Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Honor of Election Day

From Gatopardo, a piece about a famous South American president:
"Mija, tell your story", the president says to the woman who complains because there's no professor in her city or exercise programs for the elderly. Attentive, almost always dressed as a provincial, with a woven serape over his shoulders and a sombrero, he travels religiously every Saturday to the Community Council of some small town or poor neighborhood. He scolds his ministers in front of the people. They ask him for favors for six or seven hours, which is televised to the entire country. He awards or doesn't, explains, shows off his grasp of the details. He recites figures, names of rivers, the curves of highways. He speaks plainly, in the diminutive: "La tierrita", he says. He doesn't like it when they invoke their rights and they demand of him. His handlers filter out the rabble-rousers. Micro-managing, temperamental, theatrical with his tantrums, Uribe makes people feel as though they have a father nearby, one for whom they matter, but one who above all is in control.
I'm by no means a close follower of Colombian politics (and feel free to disregard my conclusions if all the reasons that I see this as noteworthy are more than anything ignorance on the blogger's part), but it strikes me that this is a side of Uribe that gets very little attention in the US media, despite the fact that, as the article points out, he does this sort of thing "religiously". However, stuff like this about Chávez is everywhere. (Indeed, I imagine a few readers thought it was Chávez until the final line. Understandably.)

I don't think this is an example of the media treating one or the other unfairly, exactly, but rather an example of the limitations of narrative in the American media. For most of the past decade, the prevailing Latin American narrative has been the Pink Tide and efforts to push back against it. A huge proportion of US coverage of the region was within that context, even when it was forced and totally inappropriate. Here we have a rather clear example of a longstanding populist tactic, and a pretty interesting one at that, but since the protagonist is a man of the right, it doesn't fit into the broad Latin American narrative that guides US media coverage. As a result, while I've read all about Aló Presidente, after eight years of the Uribe presidency, this program was news to me.

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