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Blurting it out

For a second, I worried it had been a one-off. But reading this AP story I’m more and more convinced that the foreign media’s coverage of the crisis is now shifting very significantly.

Up until a few weeks ago, incidents like last night’s shootout outside PDVSA (two blocks from where I live, incidentally!) were covered in a scrupulously agnostic way – especially by the agencies. You kept running into phrases like “a shootout ensued,” or “each side blamed the other for starting the violence,” or “after an armed confrontation, X people lay wounded” – formulations specifically designed not to place the blame on one side or the other. And last night’s shootout was, at least as I saw it, murky enough that it could, imaginably, have been the work of agents provocateurs. It’s not likely, of course: as per usual, all the circumstantial evidence suggests that it was yet another unprovoked chavista attack, but it’s not entirely impossible that some shady right-wing group could have done it to raise trouble – absent footage of known chavistas shooting, how can you be sure?

In the past, that level of doubt would have been enough to elicit the wishy-washy, non-committal language described above. It drove opposition minded Venezuelans crazy reading stuff like that, because many times the weight of evidence against the government seemed so crushing that refusing to assign blame sometimes bordered on complicity with government-sponsored violence. There were some very unfortunate episodes where chavistas were demonstrably, evidently to blame for serious attacks – more than a couple of incidents were even photographed and videotaped and really left no room for doubt – and yet the foreign papers were just not willing to come out and say it clearly.

That’s one problem we don’t have in the post-Fernández-arrest era. The AP write-up is astonishingly unambiguous in assigning blame over last night’s shootout:

“Gunmen loyal to Chavez ambushed a group of policemen overnight, killing one officer and wounding five others, said Miguel Pinto, chief of the police motorcycle brigade. The officers were attacked Saturday night as they returned from the funeral for a slain colleague and passed near the headquarters of the state oil monopoly, which has been staked out by Chavez supporters since December. After a series of attacks on Caracas police by pro-Chavez gunmen, Police Chief Henry Vivas ordered officers to avoid oil company headquarters. But the funeral home is located nearby.

‘We never thought it would come to this,’ Pinto said.

Chavez’s government has seized thousands of weapons from city police on the pretext that Vivas has lost control of the 9,000-member department. Critics allege Chavez is disarming police while secretly arming pro-government radicals.”

Now, the journalists reading this know how the sausage is made. This is not the way you write a story if you mean to leave any doubt in your readers’ minds about who’s responsible for the killing. It’s a gutsy way to write, really – and refreshing to see in the typically bland AP. It just goes to bolster my theory that Chávez screwed up big time with Carlos Fernández – the speed with which the benefit of the doubt has vanished is amazing. He can expect to get raked over the coals abroad for every little slip up now. Once the media start treating you this way, it’s a matter of time until you end up with full-on pariah status. This shift has been a long time in the making. Now, it’s happening.

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Known to friend and foe alike as Quico, Francisco Toro is Executive Editor at Caracas Chronicles.

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