THE PLANK AUGUST 12, 2009
Francisco Toro blogs obsessively about Venezuela and the Chávez era at Caracas Chronicles.
Today's New York Times story on Hugo Chávez's latest outburst of all out weird--a principled crusade against the corrupting bourgeois influence of golf--ticked all the boxes for a minor email-this-story sensation: bizarre juxtaposition of disparate news themes (check), outright Woody Allenesque lunacy on the part of a Latin autocrat (check), ease of transformation into water-cooler fodder (check).
Before long, the State Department had been goaded into an appropriately snide response, ensuring the story stays in the headlines for that extra 24 hours or so--more if, as seems almost certain, Chávez jumps at the chance to shoot back something zany and over-the-top answer at Foggy Bottom.
It's the kind of story editors can't resist, and that's perfectly understandable. It's hard enough to get news readers to perk up and pay attention to anything that happens in Latin America, and golden opportunities like this one are not to be missed.
It's also the kind of story that drives me absolutely around the bend. Earlier this month, when Chávez ordered three dozen critical radio stations shut down over technicalities in their paperwork, nobody much heard about it. When the Colombian government revealed evidence that Venezuela has been passing sophisticated Swedish-made anti-tank rocket-launchers to the narco-terrorist conspiracy known as FARC, it was page 38, beneath-the-fold stuff. When Chávez's Attorney General moved to make the publication of certain kinds of news punishable with four years in prison, it shot to the top of no one's e-mail-this-story list.
Venezuela's slide into outright dictatorship isn't cute. It's not funny or colorful or folkloric. One of Latin America's oldest democracies has mutated into the continent's premier exporter of authoritarianism. Our reality isn't email-this-story-friendly; it's only grim. And cutesy stories about that crazee Chávez guy going off on some madcap crusade against golf break through the layers of indifference of first world news consumers only at the cost of making the end of our country's democracy into a punchline.