Monday, February 26, 2007

Cuba- Media Bulletin

Cuba orders three foreign journalists out of Cuba: COHA condemns move as self-destructive and wrong-minded: Statement of COHA Director, Larry Birns

COHA has consistently condemned the continuing refusal of the Bush Administration to grant travel permission for Cuban scholars and artists to visit the U.S. For example, recently, the State Department would not issue visas to allow several Cuban academics from addressing a gathering of the Latin American Studies Association.

COHA also condemned Havana’s expulsion, almost two decades ago, of reporters for Reuters and Agence France Presse. While a foreign journalist’s right to be accredited by Havana is not unlimited, it is destructive for this right to be exercised frivolously and as a weapon. This is what the Cuban government appears to have done in this most recent case, and it is unfortunate that this action is sure to bring on negative consequences in terms of Cuba’s reputation.

In the past several years, COHA has worked closely with Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune, giving him its thoughts on various themes upon which he was writing, as well as with the other two media organizations. While we haven’t directly worked with El Universal’s Havana office, we have had good reason to believe that it is a newspaper of rectitude. As for the BBC, we frequently have been interviewed by its World Service on Cuban issues and they always have posed appropriate, non-propagandistic questions.

According to our experience, all three of these organizations have been entirely professional in their Cuban operations. What is particularly surprising about the Tribune’s Gary Marx is that he always has had a well earned reputation of striving to be meticulously fair and balanced in his coverage of Cuban issues. Perhaps there is a case to be made against the three journalists; if so, we haven’t heard nor seen it.

Throughout the world there are organizations like COHA who energetically work for the U.S. to commit itself to be constructively engaged when it comes to Cuba and throw over all barriers to the exchanges of various kinds, including the freedom to travel and an openness to new ideas, and certainly to terminate the embargo, Havana’s action has now delivered a counter-productive and harmful blow against this advocacy of pluralism.

One can derive some satisfaction that Havana’s action was not technically an expulsion, but a non-renewal of credentials. Cuban officials would be wise to use this wiggle room to reverse their action and thereby make a valuable contribution to the creation of an open society, both in the U.S. and Cuba, in trying to advance the normalization of relations between the two neighbors.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Regarding COHA Director Larry Birns January 26 Interview on NPR program "on the Media"

Hugo Chavez Censors Opposing Media, NPR Airs One Side: Censorship Defenders

Posted by Tim Graham on January 30, 2007

NPR's weekly show On The Media routinely tilts strongly to the left. On the January 26 version, it includes a segment with ex-Greenpeace researcher/Washington Post writer William Arkin denouncing the Iraq surge as a worthless political smokescreen, and an analysis of the Bush State of the Union address with former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman (exaggerating the negative reviews Clinton received for his annual yawnfests). But the real eye-opener of the show was a segment defending Hugo Chavez for censoring opposition media outlets. What? An NPR segment with only one guest, making the case for censorship? Yes.

The guest arguing from deep inside the Hugo tank was Larry Birns of the Council for Hemispheric Affairs, a long-standing cheereleader for Latin American dictators and revolutionary guerrillas of the Left. NPR host Bob Garfield noted that a number of establishment newspapers editorialized against Chavez, and asked Birns skeptical questions about setting a bad precedent. But there was no defender of RCTV, the banned media outlet. So it's not a debate about Chavez, but a one-sided defense of his dictatorial move.

Garfield: "Chavez's former communications minister has referred to the move as 'the leading edge of the information hegemony of the state,' and RCTV says it has been denied due process. But to Larry Birns of the Liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the underlying facts betray anti-Chavez editorializing as one-sided and simplistic."

Larry Birns: "RCTV is arguably the most scabrous example of yellow journalism in Latin America. It's an advocacy outfit, and it was one of the major plotters of a coup against Chavez back in April of 2002. This station engaged in trick photography and all sort of scandalous behavior in order to advance that coup."

Garfield: "Does not the principle of free speech, even of, you know, sort of obnoxious critics trump the history of RCTV's behavior? Is Chavez not setting a very bad precedent by silencing his most vocal critic?"

