December 4, 2001
Narco News 2001
on Bolivian President
Post's Sanchez Dims Her Star's Rise
the Rise of a Lame-Duck President
By Al Giordano
Special to the Narco News Bulletin
newspapers in Bolivia are filled with
glowing accounts of President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga's
visit this week to Washington. The headlines read like press
"Tuto Shines in US" (Los
"Like Peter in his House, Quiroga
is Applauded and Praised in Washington" (La Razon)
"OAS and DEA Satisfied with Work
in Bolivia" (El Diario)
"DEA Gives Bolivia a '10'" (El
"Quiroga Under the Lens of the US
Media" (El Diario)
a search of today's Dow Jones archives,
including all AP, Reuters, Agence France Presse, UPI, the New
York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles
Times and the Washington Post stories that are published
reveals scarce-to-nonexistent English-language coverage of the
Bolivian commander's Beltway Vacation. Quiroga is spending at
least five days in Washington, chasing the press like lawyers
chase ambulances, but only one reporter so far took the bait:
Marcela Sanchez, author of the "From Washington" column
about Latin America published on the washingtonpost.com
"A man many consider to be a new
rising star is taking center stage," waxed Sanchez, without
disclosing who exactly these "many" star-gazers might
Bolivian President Quiroga, Sanchez tells
us, is "a promising new player in Latin American politics."
at the Facts
a cold and sober look at Bolivia's
current reality, and at Quiroga's domestic mess, reveals that
the man called "Tuto" is neither a "new player,"
nor does he have the "promising" future that Sanchez
claims, unless that future is outside of his own country.
Fact: Quiroga was "elected"
to a five-year term as Vice President in August 1997. But the
word "elected" must be placed between quotation marks,
because his ticket, with President Hugo Banzer, gained only 22%
of the vote. With no majority winners, the decision went to the
federal congress. After a bone-crushing series of deals and alliances
(constructed with the assistance and guidance of the US Embassy,
meddling, as always, in the sovereign affairs of others), the
Congress installed Banzer and Quiroga. In any case, Quiroga is
hardly a "new player" on the field. He became president
because General Banzer, the long-time military strongman of the
regime, fell ill with cancer and resigned last summer. Banzer
now resides at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington,
Fact: Under Bolivian law, neither the
president nor the vice president can seek re-election to either
post. Quiroga is at the end of his five-year term, and legal
term limits prevent him from seeking the presidency again in
2002. Thus, Sanchez's claim of a "promising" future
for this "rising star" to "take center stage"
constitute pure huff-and-puff PR. Come next Spring's presidential
election in Bolivia, Quiroga will become irrelevant to national
politics. He'll be gone from the photo.
But those distortions of Quiroga's past
and future are not even Sanchez's major journalistic crimes that
stemmed from this column. An even greater offense was committed
"From Washington." Sanchez doesn't name the alleged
"many" whom, she says, consider the lame duck Quiroga
to be a "rising star."
Certainly, she has not consulted the Bolivian
people or any of their leading social sectors. In recent weeks,
Sanchez has received seven emails from Narco News, each of them
citing Bolivian press reports that make lie of her claims about
Quiroga's alleged rising stardom. Had the bi-lingual columnist
engaged in even the most cursory review of the Bolivian press
newspapers and media outlets refresh their content daily
-- she would have found a very different Bolivia than she described
for her readers.
Did she not bother to review
the events currently shaking Bolivia? Or did she withhold
the hard reality in the interests of promoting Quiroga? Neither
possibility could be considered authentic journalistic practice.
widespread critique of Sanchez's "star" Quiroga from every sector of Bolivian Civil Society
was recently summarized by an Editorial published by the daily
Opinion of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The editorial (published after
Sanchez's column, but repeating a general consensus that has
been voiced for weeks), also stated the mission of any journalist
in the current crisis:
"What we do is interpret
reality. We are prisoners of what happens each day. There, where
we look, we find faults and crimes
The private businessmen,
who are apparently the beneficiaries of the ruling neoliberal
system, have given a deadline of ten days for the government
to stop the economic collapse. The coca growers blockade and
obstruct when they want. The language of interaction between
the regime and society is that of force. Everyone blockades in
order to be heard. What cannot be obtained through legal routes
because corruption has destroyed or blocked them, is achieved
"The government cannot
order the country nor push it toward development because it is
weak, incoherent and is a prisoner of a foreign power. This is
the illegitimate continuance of a regime installed four years
ago. It doesn't dominate or control every part of its system.
