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Hugo Chávez has said a lot of wacky things over the years, but it may be that I erred in a recent column when I reported that the Venezuelan president had declared the U.S. guilty of causing the earthquake in Haiti through use of a secret weapon. The story surfaced in Spanish paper ABC and was picked up in some right wing media outlets including El Nuevo Herald. However, the report also appeared in a host of other print and TV media throughout South and Central America, including media giant O Globo of Brazil.
The reports, which linked Chávez’s comments to a story appearing on Venezuelan TV Vive’s website, were in turn based on a report prepared by the Russian North Fleet which has been monitoring the U.S. military in the Caribbean since 2008. The Russian report claimed that the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti was caused by an experimental shockwave system which could also create “weather anomalies to cause floods, droughts and hurricanes.”
After I wrote my story I was deluged with anonymous and shrill e-mails barking at me to recant: “Kozloff! retract your story at once!” Many readers wrote that I was speculating and that the burden was on me to prove that Chávez actually made his remarks. I also received a disparaging note from Greg Wilpert, the publisher of venezuelanalysis.com, a website which reports on news from Venezuela and which is sympathetic to the Chávez regime.
Curious to get to the bottom of the imbroglio, I first contacted El Nuevo Herald’s Juan Tamayo, author of a piece which claimed that Chávez had made his claims on January 21st. I have not received a response. Following up, I contacted the Venezuela Information Office but my e-mails bounced back. I then went straight to the press attaché at the Venezuelan Embassy, asking whether the Chávez government would respond to the stories. I have yet to receive a formal answer.
A strategic communications advisor assigned to the Venezuelan Embassy just wrote a letter to the publication Foreign Policy, claiming that Chávez never made any remark about U.S. secret weapons and that the news reports are false. I am not in the position to scour every speech or utterance made by Hugo Chávez over the past two weeks, and I would prefer to receive my own official clarification, but it seems reasonable to assume that if the Venezuelan Embassy put out a statement denying the charges then it must be fairly confident of its case.
I hold myself to high standards and if this particular story turns out to be false, as it appears to be, I hold myself responsible for my words and hereby retract the relevant sections of my report. This incident is unfortunate and ironic on many levels. Readers of my pieces over the years will recognize that I am hardly some kind of right wing flack. I have authored two books and countless articles criticizing U.S. mainstream coverage of Venezuela and exposing U.S. foreign policy machinations on the wider region. Perhaps, I’ve even written more on these subjects than Wilpert and many others.
Let us be brutally frank about one thing, however: even if Chávez didn’t make this wild claim, it would not come as a shocker if he did. That’s because over the years, Chávez has lost all credibility through his over the top rants which drag the left into the mud.
Here is a sampling for the ages: “I don’t know, maybe he [the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin] was a great nationalist, a patriot” [Hugo Chávez on African politics]. This quote was reported in the Telegraph and the Times of London, two British papers. Maybe the left blogosphere will now inundate my inbox with e-mails claiming it is all an elaborate right wing hoax designed to blacken Chávez’s name.
Here are some other zingers.
On Robert Mugabe, the brutal dictator of Zimbabwe: he is my “brother,” someone who has been wrongly branded a “bad guy” in the eyes of the world” [CIA conduit BBC, Los Angeles Times].
On war criminal and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur: “The recent indictment against the Sudanese president Bashir is one of these ridiculous cases. It’s a farce” [corporate flack news agency Reuters].
The left should continue to challenge mainstream U.S. media coverage of Venezuela and to expose falsifications. But Wilpert and others ought to demonstrate more independent responsibility from time to time as well. I just went to venezuelanalysis.com and entered into the search engine “Omar Al-Bashir.”
I looked, but in vain: no stories.
NIKOLAS KOZLOFF is the author of the upcoming No Rain In the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects The Entire Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his website, http://www.nikolaskozloff.com/