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Dr. Vanessa Neumann

Dr. Vanessa Neumann
New York, New York, United States
February 18
Senior Fellow, for Latin America and terrorism
Foreign Policy Research Institute
I am a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, specializing in Latin America and terrorism. I am also an Associate of the University Seminar on Latin America at Columbia University, Editor-at-Large of Diplomat magazine, and write on Latin America for The Weekly Standard. I have a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Columbia University, been interviewed in The New York Times and on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Caracol radio and written for all the major broadsheets in the UK.


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MAY 17, 2011 12:27AM

Pen versus Sword

Rate: 5 Flag

CNN on Friday carried the story that a new report by Amnesty International ranks Latin America amongst the most dangerous regions for journalists.

According to the report, nearly 400 journalists were threatened or attacked in the Americas in 2010, and Mexico is one of the worst offending countries, according to Javie Zuniga, a special adviser on human rights for Amnesty International. "It's a sense of impunity that feeds into more killings and more abuses throughout the continent, especially in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras and Brazil," he said.

protest in support of Honduran journalists
Media laws passed in Argentina in 2008, in Venezuela in December 2010 (known as the Ley Resorte) and under consideration in Ecuador, all extend presidential power over media critics of their regimes.
Other countries that seriously threaten journalists include the Dominican Republic and my own home country, Venezuela.

I remember going through immigration at the Simón Bolívar International Airport outside Caracas, entering on my Venezuelan passport in one of my regular visits home. This one must have been a couple of years ago now, but I already had earned a bit of a reputation as a vocal critic of the presidency of Hugo Chávez. In the “occupation” box of my immigration card, I defiantly wrote: “periodista,” journalist.
This prompted a further inspection of my passport, a scrawl in red ink across my immigration form of “PERIODISTA” in huge letters and its being put in a separate pile.

Then the questions started: Was I there for work? No, just visiting family. How long would I stay? A week or so.

I pointed out that I am in fact a Venezuelan citizen and expect to be treated as such -- not as some foreign spy.

“You will be subject to surveillance while you are here,” the woman behind the counter informed me coolly.

“Good. I hope Chávez likes what he sees,” was my response.

At home, my brother was a lot less sanguine. “Why?” he demanded. “Why would you do that? You should’ve just written ‘housewife’.”

“Because,” I answered, “if we don’t stand up, we’re doomed. If we don’t defy, we aid a repressive regime. Didn’t we learn that from the Nazi and Communist persecutors of our ancestors, little brother?”

With this, he could not disagree.

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Musasshi was no to something, alas, when he said in a Book of Five Rings, paraphrased for your point,
"The sword beats the pen, because the sword can chop off hands and cut throats." Alas, the Men with Guns have a big say most places.
Thanks, Don. Of course (unfortunately) you're completely right.
The United States bombed Al Jazeera journalists during Shock and Awe killing at least one journalist. They imprisoned Sami al Hajj, a camera man for Al Jazeera, for several years and held him at Gitmo with no charge and tortured him to get info about Al Jazeera.

Helen Thomas lost her job because she dare challenge the status quo.

Amy Goodman and other journalists were arrested for daring to cover the Republican National Convention.

But the censorship in the U.S. is more subtle than that usually. We have a corporate run media that shuts out any alternative voices. They simply are not given a platform that enables them to reach a wide audience. In order to get that, you have to toe the corporate line. Americans are subjected to a constant barrage of propaganda virtually brainwashing an entire country. The Nazi's would be amazed at how well the propaganda works on the American sheeple.

