Sign Up for Free Mailing List

December 4, 2001

Narco News 2001

"When You Wish

Upon a Tyrant"

Fact-Checking Marcela Sanchez's

Puff-Piece on Bolivian President

Washington Post's Sanchez Dims Her Star's Rise
by Inventing the Rise of a Lame-Duck President

By Al Giordano

Special to the Narco News Bulletin

Today's newspapers in Bolivia are filled with glowing accounts of President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga's visit this week to Washington. The headlines read like press releases…

"Tuto Shines in US" (Los Tiempos)

"Like Peter in his House, Quiroga is Applauded and Praised in Washington" (La Razon)

"OAS and DEA Satisfied with Work in Bolivia" (El Diario)

"DEA Gives Bolivia a '10'" (El Diario)

"Quiroga Under the Lens of the US Media" (El Diario)

But a search of today's Dow Jones archives, including all AP, Reuters, Agence France Presse, UPI, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post stories that are published reveals scarce-to-nonexistent English-language coverage of the Bolivian commander's Beltway Vacation. Quiroga is spending at least five days in Washington, chasing the press like lawyers chase ambulances, but only one reporter so far took the bait: Marcela Sanchez, author of the "From Washington" column about Latin America published on the website.

The column, "Mr. Quiroga Goes to Washington," is subtitled, "Bolivia's New Star Touts the Andes."

"A man many consider to be a new rising star is taking center stage," waxed Sanchez, without disclosing who exactly these "many" star-gazers might be.

Bolivian President Quiroga, Sanchez tells us, is "a promising new player in Latin American politics."

A Look at the Facts

But a cold and sober look at Bolivia's current reality, and at Quiroga's domestic mess, reveals that the man called "Tuto" is neither a "new player," nor does he have the "promising" future that Sanchez claims, unless that future is outside of his own country.

Fact: Quiroga was "elected" to a five-year term as Vice President in August 1997. But the word "elected" must be placed between quotation marks, because his ticket, with President Hugo Banzer, gained only 22% of the vote. With no majority winners, the decision went to the federal congress. After a bone-crushing series of deals and alliances (constructed with the assistance and guidance of the US Embassy, meddling, as always, in the sovereign affairs of others), the Congress installed Banzer and Quiroga. In any case, Quiroga is hardly a "new player" on the field. He became president because General Banzer, the long-time military strongman of the regime, fell ill with cancer and resigned last summer. Banzer now resides at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Fact: Under Bolivian law, neither the president nor the vice president can seek re-election to either post. Quiroga is at the end of his five-year term, and legal term limits prevent him from seeking the presidency again in 2002. Thus, Sanchez's claim of a "promising" future for this "rising star" to "take center stage" constitute pure huff-and-puff PR. Come next Spring's presidential election in Bolivia, Quiroga will become irrelevant to national politics. He'll be gone from the photo.

But those distortions of Quiroga's past and future are not even Sanchez's major journalistic crimes that stemmed from this column. An even greater offense was committed "From Washington." Sanchez doesn't name the alleged "many" whom, she says, consider the lame duck Quiroga to be a "rising star."

Certainly, she has not consulted the Bolivian people or any of their leading social sectors. In recent weeks, Sanchez has received seven emails from Narco News, each of them citing Bolivian press reports that make lie of her claims about Quiroga's alleged rising stardom. Had the bi-lingual columnist engaged in even the most cursory review of the Bolivian press -- eleven newspapers and media outlets refresh their content daily -- she would have found a very different Bolivia than she described for her readers.

Did she not bother to review the events currently shaking Bolivia? Or did she withhold the hard reality in the interests of promoting Quiroga? Neither possibility could be considered authentic journalistic practice.

A President Without Support

The widespread critique of Sanchez's "star" Quiroga from every sector of Bolivian Civil Society was recently summarized by an Editorial published by the daily Opinion of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The editorial (published after Sanchez's column, but repeating a general consensus that has been voiced for weeks), also stated the mission of any journalist in the current crisis:

"What we do is interpret reality. We are prisoners of what happens each day. There, where we look, we find faults and crimes… The private businessmen, who are apparently the beneficiaries of the ruling neoliberal system, have given a deadline of ten days for the government to stop the economic collapse. The coca growers blockade and obstruct when they want. The language of interaction between the regime and society is that of force. Everyone blockades in order to be heard. What cannot be obtained through legal routes because corruption has destroyed or blocked them, is achieved by force.

