A New Colonialism...
Updated: May 14, 2020
I'm learning a lot about how the news media works these days. To be clear, I've always hated the term "fake news". My apologies if you've found yourself using it on occasion, but I find it to be a lazy term, that people mostly use to describe news they personally disagree with. I also think it's doing a lot of damage to our need for a free press. That's not to say that news organizations don't make mistakes or have biases....of course they do. But it's our responsibility to be wise and respond intelligently when those mistakes or biases appear, and make sure that we're a well informed people (thank you Mr. Applebee, my Grade 12 Social Studies teacher for ingraining that into my brain).
At any rate, I've had this philosophy tested lately from the the events of the past weeks that took place in Bolivia. Over and over (and over), we're seeing reports coming in from North America and Europe that completely twist our experiences and try to fit them into whatever personal narrative the author might have. They're mostly coming from the left, but there are a number from the right as well. It just depends who they're angriest with and how they can use what happened in Bolivia to support their personal opinions. There has been some good reporting, the BBC has usually been accurate and fair in it's reporting on Bolivia, as has been CNN Latin America. But the rest?
I responded to a few comments on a story at the CBC the other day and was instantly told that I didn't know what I was talking about and that I wasn't there. Well...haha...turns out I was and when I explained that, no one had much else to say.
Finally this week it came to a head in my brain, when I read a story in Maclean's magazine (Canada's version of TIME), "What has Canada done for Bolivia?" To put it bluntly, it drove me nuts. It was an "opinion piece" which is maybe why it wasn't vetted very well, but it was full of misinformation. To be fair, most of the articles I've read have been, but this one was especially egregious.
So I did something I haven't done before, I wrote a letter to the editor. I'm not expecting it to see the light of day, so to speak, so I thought I'd post it here. It makes my brain feel better....
"As a Canadian who has lived in Bolivia for the past fifteen years and is married to a Bolivian, I read with interest your article, “What has Canada done for Bolivia?” Generally we’re the forgotten country of South America, but with the recent events here, we’ve shot to the forefront of the western world’s collective consciousness. Unfortunately, what I’ve read in most North American accounts doesn’t begin to reflect the events we experienced in Bolivia over the past few weeks. It seems all anyone has focused on, is the statement made by the commander of the Bolivian military on the final day of a long process protesting Evo Morales and the election.
Very few of the accounts mention the hundreds of thousands of people who held civil strikes in all major Bolivian cities, bringing the country to a standstill for three weeks. They don’t mentions the highland indigenous peoples, who were angry at the lack of respect Evo Morales showed their traditional lands, standing side by side with the lowland middle class, who were fearful of becoming another Venezuela. Astoundingly, the leader of the Ponchos Rojos shook hands and joined together with the leader of the Camba Civil Authority. Miners of Potosi travelled hundreds of kilometres, while under near constant attack from government supporters, to meet with university students from across the country to march in solidarity to the Presidential Palace. And if you don’t know who those groups are, then you certainly shouldn’t be commenting on events here.
The military was nowhere to be seen for weeks. Finally in the end, with the country shut down, with thousands of people from all walks of life marching on the government buildings and MAS officials resigning left and right, this man suggested that it might be time for Evo to step down to preserve peace in Bolivia. That became the proverbial (and in the minds of many, literal) military gun to Morales’ head.
There’s a phrase being spoken here, "The New Colonialism". It’s essentially the idea that North Americans believe they know what’s best for South American countries, more so than the nationals who live there. They look in from afar, without any understanding of the culture or traditions or feelings and desires of the people, and they make judgments as to what is best for those people. Where it was once government entities making these decisions, it has now become the journalists and academics, the bloggers and influencers of social media, who are dictating what is true and best for the Bolivian people.
Bolivians are not children. They were angry for months leading up to the election. They do, in fact, have a constitution that they love and respect, and for North Americans to belittle the fact that Evo ran in the recent election, contrary to that constitution, is insulting to many. By that same constitution, Bolivia’s new interim president automatically became president through the line of succession, when Evo and his leadership not only resigned, but abandoned their position by leaving Bolivian territory. The Bolivian constitution doesn’t allow for the country to be without a president, so even though a quorum was called and MAS officials boycotted it, the constitution demanded that she be named president. The Bolivian constitutional courts have agreed. You may not like her or what she believes, but Bolivian law disagrees with you when you say she is not the president.
This week there was a unanimous vote by all members of the Senate, in which MAS holds a majority, to hold a new election within the constitutionally mandated ninety days. At that time the Bolivian people will choose their new leader. They will be free to vote for MAS or any of the other men and women running for office. They won’t be able to vote for Evo Morales. Perhaps you disagree with that and you feel the temptation to judge, advise or try to fit these events into a specific narrative. Resist that temptation and allow the people of Bolivia the freedom to chart their own course."
There you go....