As for Venezuela, you know the media is primarily opposed to Chavez and openly supported the coup attempt against him in 2002. Chavez allowed them to continue to operate. What do you think Bush would have done if MSNBC openly called for his removal and supported a coup attempt against him?
Dear Alaska,

I agree that there is much censorship of a subtler variety in the US and I didn't agree with the firing of Helen Thomas. However, I don't know what you mean by saying that Chávez has allowed the media to operate that supported a coup against him. Is closing RCTV (twice!) the oldest and most popular TV channel in all of Venezuela (like NBC) tolerance? Or maybe sending in armed militias on motorcycles to bomb and shoot a TV station, killing journalists and ransacking the property so it can't work an example of tolerance? Dozens of students have starved themselves and dozens more been shot to protest freedom of speech in a country that was once the continent's pride and most prosperous. Now the courts do the president's bidding without even feigning independence, the government is basically a narcoterrorist organization, and Caracas has four times the murder rate of Iraq. If a president did that to your country, would you support him? Or would you risk your life and your freedom to speak out against him?

For more info on media censorship in Venezuela, you are more than welcome to watch my podcasts of my talks at Yale University and the Foreign Policy Research Institute. They are both available on iTunes as well as on my website: http://www.vanessaneumann.com.
OMG these are tough times...
I admire the defiance! I'm not a journalist of the sort you mean here, but I don't even check "correspondent" on my immigration papers. From your title, I thought we'd doubled up posting about Javier Sicilia, the poet leading protests in Mexico (he has Calderón talking himself in circles). I know you're a columnist, not a personal essayist, but the anecdote here is very powerful--I hope you'll write about being under surveillance!
You don't sound to me like you'd be reporting objectively in Venezuela at all.
Have you been to Venezuela? Is your life directly affected by the Chávez regime? Has your property been seized?

Objectivity: Thomas Nagel calls it "the view from nowhere."
No to all of that... But US and Western media has rarely tried to understand the intentions of the Bolivarian Revolution, but rather parroted the line of their governments and the Venezuelan right-wing.
Well, I take that empty space as my work space -- my job, both personal and professional. If I were to manage that, wouldn't that be great? Worth a try, at any rate.
In Mexico, it's more dangerous to be a journalist than a drug dealer, especially for those journalists who write about drug dealers.
RCTV still operates. They should not only have been shut down for being complicit in the coup but the heads of the station should have been imprisoned. You know very well that the vast majority of media in Venezuela is privately owned and opposed to Chavez. yet he still has the support of the people in large part due to his policies which help the majority of the people rather than the small wealthy elite for which you work and write for.

You are correct that the crime/murder rate is much too high, but some of the recommendations from Conarepol that have been implemented have seemed to help. Also some of the increase can be attributed to cross border activity from right-wing para military forces in Columbia-- The true narcoterrorists.

You will have to provide a link for the motorcycle militia incident. I couldn't find anything after a quick search.

We too have courts in the US that are no longer independent and are swayed by the corporate interests, lobbyists and high priced lawyers. Ditto for our Congress and President. I would much rather have Chavez, who listens to the majority of the people in his country, rather than the few wealthy elites. That is called Democracy. I wish we had public broadcasting that was actually public and not corporate sponsored. I wish Democracy Now and programs like it had prime time exposure. Our CIA funds its blackops with drug money, we funded the contras with cocaine smuggling money, the poppy production is booming in Afghanistan since we kicked the Taliban out. We are a narcoterrorist state.

Iraq has a high murder rate because of America. We kill innocent people throughout the world, either overtly through war and occupation, or covertly through the CIA, USAID, IMF, World Bank, NAFTA, CAFTA, and other nefarious programs. My President does all these things and no, I do not support him and I do speak out against him and his destructive policies.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the School of the Americas. Not only is America a terrorist state, we help train terrorists and send them back to Latin American countries to brutalize their own populations.
No, RCTV does not operate. And the owners were not complicit in the coup. And no most media is no longer privately owned: it's now state-owned.

And for the record, I'm opposed to all coups -- regardless of whom they are for or against.

Alaska, I recommend you wean yourself off your Marxist diet of Chávez and Oliver Stone, and go to Venezuela to see for yourself what's really going on there.
Dr - You are lying, but I would expect nothing less from someone who writes for the Weakly Standard. RCTV does operate and they were complicit in the coup. I suggest you wean yourself off Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys school of neoliberal free market economics that has destroyed much of Latin America starting with the overthrow of Allende in Chile.