"The government cannot order the country nor push it toward development because it is weak, incoherent and is a prisoner of a foreign power. This is the illegitimate continuance of a regime installed four years ago. It doesn't dominate or control every part of its system. It carries the blame and the impossibilities of a discredited regime. The worst obstacle or perhaps the worst enemy of the regime comes from inside its own house….

"When it (the Quiroga administration) attended the dialogue with the coca growers, it did it without any margin of flexibility because the formulas are imposed from other places of decision, and the same happens with its relations with the businessmen because the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are those who are in charge. A decisive factor in the generation of the chaos, of the social convulsion, is the lack of authority, of initiative, of ability in the fundamental centers of national government. The government doesn't have a discourse nor means to confront the different sectors of the population, and when it does, it simply can not comply with what it offered or with the agreed upon solution. The cause of the major part of violent actions is the noncompliance and the ineptitude of the public administration."

-- from Editorial by the daily Opinión, December 2, 2001

The Illegitimate Regime

The illegitimate regime of Sanchez's "rising star," Quiroga, does not have the backing of business or labor, of the cities or the farms, of the retirees or the youth of his nation. To the contrary, each of these sectors is today engaged in open rebellion against Quiroga and his policies. The Chambers of Commerce have given him an early December deadline to save the national economy or the business sector is going on strike and will begin a boycott of federal taxes. Labor sectors from the transport workers to doctors to even the rank-and-file police are threatening strikes and blockades. 250,000 retirees (one of every 30 Bolivian citizens) are not receiving pensions, and many have begun hunger strikes. The farmer, indigenous and student sectors remain in defiant opposition and blockades - a tactic that twice in the past year has paralyzed the country - begin anew today, while Quiroga fiddles in Washington.

Institutionally, Quiroga has only two friends: The Armed Forces of Bolivia, with its notorious record of massacres, disappearances, assassinations and torture; and, the United States government, with its meddlesome career agent in Latin America, Ambassador Manuel Rocha, calling the shots. And yet, there is even division within these sectors.

Did Sanchez bother to report the dissent within the Bolivian military, where 90 percent of the troops and 50 percent of the officers are of indigenous origin? No, she did not. Did she inform her readers of what has already been published in Spanish-language newspapers of Bolivia and on in English on the internet: that the US Embassy is funding illegal paramilitary forces from within the non-indigenous and most racist sectors of the military, out of US worry that indigenous soldiers won't fire upon indigenous citizens when push soon comes to shove? No, she would not. Did she bother to report the words of US Congress members, who wrote to the Ambassador last month expressing their own inconformity with White House policy in Bolivia? She chose to withhold that information, too. Because the facts would have undercut her the thesis of her fiction: that the lame duck Quiroga is a "rising star."

Did Sanchez name or quote any of her alleged "many" who share her opinion about the stardom of a tyrant, who, as noted by the Bolivian press, uses "only the language of force" against his own people? Who are these anonymous "many" behind the curtain that poses as journalism in the nation's capital? Are they titled Ambassador? DEA chief? Is he a State Department fixer who came out of Jesse Helms' senate staff by the name of Roger Noriega? Are any of them Bolivian citizens? If they are, do they come from the oligarchy? Sanchez's readers may never know whether the "many" constitute "any," or, if so, the nature of their hidden conflicts and agendas.

Narco News Praises the NYT?

Sanchez spent most of her column cheerleading a trade bill that Quiroga seeks from the United States Congress. "Quiroga comes to town," she writes, "just as pressure not to expand the product preferences is mounting from U.S. companies concerned about broader competition in a recession."

Had she delved beneath the glossy surface she provided for this complex trade issue, with consequences to US industry and workers, she might have penned a worthwhile column. But she did not. The day before Sanchez published hers, November 29th, New York Times reporter Anthony DePalma filed a detailed story that explained the meat of the conflict over the trade legislation. It is not just "U.S. companies" whom oppose the trade bill, but also "American farmers," reported DePalma, who also poked holes in the Bush administration's "war on drugs" pretext to extend the trade giveaway.

DePalma, unlike Sanchez, shared a key piece of information with the reader: He reported the "opposition from American farmers and textile manufacturers, who say that the agreement has cost thousands of jobs… that it (the trade giveaway) has not been effective in combating drugs… that expanding it to include other goods would be a setback for already battered American industries."

