Simon Romero's hatchet job on Latin American leftism resurfaced this week in his New York Times profile of Bolivian president Evo Morales. The reporter's shoddy analysis of Latin American politics takes form at the outset. In the lede paragraph Romero paints Bolivia as a country falling apart at the seams:
Evening newscasts speak of a country on the verge of balkanization. La Paz and Sucre dispute which city should be the capital. Santa Cruz, in the east, clamors for autonomy. The governor of the province encompassing this bustling city in the Andes has called on President Evo Morales to resign.
But four paragraphs later, we find that Bolivia is, in fact, stable under Morales's stewardship. Indeed,
In a touch of irony, the urban upper classes, many of whose members remain explicitly critical of Mr. Morales, are benefiting from the newfound stability and economic vibrancy. With a cocalero in power, cocalero activists no longer shut down the main highway from Santa Cruz, enabling the province’s exports to reach important markets. Similarly, parts of the southern area of La Paz are prospering as builders rush to meet demand for comfortable apartment buildings. Here in Cochabamba, a new $6 million Cineplex, which seems plucked from suburban California, illustrates how investors are pouring money into new projects.
Of course, this doesn't keep Romero from highlighting Morales's authoritarian tendencies, like his
rough verbal treatment of opponents and a proposal by supporters to be re-elected indefinitely.
Quickly on this point: I'm not clear how "rough verbal treatment of opponents" constitutes an authoritarian character, any more than French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's recent threat of war with Iran, say, or the routine practices of the Bush administration over the course of the past seven years. Moreover, how the ideas of political supporters make a politician necessarily good or bad is far from clear. But these are minor points. What is more disturbing in Romero's eyes are Morales's social and economic policies, which in his measured judgment
seem erratic and inspired by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, like his moves this month to establish diplomatic ties with Iran while announcing visa requirements for American visitors.
Would that the United States establish diplomatic ties with Iran! The mess in Iraq would be immeasurably improved by a joint U.S./Iran effort at stabilization, and the regional power of Iran's Ahmadinejad compromised. Yet again I digress.
What's most astonishing about this piece is what's left out. In his interview with The Times reporter, Morales offers at least two avenues for Romero to explore and critique. Needless to say, Romero fails to take up the challenge. The first, Morales's rejection of foreign assistance with coca-eradication strings attached, would have been a perfect opening to report on the U.S.-led "Plan Colombia," and the damage it's wrought throughout the Andean region. Second, Romero's closing paragraph concludes with Morales's poignant observation that "I realize now that the decolonization of our society will take longer than expected."
Had Romero the courage or insight to point out that the legacy of colonization, and its modern progeny, neoliberalism, directly fuels the rise of leaders like Morales and Chavez, the Times might be printing much superior reportage. Instead, the paper continues to provide Romero a platform to offer cartoon portraits of the leaders driving Latin America's most profound and interesting social experiment since Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution.