From Chile to Venezuela to Brazil to Bolivia, the “Paper of record” has a long history of using blurred language to provide cover for US-backed coups in Latin America
On June 10, 2020, the New York Times ran a front page article headlined “Coup Threats Rattle Brazil as Virus Deaths Surge”.
To seasoned Brazil watchers this was not in itself shocking. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. President Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right supporters have threatened such an “auto-coup”; the dissolving of congress and the supreme court, since before he was even elected in October 2018.
What did exacerbate existing concerns was how quickly the New York Times altered its headline.
Within a matter of hours, out was the word “Coup”, replaced with “Military Action”.
Observers asked why the headline was changed, and who gave the instruction. Given historical precedents, their alarm was justified.
After all it was the New York Times, in 1993, whom an osbscure ex-military congressman toldthat if he was ever elected he would initiate an “auto-coup” inspired by Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, on his first day in office. 25 years later that man was President.
Such a move now would mark the consolidation of gradual military takeover of governance in Brazil since the 2016 coup to oust President Dilma Rousseff.
Just two days previously, on June 8, the NYT had admitted that its depiction of of Bolivia’s October 2019 election as fraudulent had been wrong, based on false information provided by the Organisation of American States. Think Tank CEPR had provided extensive evidenceattesting to the validity of the election, which was ignored or dismissed, with doubt cast upon the honesty of the organisation itself.
At the time of Bolivia’s coup, a NYT interpreter column headlined “Bolivia Crisis Shows the Blurry Line Between Coup and Uprising” argued that “The Cold War binary of “bad” coups and “good” popular revolts no longer applies”, and insisting that “experts on Bolivia and on coups joined forces on Monday to challenge the black-and-white characterizations, urging pundits to see the shades of grey.”
In this era of hybrid war, there is a tendency to define a “coup” purely in terms of aesthetics – for it to mean “old school” military takeovers; tanks on the streets, politicians arrested, civilians massacred and so on. Given that Bolivia ticked most of these boxes, and added a few news ones of its own, such as the use of paramilitary militias to physically attack and humiliate elected officials, the coup’s western media whitewash required a new level of intellectual gymnastics, especially when compared to Brazil’s slow motion institutional creep.
Conversely, the OAS had congratulated Brazil on its 2018 election, in which the leading candidate Lula da Silva, had been jailed to keep him from running, against the explicit requests of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Beyond this, the election was also stained by illegal disinformation campaigns, voter disenfranchisement and other irregularities. Yet the OAS made no complaint whatsoever.
As a result, Brazil’s 2018 election was and still is repeatedly referred to in Western media as “free and fair” when it was nothing of the sort, and it’s possible annulment by the Supreme Electoral Court is the principal motivation behind the “auto-coup” threat.
Dilma Rousseff had forewarned that the 2018 election would be the second phase of the coup which brought down her government, two years prior. She was right. She also predicted that, as had happened 50 years prior, a new more repressive authoritarian phase of the coup was still to come. […]
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