Friday, December 13, 2002

In the NYT editorial pages today, Nicholas D. Kristof first says "Mr. Chávez is an autocratic leftist demagogue who is running the economy into the ground, manipulating the Constitution and fostering hatred between rich and poor". So far so good - too often the media (such as NPR), particularly on the left, refuses to even make judgements about dangerous international leaders.

But then Kristof goes on to say that the global community has no right to interfere. He criticizes "César Gaviria, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, who is representing the international community as a negotiator between the two sides, has publicly laid much of the blame for the crisis on President Chávez in an apparent shove to get him to resign or call early elections".

What's wrong with that? When it was the US and Clinton, rather than Venezuela and Chavez, plenty of Euros and Canadians said that Clinton should resign. That was not seen by anybody as "a signal" to "take to the streets and call for a coup". At worst, the response of Americans was that foreigners should mind their own business, but it was in no way taken as interfering with the American democratic process.

I think that's because the American democratic process is strong. Nobody sees any harm in calling for Clinton's resignation (or for Jorg Haider to step down) because they find it rather unlikely that public action will result in chaos in US or Austria. But Venezuela is seen as a tinderbox, with greater risks of violence and chaos -- whether or not Chavez stays.

So, what should a person like Gaviria do? Staying silent seems irresponsible if he truly believes Chavez is harmful. Foreigners can after all have some effect on a country's politics, perhaps influencing voters. On the other hand, it also seems irresponsible to advocate violence or a coup. So was Gaviria irresponsible? It's hard to tell from Kristof's editorial, where there is no Gaviria quote. But it seems most likely Kristof was responding to this news from Wednesday, where the most damning thing Gaviria said about Chavez was "that President Hugo Chavez's refusal to acknowledge the depth of the crisis complicated negotiations aimed at resolving it."

There's a completely different side to the story, people that feel that Gaviria is on Chavez' side, that Chavez may have greased Gaviria's hands (ref 1, ref 2. E.g.

Meanwhile, the ostensible "mediator" of the conflict has cynically called for government repression against the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators assembled outside the TV stations. With that action, Cesar Gaviria has lost any illusory credibility in his aspiration to "mediate" the Venezuelan conflict. He should return to Washington immediately.
Note that quote is from a Venezuelan news source.

It may be that Gaviria spoke up unwisely -- but it's his support (not criticism) of the Venezuelan government that may be destroying his credibility as a negotiator. Kristof should get a more nuanced view of the situation before criticizing the negotiator, and he should definitely give us the ability to fact-check his ass by being more specific about what exactly Gaviria said that he objects to.

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