out Ireland's insolvent private banks. That corrupt corporate-crony decision, under pressure from anti-democratic appointed officials of the European Union, effectively coerced Irish taxpayers into rescuing giant multinational foreign banks who for years had made enormous reckless predatory loans into the Irish property market prior to the 2008 crash.
So the contrast with Latin American and Caribbean countries' determination to bring similar corruption and criminality to book is very much in Latin America's favour. It speaks volumes against the phony North American and European self-image of moral and juridical superiority over the rest of the world.
The obverse of NATO country media attacks on successful legitimate Latin American and Caribbean political figures, is the ridiculous validation of shills for Western interests like former President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.
In his Irish Times article, with its false, glib portrait of regional dysfunction, McCaughan writes of Arias, "One notable exception is former Costa Rican president Óscar Arias Sánchez (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) who helped broker peace in the region and was rewarded with the Nobel Peace prize in 1987. At the time he ran for re-election he was the only living former president not in jail, under indictment or facing investigation."
Here too, a more complete account, reinstating his purposeful omissions, belies McCaughan's glib interpretation of events. Arias did very little to help broker the Esquipulas peace agreement of the late 1980s. In fact, he was for some time a truculent obstacle to its development. The key player in that process was Guatemala's former centre-right President Vinicio Cerezo, who, despite the foot-dragging and prevarication of Oscar Arias, shepherded the Central American Presidents of the time into a process of reflection at Esquipulas in Guatemala and coaxed an agreement from them to work for peace. That process overcame dogged resistance from the US government.
It was then the U.S. government and its European allies facilitated the Nobel Peace Prize in favour of their regional proxy Oscar Arias, unjustly sidelining Vicente Cerezo. In his own country, Arias is regarded as someone with heavy responsibility for his country's very serious economic and political problems and as an unprincipled proxy for foreign corporate interests. Arias once again demonstrated his opportunist lack of principle in 2009, with his disgraceful de facto acknowledgment of the military coup regime in Honduras.
McCaughan buries that fact in his article while managing to smear the ousted, democratically elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. Nor does McCaughan's article in the Irish Times acknowledge that Oscar Arias used his political influence to persuade the Costa Rican Supreme Court to change the country's constitutional rules to allow him to stand for election for a second presidential term. What McCaughan and the Irish Times deem OK for Oscar Arias, they arbitrarily pronounce questionable and suspicious for Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
In any case, the deeply flawed political and economic legacy of Oscar Arias in Costa Rica was made absolutely clear by his anointed successor Laura Chinchilla. Her government's record of failure and corruption lead finally to the election of the current President, Luis Guillermo Solis. The election of Solis effectively meant a complete break with the venal political culture overseen for so long in Costa Rica by Oscar Arias and his cronies.
Writers like Mick McCaughan and media publications like the Irish Times seem incapable of basic fact checking or of facing the logic of their own self-contradictory arguments. This is nothing new to people in the majority world. People in Latin America and the Caribbean have long experienced this kind of hypocritical neocolonial propaganda that glosses over the history of Western tolerance of vicious military dictatorships, ruthless Western corporate depredation and cynical manipulation by Western governments of trade, development cooperation and debt.
The Irish Times, like its fellow North American and European corporate media accomplices serves in practice as a NATO psychological warfare outlet. Its foreign affairs coverage consistently employs the standard talking points of NATO government propaganda. The Irish Times has collaborated faithfully in recent years in NATO government propaganda campaigns, for example against Libya, Syria and Russia. Mick McCaughan's article is part of a well established pattern of Western Bloc psychological warfare denigrating Latin America's political development away from Western influence towards greater autonomy and closer relations with Russia and China.
Like its fellow European corporate-friendly media, The Irish Times' coverage of Latin America overtly and crudely targets opponents of Western foreign policy objectives, smearing effective political leaders opposed to the Western Bloc agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean. Apart from long standing targets like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, current NATO propaganda targets also include Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello in Venezuela, Cristina Fernandez in Argentina and Dilma Roussef in Brazil. The smears are framed by the deliberate omission of vital information so as to deny Western public opinion a true and fair view of regional developments.
The pattern is very much that of Western media attacks on Muammar Al Gaddhafi, Hugo Chávez, Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin. Currently, the whole world is the arena of a vicious global psychological war. On one side are the countries of the majority world striving for a multipolar international order based on solidarity, complementarity and respect for the fundamental UN principles of non-aggression and self-determination.
On the other side are the corporate elites of the Western Bloc imperial powers and their allies, determined to maintain the barbaric, unjust world order of predatory, Western dominated corporate capitalism. In that global conflict, the Irish Times article by Mick McCaughan clearly defends the current, slowly disintegrating neocolonial status quo. We should be equally clear in our defence of Latin America and the Caribbean's emancipation from it.
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