Birns: "This is a situation where RCTV uniquely was shouting out the word "fire" in a crowded theater. Ninety-five percent of the media in Venezuela is controlled by the anti-Chavistas, and they have their knives out for Chavez. So talking about constitutional guarantees, you may be talking to the wrong bunch."

Garfield: "Last month, Chavez was reelected in a landslide with 63 percent of the vote in an election with the highest voter turnout in Venezuelan history. Isn't that ample evidence that RCTV and anyone else in the right-wing media represent no great threat to his government?"

Birns: "Well, perhaps at this moment, no. But if you are using lies, distortions, prevarications, at some point your influence may prevail."

Garfield: "I want to ask you about what I referred to in the introduction, and that's the media coverage in the United States about Chavez's so-called Bolivarian Revolution. It's pretty close to being unanimous in denouncing Chavez's tactics, if not necessarily his goals. These editorial boards are not populated by know-nothings. In your view, they've all gone wrong. Why do you suppose that is?"

Birns: "Well, it was said of The New York Times that The New York Times will do everything for Latin America except visit it. It happens that most of the journalists, the correspondents give measured and fair and balanced treatment. But I do think that these editorials are simply scurrilous. It's basically an issue probably more of style than substance. I mean, Chavez is the kind of fellow that you don't find at Eton – bad instincts for public relations, bizarre antics. But this is Chavez's playful style. That has nothing to do with the quality of his thinking and the proposals that he's made. He is not a cruel, heartless man. He is not a Pinochet. He's anything but a Pinochet."

Garfield said the U.S. editorialists were worried he would become not a Pinochet, but a Castro. Birns concluded that Venezuela has always been a "faux democracy," that is, until Hugo came along: "Today, Venezuela is not only a formal democracy, a constitutional democracy, but it also is a real democracy in that people have the right to more than just starve. They also have the right to access to an education, to medical help and so forth."

You can tell Birns is on the hard left because NPR's Garfield says he has a "liberal group," which is not a label they would use for a liberal group, but only for a group that's liberal when compared to the liberal "mainstream." Why couldn't NPR also allow the counter-argument from RCTV?


The Kennedy, Chavez & Chomsky Pipeline

By Marc Sheppard

Have you seen the latest Citgo-sponsored commercial for Citizens Energy Corporation? At first glance you may have mistaken it for a Saturday Night Live sketch and watched it prepared for a good laugh. That is, until you'd realized it was all too serious. Until it struck you that a member of one of North America's most powerful political families may well be in bed with one of South America's most notorious and dangerous men. But it gets even more disturbing. The language used to rationalize this unholy alliance appears to be right from the playbook of the devout anarchist many refer to as the Ayatollah of anti-Americanism.

The bizarre 30 second pitch (video) opens with a man who complains he needs 2 pairs of long underwear and a jacket to stay warm inside his house. We then fade into the image of an elderly "84 and alone" woman dragging an iron cot into her kitchen from her basement so she can, as her voice-over tells us, "sleep by the oven." The next voice we hear is that of Joseph Kennedy II, who assures us that "help is on the way." The son of Robert Kennedy then explains that heating oil is available at 40% off thanks to "our friends in Venezuela at Citgo." In closing, tyrant Hugo Chavez's good buddy asks us to give him a jingle at 1-877-JOE-4-OIL because "no one should be left out in the cold."

It's Nothing Political Joey, Strictly Benevolence

Of course, this wasn't the first time that the former Massachusetts congressman's name and company have been attached to a Chavez oil for fool scheme. In 2005, an ad with the banner HOW Venezuela Is Keeping the Home Fires Burning in Massachusetts ran in major U.S newspapers and offered cheap heating oil to America's poor as a "simple act of generosity." A November 20, 2005 story in the Boston Globe outlined this earlier CEC creepy covenant with CITGO, the Houston-based subsidiary of Chavez's state-owned petroleum company Petróleos de Venezuela.

The Globe reported scuttlebutt that Chavez had helped broker the deal partly as a jab at President Bush. Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a group that tracks Latin American politics and government agreed:

''It is a slap in the face" to the Bush administration. "Chávez is involved in petro-diplomacy."

