Vilifying left-leaning Latin American and Caribbean leaders is nothing new from the US media–from Chile’s Salvador Allende to Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to Mauricio Funes of El Salvador. Bolivian President Evo Morales is no exception, as he caught the attention of the website Vox (6/26/14), a new outlet that sets out to “explain the news” with an emphasis on data analysis.
Vox took Morales’ reversing the direction of a clock on the Congress building in La Paz as an opportunity to insult his presidential policies. The reversed clock represents a sundial, which turns clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere while counterclockwise in the Southern–symbolizing a shift away from Northern assumptions. The congressional president, Marcelo Elio, called Morales’ action “a clear expression of the decolonization of the people” (AP, 6/25/14).
However, Vox‘s Max Fisher said it was a “self-caricature” that fits with Morales’ record of “radically leftist but ultimately inconsequential government policy.” Fisher compared this gesture to a previous “stunt” by Morales:
Earlier this month, he called for the abolition of the United Nations Security Council, to help bring “the destruction of world hierarchies” and begin healing “mother Earth.” He frequently defies and denounces Western governments, for example in July, when his plane was grounded in Austria and searched for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
It is hard to see how the US grounding the Bolivian plane qualifies as an action by Morales, rather than as a dubiously legal exercise of force by a superpower. Fisher’s using this as an example of how Morales “defies…Western governments” suggests that countries like Bolivia should submit meekly to such abuses.
Rather than fostering peace among nations, this body has promoted wars and invasions by imperial powers in their quest for the natural resources available in the invaded countries. Instead of a Security Council, today we have an insecurity council of imperial wars. No country, no institution and no interest can justify the invasion of one country by another.
It’s difficult to dispute Morales’ assertion that an institution that gives five nations the ability to veto any international resolution does not “advance equality among states.”
Perhaps the strangest part of Vox‘s critique is its accusation that Morales is a phoney radical. Vox cites Morales’ support of foreign investment in the mining industry, Bolivia’s high corporate profits and lack of strong environmental regulations as evidence of Morales governing in a “downright boring” manner. While it is true that some on the left–such as James Petras, a scholar whom Vox would be unlikely to be quoting if he were praising rather than criticizing a left-leaning leader–argue that Morales’ economic policies are inconsistent with his radical rhetoric, there is another side to this argument that is entirely left out of Fisher’s piece.
As Bolivian journalist Fernando Molina (Links, 7/14/13) wrote of similar takes on Morales: “These criticisms have the same defect. They emphasize what the government is not doing or has not become, but they do not faithfully observe what it has done and what it represents.” Bolivia has seen tremendous economic growth under Morales–as Molina (Nueva Sociedad, 5-6/13) argues, “thanks to the expansion in public spending, from about $6 billion in 2005 to more than $20 billion. The state now has 50,000 more employees than it had in 2006 (an increase from 75,000 to 125,000).”
Morales’ administration has increased the number of employed family members per household and raised the national minimum wage rate by 127 percent. The rural extreme poverty level dropped from 63 percent to 43 percent, while extreme urban poverty fell from 24 percent to 14 percent in 2013.
Fisher also fails to acknowledge what is possibly Morales’ most radical action to date: the legalization of coca production, as Ryan Cooper of The Week (6/27/14) pointed out. A former coca producer himself, Morales supported poor indigenous farmers’ need to grow and sell the product.
Vox‘s asserts that “the great irony is that, in actual governance, Morales has not been all that much of a radical.” It’s a questionable assertion, but what is truly ironic is the pretense that a progressive Latin American president isn’t left-wing enough for a news-explainer site sponsored by GE.
Jordana Jarrett is a FAIR intern.