It came to light over the weekend that Lydia Barraza, spokeswoman for the US State Department, considers the PanAm Post a “Russian troll.” These statements – as hilarious as they are unfortunate – followed the publication of an article by my colleague Orlando Avendaño, in which he questioned (with deserved harsh criticism) the assessments of Elliott Abrams, who deemed “premature” the prospect of any foreign military intervention on Venezuelan soil.
Every publication has its labels: “progressive”, “right-wing propaganda”, “in the pocket of ____” and so on. Anyone who works in the press is aware of this, to the point that, in any moderately serious media outlet, such accusations do nothing but feed internal jokes. In this age of Twitter and Cambridge Analytica the new insult is “Russian troll.” Until then, nothing that Barraza said would cause surprise or greater displeasure at the PanAm Post.
The esteemed Miss Barraza “suggested” changing the title of the article (Maduro Defeats Trump: Abrams Announces the Surrender), something that reveals that it is not exactly the PanAm Post that flirts with Russian tactics.
Despite her low esteem for freedom of the press (essential for any solid democracy), there is one element that goes into Barraza’s “defense”: she does not have to know how the PanAm Post works, it is not her obligation to be aware of our diversity of thought. She has no way of witnessing the epic debates between two beloved colleagues, such as the now controversial Avendaño and García Otero (to mention just the most recurring example). If she has not read more than article titles, Barraza does not have the necessary tools to realize that at the PanAm Post it is almost impossible to find two columnists who share the same vision of the world. The only thing that we all have in common is the PanAm Post, which involves an unconditional commitment to a value we consider to stand above all others: freedom. And right there we have got ourselves a problem with Barraza.
Both International PEN and Reporters Without Borders strongly condemn violations of press freedom in Russia, which ranks 148th in the world ranking in this area. Our values diverge sharply from those of Russia.
If Barraza had done more than read a few headlines, she would know that different columnists at the PanAm Post have vehemently rejected the Russian interference in Venezuela – already of a military nature, not only by Putin, but by Cuba. Barraza has not done her homework…and has failed to understand our perspective.
I reiterate: Barraza does not have to know the details of what happens behind the scenes at the PanAm Post. But it is her obligation to at least respect freedom of the press, due to her public position. It is also a moral duty to read and understand an article, before issuing pronouncements thereupon. Sitting in her office in Washington, reading is not a particularly dangerous activity, unlike, to cite a recent example, the activities of our colleague Carolina Briceño, who was wounded in the face while covering the turmoil in Cúcuta that the whole world has been watching.
No, Barraza, here we take our work very seriously, and we are not “trolls.”
However, this whole incident has been very revealing. If there are public officials who are unable to understand the concept of press freedom, how difficult will it be for some to understand the seriousness of what is happening in Venezuela? What hope remains for a country that suffers under a vile dictatorship in which in every second a new battle breaks out, in which routine daily life is an act of survival and resistance? Do you understand that there are mothers who do not know how to feed their children and that these mothers are not in the minority? Are they aware of the murders, of the tortures, of the abuses? Perhaps, as far as Venezuela is concerned, few understand more than the headlines. Only this would explain why there are those who believe that Venezuelans want a war. Venezuelans want to end the war that has left them hungry and impoverished (in no small part thanks to Russian and Cuban collaboration with the dictator Maduro) and that is why they are asking for help.
Now that I am a “Russian troll”, however, perhaps I should devote myself to writing odes to Nicolás Maduro and praising the unnecessary display of masculinity of Vladimir Putin, a manipulative autocrat who exploits Venezuelan hunger.
Now that I am a “Russian troll”, who knows? Perhaps I understand the degree of international indifference and complicity in the face of the unspeakable pain of a brotherly people.