Colombia, yes, Venezuela, no: Editorial hypocrisy from US newspapers on UN Security Council seats
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Colombia, yes, Venezuela, no: Editorial hypocrisy from US newspapers on UN Security Council seats

Last Saturday, the two most important newspapers in the the United States — and arguably the world — published editorials in which they came out in opposition to a non-permanent United Nations Security Council seat being awarded to Venezuela.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post cited Venezuela’s response to street protests earlier this year, criticizing the government’s heavy-handed tactics and its detainment of opposition leaders and protesters.

However, there is plenty to criticize in both editorials as well, especially when it comes to the way they present information.

After the Post wrote that “Human Rights Watch documented” that the “regime responded violently” to protests, it claimed that “more than 40 people were killed.” This appears to suggest that the government — or, depending upon whether or not you like Venezuelan policies, the “regime” — was responsible for those killings.

But in fact, the very Human Rights Watch report cited before that claim said that publicly available information indicated that 14 of those killed were members of security forces, government officials or government supporters. Ten “participated in or supported” the protests.

The Times editorial has its shortcomings, too. It begins by acknowledging that former President Hugo Chávez “markedly reduced poverty and expanded opportunities in a country with a long history of entrenched inequality.”

The editorial then immediately claims that Chávez led the country “down a dark path” but does not specify exactly what that means. The dark path of expanded opportunities?

Chávez, who died in March 2013, is criticized for his “governing style” and the decisions to place the country’s oil sector and other key industries under public control (So, one might ask, how does the Times feel about Norway?).

There are, of course, legitimate criticisms of Venezuela and its current administration. The government did respond with excessive force during the protests, as the military itself has admitted. Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the national media environment and the lack of a truly free press.

But do these sins really make Venezuela unfit to serve on the U.N. Security Council?

Selective Outrage

Perhaps the simplest way to point out the absurdity of this editorial stance is to compare the papers’ hypocritical treatment of Venezuela with that of its next-door neighbor: Colombia.

In 2010, Colombia was selected to serve on the U.N. Security Council from 2011-2012, as it subsequently did. Needless to say, there was no outrage expressed by either paper, nor most mainstream U.S. media outlets.

Yet, measured by nearly any relevant indicator either now or at the time of its selection, Colombia is far more of an “embarrassment” to the continent than Venezuela, at least when it comes to government-sanctioned human rights abuses.

A few relevant comparisons:

  • The Venezuelan military has not been found responsible for deliberately murdering more than 4,000 innocent civilians to up an official body count. The Colombian military has.
  • The Venezuelan government has not (as far as we know) had a systematic policy of spying on Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians and journalists. It has not shared its intelligence services nor regularly cooperated with brutal paramilitaries and drug traffickers responsible for the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions. The Colombian government has.

Both of those massive scandals — and the Colombian government’s complicit or active role in them — were public knowledge well before Colombia was selected for the Security Council.

Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. It also ranks 98th on the U.N. Human Development Index, while Venezuela ranks 67th.

In minds of the editors of the Times and the Post, none of this signaled that Colombia should have been kept off the Security Council.

So what exactly did merit the papers’ blessing of Colombia’s seat and not Venezuela’s?

It is impossible to be sure, but one has to wonder if it is not because of some objective standard, but because Colombia chooses to play ball with the U.S. and its corporations, while Venezuela doesn’t.

Colombia opened itself up to NAFTA-style free trade with the U.S. in 2011 and has received billions of dollars of American military aid since the turn of the century, while Venezuela has openly criticized the U.S. and resisted its regional influence and pressure.

Still, this type of hypocrisy is to be expected from governments, not world-renowned newspapers.