No doubt. For starters, the move curries favor among segments of the U.S. population most likely duped by his class warfare gamesmanship. This diaphanous tactic works quite well on weak-minded, self-hating Americans - just ask Chavez-bots like actor Danny Glover and singer Harry Belafonte. And, as a bonus, El Commandante gets to portray the United States as a country that can't even keep its own people warm in the winter without charity from marginally civilized Latin American socialists.

Not surprisingly, Kennedy dismissed all of this and assured critics he was not concerned with the politics of the man whose allies represent a virtual who's who of America's enemies:

''You start parsing which countries' politics we're going to feel comfortable with, and only buying oil from them, then there are going to be a lot of people not driving their cars and not staying warm this winter. There are a lot of countries that have much worse records than Venezuela."

As usual, to a Kennedy (any Kennedy), welfare (any welfare) from the state (any state) is always the cure for want (any want).

With friends like these who needs loyalties?

But it was the curious reference to "our friends in Venezuela" in this most recent commercial that caught the eye and ire of a January 19th USA Today editorial, which fittingly noted:

"It's not entirely clear which ‘good friends' Kennedy is referring to. Chavez, who has called Bush ‘a genocidal murderer and a madman'? The Venezuelan people, whose natural resources Chavez is squandering?"

The column, which also reminded readers that only his nation's mammoth oil reserves distinguish Chavez from other cruel and murderous Latin American tyrants, elicited an immediate indignant reply from Kennedy. After drearily repeating the lame moral equivalency argument he put forth in 2005 and mentioning that poor cot-dragging woman we met in the commercial, he continued with words which placed his earlier disregard for Chavez's politics in serious doubt:

"More than 558 million barrels of Venezuelan oil made their way to the USA last year. Why just go after the small slice that helps senior citizens and struggling families? Why not take on those who also make money off Venezuela - GM and Ford, which sold 300,000 cars there last year, and Shell, BP, Conoco Phillips and other oil interests that, unlike Venezuela and Citgo Petroleum, spurned our requests for assisting the poor?"

Hey Joe, could it be that mutually-beneficial business deals don't leave either party beholding to the other, whereas charity from a socialist expansionist madman with an agenda obvious to everyone but you does?

Needless to say, outside unwashed circles Kennedy's explanation didn't quite satisfy. A week's worth of ongoing critical commentary prompted a decidedly emotional supplementary response on January 24th. In it, he suggested that windfall tax revenues on oil and gas be used to finance increased public assistance. As to the deal with Venezuela and those who critique it:

"The alternative is a continuation of policies that steer tax breaks to the wealthy and subsidies to our biggest corporations, while telling the needy, ‘You're on your own' - a kind of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor that leaves the most vulnerable out in the cold." [emphasis added]

Did he say Socialism for the Rich?

You bet. In fact, Kennedy had made prior use of that silly idiom, including in his aforementioned January 19th rebuttal. Interestingly enough, his brother Robert also employed the puzzling phrase when he accepted a Sierra Club Tree-Hugger Award in September of 2005.

More interesting still, almost a decade earlier, American political dissident Noam Chomsky wrote an article which commenced:

"The Free Market is socialism for the rich: the public pays the costs and the rich get the benefit -- markets for the poor and plenty of state protection for the rich."

Sounds a lot like Joseph the Second's January 24th comments, doesn't it? Don't be surprised. You see, Joe's buddy Hugo has a buddy named Noam who's been whining about the evils of capitalism in general and as practiced by selfish Americans specifically for decades.

You'll recall the stir Chavez caused addressing the U.N last September when he opened his speech by waving a copy of comrade Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United States in the face of the General Assembly. The Latin nutcase claimed that the book contained proof that the greatest threat looming over our planet is the

"hegemonic pretensions of the American empire [which is] placing at risk the very survival of the human species."

In an uneven tirade which included his referencing President Bush alternately as the world dictator and the devil himself, he gushed over the book so convincingly that it jumped to number 1 on Amazon's best-seller list overnight. There must have been an abundance of Libertarian socialists, Anarcho-syndicalists, and otherwise-aligned America haters in the gallery that day.

