The Wall Street Journal Takes its Ideology Out for a Bolivian Spin
One does not have to get very far into the article to get its basic gist:
A dictatorship that fosters the production and distribution of cocaine is not apt to enjoy a positive international image. But when that same government cloaks itself in the language of social justice, with a special emphasis on the enfranchisement of indigenous people, it wins world-wide acclaim.
This is Bolivia, which in two weeks will hold elections for president and both houses of congress. The government of President Evo Morales will spin the event as a great moment in South American democracy. In fact, it will mark the official end of what's left of Bolivian liberty after four years of Morales rule.
There are many different kinds of writers in the world. Some work hard to stay strictly neutral. Some have leanings they don’t hide but also take their analysis seriously. And there are others – on both the left and right – who for some odd reason really do believe that exaggeration and wild charges are the basis of good writing. A journalism teacher could make valuable use of Ms. O’Grady as a case study of the third.
To be clear, there are plenty of legitimate complaints that one can make about the Morales/MAS government. A possible list could include: It’s proclivity to put people in positions of power based on political loyalty rather than competence; it’s amplification of polarization in situations where it could instead help make the country more united; its tendency to toss out charges against people and governments without actually having the facts to back up the claim; and its antagonism toward its critics on the right and left. I have written about each of these issues at different times.
But a dictatorship? Please, give us a break. It dilutes a word that we ought to save for the real dictators that have plagued the world, like Pinochet in Chile in the 1970s or Ceausescu in Romania in the 1980s. It's about the same as those who tried to label George W. Bush a "fascist," another word we should reserve for the real ones.
I am pretty sure that regardless of the vote December 6th, Bolivians will wake up December 7th with their basic liberties still in tact, Ms. O'Grady's deep concerns for them aside.
In a country that has been led for decades by unpopular leaders that won the presidency with barely a quarter of the vote, Evo Morales keeps winning political majorities double that and more. If recent polls are correct Morales is likely to be elected once again on December 6th with a majority even larger than the 53% that put him into office four years ago. Is he powerful? Yes. He is powerful because he is popular and he is popular for good reason. His government is genuinely making an effort to lift up the lives of people who have been neglected and exploited by a string of previous governments.
Is Bolivia an authoritarian society? Have a look at the opinion pages of any of the Bolivian dailies if you have any doubt about whether there is room for dissent. A good many of the articles there make even the O’Grady piece look mild.
As she often does in her writings about Bolivia, O’Grady doesn’t do very well with basic facts:
Upon taking office in 2006, Mr. Morales began using his office to persecute officials of previous governments.
If O’Grady is talking about a WSJ favorite, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his aides, she might want to check the calendar. The prosecution of the former President was initiated before Morales became President, by a Congress still-controlled by Sánchez de Lozada’s own political party.
Like I said, I really don’t take O’Grady’s writing seriously enough to go through it line by line and point where her love of exaggeration gets in the way of real analysis. Others here can engage in that if they wish to. But this one line did catch my eye:
Mr. Morales is expected to win re-election easily, in part because in many areas that he controls voters will be escorted into polling booths to make sure they choose correctly.
It made me think of my Tiquipaya neighbor, Efrain, a young man who comes from a small pueblo in the hills above the Cochabamba valley – a place of llamas, and poverty and decades of social neglect by a string of Morales predecessors (and O’Grady darlings). This morning he told me he was voting for Evo on December 6th. I asked him why. He explained that since Evo took office his village has electricity and water service and a new high school, things it never had before.
Sitting in her New York office (has she actually ever been to Bolivia?) Ms. O’Grady wouldn’t have any conversations like these. For her and her editors, ideology is enough. More serious analysis is actually not of much necessity or interest.
It’s a pity really. There was a time when the Wall Street Journal did serious reporting in Latin America. I think back to the long piece its then-South American correspondent Marc Lifsher did in 2003 on the failures of the U.S. alternative development program in its War on Drugs. That was based on real reporting, the kind that makes a reporter brave bad roads to tough places to get hard facts.
And it is that sort of journalism that seems of little interest to O’Grady and the WSJ today.