It carries the blame and the impossibilities of a discredited
regime. The worst obstacle or perhaps the worst enemy of the
regime comes from inside its own house
"When it (the Quiroga
administration) attended the dialogue with the coca growers,
it did it without any margin of flexibility because the formulas
are imposed from other places of decision, and the same happens
with its relations with the businessmen because the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank are those who are in charge.
A decisive factor in the generation of the chaos, of the social
convulsion, is the lack of authority, of initiative, of ability
in the fundamental centers of national government. The government
doesn't have a discourse nor means to confront the different
sectors of the population, and when it does, it simply can not
comply with what it offered or with the agreed upon solution.
The cause of the major part of violent actions is the noncompliance
and the ineptitude of the public administration."
-- from Editorial
by the daily Opinión, December 2, 2001
illegitimate regime of Sanchez's "rising
star," Quiroga, does not have the backing of business or
labor, of the cities or the farms, of the retirees or the youth
of his nation. To the contrary, each of these sectors is today
engaged in open rebellion
against Quiroga and his policies. The Chambers of Commerce have
given him an early December deadline to save the national economy
or the business sector is going on strike and will begin a boycott
of federal taxes. Labor sectors from the transport workers to
doctors to even the rank-and-file police are threatening strikes
and blockades. 250,000 retirees (one of every 30 Bolivian citizens)
are not receiving pensions, and many have begun hunger strikes.
The farmer, indigenous and student sectors remain in defiant
opposition and blockades - a tactic that twice in the past year
has paralyzed the country - begin anew today, while Quiroga fiddles
Institutionally, Quiroga has only two
friends: The Armed Forces of Bolivia, with its notorious record
of massacres, disappearances, assassinations and torture; and,
the United States government, with its meddlesome career agent
in Latin America, Ambassador Manuel
Rocha, calling the shots. And yet, there is even division
within these sectors.
Did Sanchez bother to report the dissent
within the Bolivian military, where 90 percent of the troops
and 50 percent of the officers are of indigenous origin? No,
she did not. Did she inform her readers of what has already been
published in Spanish-language newspapers of Bolivia and on in
English on the internet: that the
US Embassy is funding illegal paramilitary forces from within
the non-indigenous and most racist sectors of the military, out
of US worry that indigenous soldiers won't fire upon indigenous
citizens when push soon comes to shove? No, she would not. Did
she bother to report the words of
US Congress members, who wrote to the Ambassador last month
expressing their own inconformity with White House policy in
Bolivia? She chose to withhold that information, too. Because
the facts would have undercut her the thesis of her fiction:
that the lame duck Quiroga is a "rising star."
Did Sanchez name or quote any of her alleged
"many" who share her opinion about the stardom of a
tyrant, who, as noted by the Bolivian press, uses "only
the language of force" against his own people? Who are these
anonymous "many" behind the curtain that poses as journalism
in the nation's capital? Are they titled Ambassador? DEA chief?
Is he a State Department fixer who came out of Jesse Helms' senate
staff by the name of Roger Noriega? Are any of them Bolivian
citizens? If they are, do they come from the oligarchy? Sanchez's
readers may never know whether the "many" constitute
"any," or, if so, the nature of their hidden conflicts
News Praises the NYT?
spent most of her column cheerleading
a trade bill that Quiroga seeks from the United States Congress.
"Quiroga comes to town," she writes, "just as
pressure not to expand the product preferences is mounting from
U.S. companies concerned about broader competition in a recession."
Had she delved beneath the glossy surface
she provided for this complex trade issue, with consequences
to US industry and workers, she might have penned a worthwhile
column. But she did not. The day before Sanchez published hers,
November 29th, New York Times reporter Anthony DePalma
filed a detailed story that explained the meat of the conflict
over the trade legislation. It is not just "U.S. companies"
whom oppose the trade bill, but also "American farmers,"
reported DePalma, who also poked holes in the Bush administration's
"war on drugs" pretext to extend the trade giveaway.
DePalma, unlike Sanchez, shared a key
piece of information with the reader: He reported the "opposition
from American farmers and textile manufacturers, who say that
the agreement has cost thousands of jobs
that it (the trade
giveaway) has not been effective in combating drugs
expanding it to include other goods would be a setback for already
battered American industries."