''What sense does it make for Washington to be pursuing a domestic economic stimulation package while at the same time pursuing trade policies that put more textile workers out of work?'' said Carlos Moore, executive vice president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, as reported by DePalma:

"In contrast to free-trade agreements, like the one the United States has with Mexico and Canada, the Andean Trade Preference Act lowers tariffs only on exports to the United States, not on imports from the United States. That, Mr. Moore said, has hurt the textile industry without giving American workers a chance to increase sales to the South American countries. Expanding the products covered by the pact could cost America's textile industry thousands of jobs, Mr. Moore added…"

Sanchez stated that the opposition to the trade giveaway comes from "from U.S. companies concerned about broader competition." But as the NY Times article reports, the issue is not "broader competition," but, rather, an unfair playing field that is non-reciprocal. There may be good reasons to favor an uneven deal, but accurate reporting requires that the true nature of the legislation be disclosed, not misstated as being about mere "broader competition." (We note that if Narco News, a frequent critique of the New York Times coverage of Latin America, finds better journalism in the Times than in Sanchez's column, what more damning indictment could we make than our observation that somebody is practicing journalism worse than the scribes of 43rd Street?)

Nothing New In This "News"

Sanchez also contradicts her opening claim that her "star," Quiroga, is a "new player," when later in her column she admits, "the new Bolivian president will not be a new kid on the block. As vice president, he was Banzer's frequent envoy to Washington gaining the respect and admiration of Clinton administration officials and many congressional leaders."

None of these cited admirers are named or even quoted. We don't disbelieve that Quiroga has fans among his masters, but, for the reading public, the names and faces of his bosses, so happy with his delivery of his nation's sovereignty to a foreign power, should be brought to light. The name of her column is "From Washington." Some actual reporting and disclosure of who in Washington is pulling the Bolivian president's strings should have been done. It was not.

Sanchez's lonesome praise of Quiroga seems to be more on issues of style than substance. She writes, "Quiroga is 41, a U.S.-educated industrial engineer with a business background and an American wife. He has a flawless command of English and feels at home in this country." In other words, Quiroga is a poster boy for the dream of the Latin American oligarchic families; to assimilate into United States culture and language, to become part of a foreign power structure by looting the resources and betraying the peoples of their own nations.

If what Sanchez means by "rising" points to the fate of other disgraced Latin American leaders who gain immunity from prosecution at home for their crimes by receiving sinecures with desks in the United States, she did not state it. That would be a stretch anyway. Former Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo hides in Mexican consul in Seattle, avoiding responsibility for his narco-corruption, human rights violations, and other crimes. Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, the butcher of Acteal, collects his checks now from the Union Pacific Railroad and the United Nations, where, as a cruel joke upon his own nation's greater populace of poor, he was put in titular charge of a UN "anti-poverty" program. Former Colombian President César Gaviria warms a Washington seat at the Organization of American States; installed there at the insistence of the U.S. government to bang his gavel upon any regional opposition to Plan Colombia and the damage it wreaks upon his former country. Is this the kind of faded has-been glory that Quiroga will soon share? A post as a mere functionary, without power, to do the bidding for a foreign superpower?

Sanchez also claims that "Quiroga is architect of Bolivia's Dignity Plan." This is pure fiction. The authors of this gigantic misnomer titled "Dignity" -- in sum, the use of brutal military force to eradicate even those coca crops grown as food -- are not Bolivian, and their name is not Quiroga. The plan was authored and funded from Washington. And the US Embassy's current Viceroy, Manuel Rocha, continues to micro-manage the plan to the point of instructing Quiroga how to negotiate with the farmers of his nation. A clear example has been reported in recent weeks by Narco News: When Quiroga's Interior Minister called a suspension on coca eradication in the Chapare region last month, successfully bringing the growers to the negotiating table, the Embassy went ballistic, and forced the Quiroga regime to revoke it within a week, and before talks could find agreement.

Sanchez writes, "Bolivia needed only 2,000 troops to take back control of its principal coca-growing region." But she speaks of this conflict in the past tense, as a case that is settled, when at the precise moment she was penning her puff piece on Quiroga, the Bolivian president had to send double that amount of troops -- 4,000 soldiers! Including 500 paramilitary forces! -- back into the Chapare region to "take back control," again, of a region where it never obtained public support nor control. Sanchez did not report of the citizen blockades and unrest scheduled to resume this week, reported widely last week in the Bolivian press, or that the blockades of November had paralyzed the region. She makes it seem as the mess was already cleaned up, long ago. In fact, the coca growers just announced that, among their new tactics, will be the widespread planting of new coca crops. But the truth and the facts damage the fiction that Bolivia is a "success story" in the war on drugs.

