April 27, 2004

Open Letter to Eva Golinger

Dear Eva,

I don't know you, except as a byline over articles that I strenuously disagree with. I'm writing to you out of a concern, voiced again and again by some of my readers, to try to build some kind of understanding, some kind of common action with people on the other side of the political divide that's grown so deep and corrosive in Venezuela these last few years.

In some ways it's natural for political opponents to distrust each other, and each other's motives - it's happened in any number of political conflicts before and it'll happen in many to come. It's hard to get over the impression that, well, your motives are noble, your command of the facts extensive and your understanding clear, and that therefore anyone who disagrees with you must be either evil or working with an ulterior motive. I know this is as much a part of how chavistas perceive opositores as vice versa.

The escalation of mistrust and animosity that ensues is destructive and dangerous, and needs to be considered as a big problem in its own right. At some point, the causes of polarization become almost secondary: it's the polarization that sparks off civil wars. In Venezuela, we're still early enough to prevent things going that far.

Sooner or later, people from opposite sides of the Venezuelan divide have to come together in a spirit of cooperation, making an effort to bracket those points where we can't agree and to focus on those where we can.

When I lived in Caracas, I volunteered for a journalists' NGO called Los Del Medio, founded precisely on this principle. Remarkably, given the atmosphere, the group was non-partisan, including both pro- and anti-government members who agreed that the Venezuelan media is failing its citizens by painting a polarized and hyper-simplified image of what is happening in the country.

I bring this up because one initiative Los Del Medio briefly considered taking on was a proposal to approve a Freedom of Information law in Venezuela. At this point, Venezuela is one of the last countries in the Americas that lacks Freedom of Information legislation, and as Los Del Medio knows only too well, this can make impartial reporting quite difficult.

And then it struck me, this is an issue where Eva Golinger and I actually might agree. You've already shown what a powerful tool for citizen participation laws like the FOIA can be. You understand as well as anyone could how such transparency can play a critical role in citizen activists' drive to hold their governments accountable. You know how important this kind of scrutiny is to real democracy.

Venezuelan citizens need and deserve the same legal mechanisms for participation and for holding their elected leaders accountable as U.S. citizens, and certainly is a natural fit with the calls for radically increased citizen participation President Chavez built his presidency on in 1998-2000. It strikes me that with from your position, and with your impeccably clean revolutionary credentials, your view would carry at least some weight in the government. What's more, an initiative of the sort could make a start, just one small, tiny, but symbolic contribution, to showing that people with radically different views of the world can still recognize one another's humanity and come together to affirm the values they have in common.

Hoping you'll read this letter with an open mind,