''What sense does it make for Washington
to be pursuing a domestic economic stimulation package while
at the same time pursuing trade policies that put more textile
workers out of work?'' said Carlos Moore, executive vice president
of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, as reported
"In contrast to free-trade agreements,
like the one the United States has with Mexico and Canada, the
Andean Trade Preference Act lowers tariffs only on exports to
the United States, not on imports from the United States. That,
Mr. Moore said, has hurt the textile industry without giving
American workers a chance to increase sales to the South American
countries. Expanding the products covered by the pact could cost
America's textile industry thousands of jobs, Mr. Moore added
Sanchez stated that the opposition to
the trade giveaway comes from "from U.S. companies concerned
about broader competition." But as the NY Times article
reports, the issue is not "broader competition," but,
rather, an unfair playing field that is non-reciprocal. There
may be good reasons to favor an uneven deal, but accurate reporting
requires that the true nature of the legislation be disclosed,
not misstated as being about mere "broader competition."
(We note that if Narco News, a frequent critique of the
New York Times coverage of Latin America, finds better
journalism in the Times than in Sanchez's column, what
more damning indictment could we make than our observation that
somebody is practicing journalism worse than the scribes of 43rd
New In This "News"
also contradicts her opening claim
that her "star," Quiroga, is a "new player,"
when later in her column she admits, "the new Bolivian president
will not be a new kid on the block. As vice president, he was
Banzer's frequent envoy to Washington gaining the respect and
admiration of Clinton administration officials and many congressional
None of these cited admirers are named
or even quoted. We don't disbelieve that Quiroga has fans among
his masters, but, for the reading public, the names and faces
of his bosses, so happy with his delivery of his nation's sovereignty
to a foreign power, should be brought to light. The name of her
column is "From Washington." Some actual reporting
and disclosure of who in Washington is pulling
the Bolivian president's strings should have been done. It was
Sanchez's lonesome praise of Quiroga seems
to be more on issues of style than substance. She writes, "Quiroga
is 41, a U.S.-educated industrial engineer with a business background
and an American wife. He has a flawless command of English and
feels at home in this country." In other words, Quiroga
is a poster boy for the dream of the Latin American oligarchic
families; to assimilate into United States culture and language,
to become part of a foreign power structure by looting the resources
and betraying the peoples of their own nations.
If what Sanchez means by "rising"
points to the fate of other disgraced Latin American leaders
who gain immunity from prosecution at home for their crimes by
receiving sinecures with desks in the United States, she did
not state it. That would be a stretch anyway. Former Mexican
Attorney General Jorge Madrazo hides in Mexican consul in Seattle,
avoiding responsibility for his narco-corruption, human rights
violations, and other crimes. Former Mexican President Ernesto
Zedillo, the butcher of Acteal, collects his checks now from
the Union Pacific Railroad and the United Nations, where, as
a cruel joke upon his own nation's greater populace of poor,
he was put in titular charge of a UN "anti-poverty"
program. Former Colombian President César Gaviria warms
a Washington seat at the Organization of American States; installed
there at the insistence of the U.S. government to bang his gavel
upon any regional opposition to Plan Colombia and the damage
it wreaks upon his former country. Is this the kind of faded
has-been glory that Quiroga will soon share? A post as a mere
functionary, without power, to do the bidding for a foreign superpower?
Sanchez also claims that "Quiroga
is architect of Bolivia's Dignity Plan." This is pure fiction.
The authors of this gigantic misnomer titled "Dignity"
-- in sum, the use of brutal military force to eradicate even
those coca crops grown as food -- are not Bolivian, and their
name is not Quiroga. The plan was authored and funded from Washington.
And the US Embassy's current Viceroy, Manuel Rocha, continues
to micro-manage the plan to the point of instructing
Quiroga how to negotiate with the farmers of his nation.
A clear example has been reported in recent weeks by Narco
News: When Quiroga's Interior Minister called a suspension
on coca eradication in the Chapare region last month, successfully
bringing the growers to the negotiating table, the Embassy went
ballistic, and forced the Quiroga regime to revoke it within
a week, and before talks could find agreement.