I told you, we're an Anarcho-syndicalist Commune

A recurring theme in Chomsky's work of late has been the evolving symbiosis between Venezuela and Cuba which he holds forth as a shining model of the virtues of Chavez's socialist petro-charity. Chavez provides low-cost oil while his dying hero and mentor Castro reciprocates with literacy and medical programs. Take that premise and add another familiar Chomsky fantasy -- Chavez's brave struggle to overcome American backed trade agreements which exploit workers and perpetuate unfair economic and social strata. Now, mix well in a large Margarita pitcher and Voila -- Kennedy's argument exactly.

And by the way, the man who favors a social revolution whereby freely co-operative workers' unions would replace all forms of competition, leadership and executive power is no stranger to Kennedy's ploy. It just so happens that in December of 2005, Chomsky penned an article addressing the hoopla over the Citgo-Kennedy connection. The anarchist linguistic genius begins by making disappointingly generic moral equivalence points similar to Pal Joey's - and then manages to degrade farther still. True to form, the piece quickly descends into his signature rhetorical abyss -- blaming all things Capitalist America for all things awry in South America, advocating Chavez as the natural, if imperfect, outcome. And, of course, adding the requisite socialist-expansion academic spam:

"At issue in the region, as elsewhere around the world, is alternative social and economic models. Enormous, unprecedented popular movements have developed to expand cross-border integration - going beyond economic agendas to encompass human rights, environmental concerns, cultural independence and people-to-people contacts. These movements are ludicrously called "anti-globalisation" because they favour globalisation directed to the interests of people, not investors and financial institutions."

Curiously, the man once voted the world's top public intellectual also failed to ask one obvious question. If even Hugo's best friend is expected to pony up recompense for cheap Latin-tea, why would he provide the same to his worst enemy without similarly anticipating his due pound of flesh?

The Three Ameriphobic Amigos

Okay, so Hugo loves Noam and Joey loves Hugo and maybe Noam but Noam loves Hugo and, while no fan of Kennedys per se, maybe even Joey. So just what is it that connects these three contrasting socialists -- one dictatorial, one anarchistic and one welfare-state?

On the day following the September 11th terrorist attacks President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías mumbled,

"The United States brought the attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy."

In an interview a week later, one Avram Noam Chomsky Ph.D proclaimed:

"During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way."

And while a prominent American who might agree wouldn't be stupid enough to say so, Joseph Patrick Kennedy II certainly isn't lacking stupid things he is willing to say. For instance, last November, he told a Wall Street Journal Reporter questioning his assisting "an anti-American tyrant at the expense of the Venezuelan people," that as to democracy, there is,

"ample room for improvement in the ways that people get elected in Venezuela as well as in Florida."

So then, it would appear that there's one thing the three share much more congruently than their underlying common dream of wealth redistribution.

~Hello Larry,

I wrote on this issue in article titled RCTV's Acts ofSedition. I encourage you to read it on my blog site-

We agree on all RCTV has done since Chavez firstelected. Key point is Venezuelan law is clear and allcorporate media violated it egregiously. Chavezacting against RCTV because its VHF license expiringin May. He's barely slapping it on wrist.

If RCTV and others pulled these stunts in US against aUS admin. they could be charged with sedition carryingup to 20 years in prison or treason that could getthem death penalty. No nation tolerates what thesepeople did, not should they.

Steve Lendman

~Hello Mr. Birns,

I'm the new Media Analyst at the Venezuela Information Office ( located in Dupont Circle, DC. I don't know if youhave heard of us, but our mission is " educate the public aboutcontemporary Venezuela. We seek to present an accurate view of the current political scene in Venezuela for the American public and buildallies for the Venezuelan people."

I just heard and very much appreciated your interview that airedyesterday. I thought you did an excellent job of filling in what the mainstream media consistently leaves out of its coverage of Chavez andVenezuela. In particular, I appreciated the way you distinguishedPresident Chavez style from the quality of his thinking and policies.

I hope to have a chance to meet you sometime. Please let us know ifwe can ever be of assistance to you.


Paul Beich

Media Analyst

Venezuela Information Office

You were fabulous on NPR today. Here on my blog is a mini-tribute to you. I think this is the first time I haven't been a total smartass in my postings.

