the mouse that roryied

Solidarity organisations are often accused of seeing the world in black and white, particularly by those with the same mind-set and political convictions of Rory Carroll.

Rory Carroll has roared again. His latest fearless contribution to quality journalism is an “interview” with Noam Chomsky in last week’s Observer. Under the screaming headline ‘Noam Chomsky denounces old friend Hugo Chávez for “assault” on democracy’, Carroll details criticism by Chomsky of the way the Venezuelan government has handled the case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni. Carroll had picked up on an open letter signed by Chomsky, which said:

‘Judge Afiuni had my sympathy and solidarity from the very beginning. The way she was detained, the inadequate conditions of her imprisonment, the degrading treatment she suffered in the Instituto Nacional de Orientación Femenina, the dramatic erosion of her health and the cruelty displayed against her, all duly documented, left me greatly worried about her physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as about her personal safety.’

MediaLens quickly published an analysis of the Carroll article, together with comments from Chomsky (see here). Chomsky says Carroll mis-represented him, by selective quotation and omission. The MediaLens piece includes the context of Chomsky’s remarks, together with comments contrasting the way the US imprisons people without trial (e.g. Bradley Manning).  Chomsky also re-iterates his support for the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution.

Carroll also quickly received a lambasting from Samuel Grove on Grove details Rory Carroll’s slack journalism over the years, his lack of impartiality, and the age old problem of many foreign correspondents, their laziness and inability to travel beyond the front door of their hotels or apartments. The case, though, does highlight something worth debating. How critical should supporters be of progressive governments, which by definition will be under threat from the forces of reaction, both inside the country and from without?

Chomsky’s stance on Judge Afiuni would be expected from anyone familiar with his work. He combines a commitment to social justice with a belief in individual freedom, not unexpectedly from an anarchist. His letter about the Judge recalls a similar incident three years ago, when he wrote a letter of support for Dora Maria Tellez in Nicaragua, who was on hunger strike after steps were taken to remove the legal status of her party, the MRS. No one can doubt Dora Maria’s credentials – a genuinely heroic guerilla during the struggle against Somoza, and running an efficient and fairly corruption free Ministry of Health during the time of the Revolution. She also argued incessantly for greater democracy within the FSLN after they lost the elections, and left to form the MRS when she and others perceived that this didn’t happen. But inspite of this you have to question the political judgment of the leaders of the MRS, who have since thrown in their lot with the Right for the forthcoming elections – an alliance with Eduardo Montealegre – a journey which started with Tellez’ hunger strike.

It is apparent that, for solidarity organisations, the context for criticism, or open discussion, of both the achievements and failings of progressive government in Latin America is different today than during, say, the period of the Sandinista revolution during the 80s. Then the FSLN demanded, and on the whole received, unconditional solidarity. One of the most heated discussions within the solidarity movement, certainly here in Wales, was how to respond to the banning of La Prensa. Certainly there was a case to be made for stopping its publication, not least its open support for the counter revolution (and how ironic that many who claim to support the ‘freedom of the press’ have little to say about Murdoch’s Fujimori style auto-coup, banning his own newspaper, the NoW, to draw attention away from his wobbling acquisition of BSkyB). But voices within the solidarity movement said the banning was wrong, and the way to deal with La Prensa was to develop alternative media. In fact, today La Prensa, El Nuevo Diario and most of the TV stations are equally hostile to the current Sandinista government, which has chosen the second course of action to deal with the constant negative stories in the media. And some of the FSLN’s most fiercest critics, who complain the government is trying to take over the media, are ex-Sandinistas who were prominent in developing an alternative media during the revolution.  Contrast this supposed ‘dictatorship’ with events in Honduras, where journalist opponents of the illegitimate government are regular cut down by death squads.

Solidarity organisations are often accused of seeing the world in black and white, particularly by those with the same mind-set and political convictions of Rory Carroll. In fact the Campaign, like many other organisations, sees no problem highlighting both the need for changes – such as in the banning of therapeutic abortion; the political realities – a minority FSLN government and in the case of abortion, the massive influence of the churches; and the achievements for women – the zero hunger and usury programmes, the gains in health and education. And the full transcript of Chomsky’s interview with Carroll also reflected this – the concern for Judge Afiuni, the lamentable record of the US government on the human rights of its own people and in Latin America, and the improvements in the lives of poor Venezuelans thanks to the policies of the Chavez government. It is the failure to present this complex picture by the likes of the Carroll and the Observer which is the true black and white vision. Perhaps it’s time for the owners of the Observer to consider the Murdoch option, and ban itself. Or at least replace Mr Carroll.


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