Sanchez writes, "Bolivia needed only
2,000 troops to take back control of its principal coca-growing
region." But she speaks of this conflict in the past tense,
as a case that is settled, when at the precise moment she was
penning her puff piece on Quiroga, the Bolivian president had
to send double that amount of troops -- 4,000 soldiers! Including
500 paramilitary forces! -- back into the Chapare region to "take
back control," again, of a region where it never obtained
public support nor control. Sanchez did not report of the citizen
blockades and unrest scheduled to resume this week, reported
widely last week in the Bolivian press, or that the blockades
of November had paralyzed the region. She makes it seem as the
mess was already cleaned up, long ago. In fact, the coca growers
just announced that, among their new tactics, will be the widespread
planting of new coca crops. But the truth and the facts damage
the fiction that Bolivia is a "success story" in the
war on drugs.
"Quiroga," pens Sanchez, "still
must prove that he can maintain authority without being authoritarian."
And yet he has been consistently authoritarian, as General Banzer
was before him. Sanchez did not mention that world-respected
Bolivian labor leader Oscar Olivera
had been arrested and charged with "treason" two days
before her column. Nor did she mention the public outcry
from inside and outside of Bolivia, that flooded Quiroga's email
box so extensively that he had to change his email address, as
reported by Narco News.
Role of the Inauthentic Press
Washington Post columnist pens
an inaccurate column that withheld the most important facts from
the readers. So what's the big deal about that? Well, it's a
big deal in Bolivia. And Sanchez had to know it would be. Our
opinion is that she penned the puff piece precisely to give oxygen
to a regime choking on its own authoritarian behavior. And based
on our experience monitoring the dynamic between the US and the
Latin American press, it had a very predictable outcome. Bolivian
dailies seized upon Sanchez's column to shout the star-making
headlines republished above. One of today's reports claimed,
inaccurately, that it had been an "editorial" by the
influential Washington Post.
And yet the last time the Washington
Post even mentioned the coca conflicts of Bolivia was in
a March report by Anthony Faiola; nine months ago. Sanchez, whose
columns have not been all bad, and who has been praised by us
in the past, has been AWOL on this huge story on her beat. We
once thought that Sanchez, with the most interesting beat in
the world and a huge international daily through which to cover
it, might herself become a "rising star." But the big
story has not only escaped her watch; she chose to distort it.
Bolivia has long been a black hole of
journalism. Reports have been so incomplete from this nation
of eight million citizens that historians still argue over whether
Butch Cassidy died in the cinematic shoot-out of November 6,
1908, or whether he survived and returned to the US.
The October 7, 1967 capture and subsequent
assassination of the 20th century's most historic revolutionary,
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in Bolivia was conducted in
such an obscure climate of government-to-press disinformation
that it took decades for the truth to come out: that a CIA agent
had been present, that US President Lyndon Johnson was receiving
daily reports as the US public was kept in the dark about the
details. We only know the facts today because of documents
unearthed by the National Security Archives.
The decades-long disinformation campaign
from Bolivia received a blow in the second-to-last major story
out of Bolivia covered by the Washington Post, which,
to give an idea of the scarcity of reporting from the region,
was published more than a year ago, on October 24th, 2000. That's
when media critic Howard
Kurtz announced the downfall of Associated Press correspondent
Peter McFarren, the gatekeeper for 18 years of English-language
news out of Bolivia, whose conflicts and money-deals with Bolivian
government and industry were, as the Post was fair enough
to report, exposed by The
Narco News Bulletin.
More than a year has gone by since McFarren's
international disgrace, and Associated Press, upon which most
US media rely for international coverage, has simply chosen to
not report the news out of Bolivia. Disinformation was replaced
by no information. Inside the beltway land of functionaries and
oligarchs, the fiction of a "war-on-drugs success story"
in Bolivia must be maintained at all costs, and silence reigned.
Until November 30, 2001, when Marcela Sanchez, "From Washington,"
picked up McFarren's tattered crown and soiled her reputation
as a journalist by converting an illegitimate lame duck president
into a "rising star," thus damaging the rise of her
Publisher's Note: Washington Post columnist Marcela
Sanchez has been invited to respond to this critique with our
pledge that whatever she wishes to say will be published, uncensored
and unabridged, on Narco News.
Internet DropBox" <email@example.com>
>To: "Alberto M. Giordano" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Subject: Re: Invitation to Respond to This Critique
>Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 16:13:15 -0500
>I respectfully decline your invitation to respond.
Archives of Last
Year's Press Briefings on Bolivia:
Fall of AP's Bolivia Correspondent:
More Narco News, Click
from the Andes" Coverage Begins This Week