Best to you,


"The voice of Stewart, the acumen of Zinn, the sardonic dig of Wilde, Larry Birns is a goddamned UNESCO World Heritage Site of analysis. You can hear him today on NPR's On the Media on Venezuela and the RCTV controversy. The transcript is here . But take the time to click the "listen" button. It's worth it."

Regarding COHA's January 30 Press Release: "A Beneficial Uruguayan Paper Mill: Pulp Fiction?"

  • As Mercosur was about to meet, Uruguay’s President Vázquez signs papers with the U.S. that could lead to a free trade pact with Washington. Vázquez flirts with the idea of being forced to leave Mercosur if he goes ahead and binds himself to Washington.
  • In the fatal battle between the two normally friendly nations, Uruguay may be making the mistake of the generation by not seeking some kind of settlement of its ugly spat with Argentina.
  • International lending agencies deserve blame for not engaging in a vigorous environmental study before agreeing to allocate the substantial asset to the “Orion” project.

Through their use of roadblocks and varied inflammatory statements to the press, Argentine activists and Uruguayan public officials have sought international attention to their respective sides in the nearly 2-year-old conflict over the construction of a paper mill on the Uruguayan side of the river. Usually amassed on the San Martín Bridge and largely hailing from the Argentine town of Gualeguaychú, these demonstrators vehemently oppose Botnia’s (a privately-owned Finnish firm) vision of a cellulose plant on the banks of the river separating the two countries. The project has evoked strong antagonism due to the detrimental environmental effects that appear unavoidable should the mill be completed and become operational. Botnia’s endeavor has drawn enthusiastic support from the Vázquez government, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the World Bank. Unsurprisingly, their backing has added to the political tension now plaguing the two sides, which includes Buenos Aires’ pleas before the International Court of Justice to halt construction of the mill and Uruguay’s plea to the same court that the border closures were causing ‘irreparable’ damages to the country’s economy. On January 25, Uruguay boldly signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the U.S. in hopes that the affiliation with the northern super power might influence the paper mill dispute in its favor. A TIFA is often a first step to a Free Trade Agreement, which would directly violate Uruguay’s membership agreement with the other Mercosur countries. In spite of the perspective economic bonanza to Uruguay, resulting from the pulp mill, Montevideo would be wise to reexamine the likely political and economic costs of risking its continued membership in Mercosur. Then there is the need for Uruguay to preserve its own environment, as well as the need for it not to imprudently go too far out of its way to antagonize Mercosur partner Argentina and, quite possibly, its long term ties to Brazil.

Full article...

~There is a lot of relevant information in this article, but no mention of the various effects, good and bad of the several Argentine paper mills on the other side of the Uruguay River, in Corrientes Province, I believe, which employ older and much more polluting technologies. Why? Nor is there any mention of the fact that the Argentine Province of Entre Rios attempted to attract the Botnia project and lost out--and that, at the outset of the controversy, the Governor of the Argentine Province of Corrientes stated that Corrientes would be happy to receive the project. (He appears to have been silenced since.) These seeem like most unfortunate omisions. Whether or not there are ecological arguments against the plant, in the interest of a balanced presentation, the efforts of two Argentine provinces to attract the investment, and the experience of more polluting Argentine cellulose plants on the other side of the river should be noted. As it is, the article seems like it was prepared primarily with information supplied by the Province of Entre Rios and the Government of Argentina.
Hugh Schwartz

COHA answers:

My dear Hugh,

We will look into this. Any article, that you ar aware of that shed light on the subject would be very much appreciated here.

My best,

Larry Birns
Director of COHA

~ Dear COHA

While I always read and enjoy your reports on South America I am once again moved to write to you because of your continuing bias for Nestor Kirchner's Argentina, which I feel is rooted in a mistaken belief that the man is some kind of progressive reformer as opposed to the latest Peronist populist (Hartford Campbell's article last year and my response to it).

As an Argentine I too am worried about the impact of the Botnia plant on the environment but I am even more worried about how the Argentine government's absolute failure to manage this diplomatic problem is threatening to wreck Mercosur and bring relations between what should be two brother republics to a new and very sorry low.