"Quiroga," pens Sanchez, "still must prove that he can maintain authority without being authoritarian." And yet he has been consistently authoritarian, as General Banzer was before him. Sanchez did not mention that world-respected Bolivian labor leader Oscar Olivera had been arrested and charged with "treason" two days before her column. Nor did she mention the public outcry from inside and outside of Bolivia, that flooded Quiroga's email box so extensively that he had to change his email address, as reported by Narco News.

The Role of the Inauthentic Press

A Washington Post columnist pens an inaccurate column that withheld the most important facts from the readers. So what's the big deal about that? Well, it's a big deal in Bolivia. And Sanchez had to know it would be. Our opinion is that she penned the puff piece precisely to give oxygen to a regime choking on its own authoritarian behavior. And based on our experience monitoring the dynamic between the US and the Latin American press, it had a very predictable outcome. Bolivian dailies seized upon Sanchez's column to shout the star-making headlines republished above. One of today's reports claimed, inaccurately, that it had been an "editorial" by the influential Washington Post.

And yet the last time the Washington Post even mentioned the coca conflicts of Bolivia was in a March report by Anthony Faiola; nine months ago. Sanchez, whose columns have not been all bad, and who has been praised by us in the past, has been AWOL on this huge story on her beat. We once thought that Sanchez, with the most interesting beat in the world and a huge international daily through which to cover it, might herself become a "rising star." But the big story has not only escaped her watch; she chose to distort it.

Bolivia has long been a black hole of journalism. Reports have been so incomplete from this nation of eight million citizens that historians still argue over whether Butch Cassidy died in the cinematic shoot-out of November 6, 1908, or whether he survived and returned to the US.

The October 7, 1967 capture and subsequent assassination of the 20th century's most historic revolutionary, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in Bolivia was conducted in such an obscure climate of government-to-press disinformation that it took decades for the truth to come out: that a CIA agent had been present, that US President Lyndon Johnson was receiving daily reports as the US public was kept in the dark about the details. We only know the facts today because of documents unearthed by the National Security Archives.

The decades-long disinformation campaign from Bolivia received a blow in the second-to-last major story out of Bolivia covered by the Washington Post, which, to give an idea of the scarcity of reporting from the region, was published more than a year ago, on October 24th, 2000. That's when media critic Howard Kurtz announced the downfall of Associated Press correspondent Peter McFarren, the gatekeeper for 18 years of English-language news out of Bolivia, whose conflicts and money-deals with Bolivian government and industry were, as the Post was fair enough to report, exposed by The Narco News Bulletin.

More than a year has gone by since McFarren's international disgrace, and Associated Press, upon which most US media rely for international coverage, has simply chosen to not report the news out of Bolivia. Disinformation was replaced by no information. Inside the beltway land of functionaries and oligarchs, the fiction of a "war-on-drugs success story" in Bolivia must be maintained at all costs, and silence reigned. Until November 30, 2001, when Marcela Sanchez, "From Washington," picked up McFarren's tattered crown and soiled her reputation as a journalist by converting an illegitimate lame duck president into a "rising star," thus damaging the rise of her own.

Publisher's Note: Washington Post columnist Marcela Sanchez has been invited to respond to this critique with our pledge that whatever she wishes to say will be published, uncensored and unabridged, on Narco News.

Marcela Sanchez's Response

>From: "Desdewash Internet DropBox" <>
>To: "Alberto M. Giordano" <>
>Subject: Re: Invitation to Respond to This Critique
>Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 16:13:15 -0500

>Dear Al,
>I respectfully decline your invitation to respond.
>Marcela Sanchez

Background Info

Dec. 3, 2001: Bolivia

Blockades Begin Anew

Nov. 29, 2001: The "Terrorist"

is Ambassador Manuel Rocha

Nov. 28, 2001: Regime Arrests

Labor Leader Oscar Olivera

Nov. 27, 2001: Coca Growers

Study Government Proposal

Nov. 25, 2001: Bolivia Suspends

Coca Eradication; Talks Begin

Nov. 22, 2001: US Congress

"Disturbed" by Events

Nov. 16, 2001: Bolivia Burning

Archives of Last Year's Press Briefings on Bolivia:

10/5-10/2000: Five Days That Shook Bolivia

10/3-4/2000: Generals Don't Want to Fight Bolivian People

10/1-2/2000: Zero Hour in Bolivia

9/29-30/2000: Bolivia, US, "Narco-tize" the Conflict

9/28/2000: Spotlight on Bolivia, in Context of Perú and Colombia

The Fall of AP's Bolivia Correspondent:

McFarren Part I

McFarren Part II

Washington Post Report on McFarren's Fall

For More Narco News, Click Here

"Live from the Andes" Coverage Begins This Week