Completely absent from Ms Donovan's report was any broader history of the dispute. No mention of the fact that the Uruguayans consulted the Duhalde government about the plant only for Kirchner to decide AFTER the roadblocks went up that that consultation did not count because the government at the time gave the answer he now could not or would not implement without facing down roadblocks - something he has shown himself to be unwilling or unable to do since coming into office.

In effect Argentina has contracted out one of its most important bilateral relations to unelected protesters who are breaking the law of the land which guarantees free movement on the republic's roads.
One can feel for these people - no-one wants a large industrial project to set up in their neighbourhood, especially when it is across a national frontier and leaving them to benefit less in terms of jobs and income while having to share any environmental impact. But to contract out your country's bilateral relations with a close neighbour to these people is the height of stupidity.

What nation would end a massive foreign investment project in the face of demands that it do so by foreign protesters who blocked the international frontier in an attempt to strangle your economy? This is even less likely in Uruguay where there are long memories of Argentine meddling in its internal affairs that go back to the time of independence and have by fuelled by Argentine insensitivity in every generation since.

This is why I believe why Tabaré is so strongly backed by the VAST majority of the Uruguayan population. Sending troops to guard the plant was a stupid stunt but no worse that Kirchner's repeated stupid rantings on the subject both domestically and at international forums.

Of course as a pluralistic society opposition to the plant is to be found in Uruguay, but Ms Donovan's report I believe over-emphasises this opposition while failing to stress the huge support for the plant in Uruguay, increasingly out of defiance at the Argentine roadblocks.
This was very clear to me on my last trip to Uruguay.

What I feel is also missing in the report is the growing sense in Buenos Aires political and business circles that this whole dispute is another example of the Kirchner government's almost total disregard for diplomacy, playing fast and loose with an important neighbour based on typically Peronist chauvinistic tendencies dressed up as progressive environmental concerns.

Do you really think that Kirchner's government gives a damn about the environment? Just look at the number of new mining projects it has authorised within its own borders in recent years. Botnia's plant passed international studies of its environmental impact and Botnia says the plant meets EU standards, a claim that can be verified by end of 2007. Nothing like this is underway in Argentina. Gold mines using high levels of mercury are being approved all over Argentina with very little oversight. The idea that the Argentine government has an environmental stance on the paper plant is not just wrong - it is absurd to even think so. Nearly all the heavy pollution already flowing into the Rio de la Plata comes from Argentina, plants the government is doing little or nothing to clean up or shut down. One only has to get a taxi to La Boca in Buenos Aires to realise that the major environmental threat to the Rio de la Plata is Argentina, not Botnia or Uruguay.

The problem is that Kirchner's diplomatic maladroitness has backed him into a corner.
It is hard outside of Kirchner's supporters to find anyone in Buenos Aires who thinks our case will win at the Hague. Why did he back the protesters? Because he thought it would be another cheap populist move to further boost his popularity? Possibly. Maybe it was because he fears his own police's ability to remove roadblocks without violence, which would be understandable. But by letting whoever block whatever road they wish since coming to power he now finds it almost impossible to articulate a situation in which this should stop. The result is that this particular saga has gone on until now we have our diplomatic relations with Uruguay being conducted by the inhabitants of Gualeguaychú. Leaving bilateral relations in the hands of people living on the border is never really a good idea.

I believe the root of this dispute is to be found in the actions or lack of them of the Kirchner government. Ms Donovan's report I think shamelessly implies that Uruguay should back down in the face of Argentina's demands. No government could do this and survive and I believe that the Uruguayan government should not be asked to do so.
What is lacking in the report is an analysis of how the Kirchner government has blithely walked into this mess, dragging Uruguay along with it. Just because it is the bigger, more important power and has wrapped itself in a spurious environmental cloak is no reason not to call its bluff and force it to conform with the norms of international law and decency.

Jean Fournier

This opinion essay is bias and too much influenced by Argentinean position. You should include a Uruguayan version of this conflict and uncovered the real selfish interest from Argentina in this conflict. It is too easy to write on something you are scarcely or not well informed. As an Uruguayan citizen I resent this kind of essays, but this is not the first time I have problems with essays published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.


Hugo Achuga MLL Dept.