Power, politics and journalism in Puerto Rico (II)
(To read the first part: )
The Ferré-Rangels have plenty of political smarts, and have armour-plated their every political flank, left, right and center. They fund the Center for a New Economy (CNE), an avowedly independent think tank “dedicated to creating a new economy for Puerto Rico that is prosperous, balanced, and equitable.” Yet for all its proclamations of intellectual independence, its collaborators and partners are all members of the local and transnational business elite: El Nuevo Día, Triple S, Banco Popular, UBS, Universal Insurance, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, Oriental Bank, T-Mobile, and Toyota, and also has received individual donations from Antonio Luis Ferré and his childrenAntonio Luis Jr. and y Loren Ferré-Rangel (1). CNE is directed by economist Sergio Marxuach, a relative of the current president of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón(USC).
GFR Media funds the Puerto Rico Journalists’ Association (ASPPRO), a professional guild that as recently as 2008 had made sharp critiques of El Nuevo Día’s abusive labor practices. ASPPRO also gladly accepts money from other employers, like Puerto Rico TV, El Vocero, Noticel, Radio Isla and Notiuno. Will the Association speak up when any of these media abuse their workers or engage in other unethical practices? ASPPRO also gets funding from Plaza Las Américas, Doral, Wal-Mart, Direct TV, Walgreens, Don Q, Goya, Banco Popular, Merck, Coca Cola, Triple S and the USC (2).
And as if this family were not astute enough, since 2014 companies of the Grupo Ferré Rangel print and distribute Claridad, the pro-independence newspaper that back in the 1970’s was a brave Marxist daily run by the now-defunct Puerto Rico Socialist Party.
The Chile connection and the Inter American Press Association
Through GFR Media, the Ferré-Rangels are active members of the Interamerican Press Association (IAPA), an international organism that describes itself as “a nonprofit organization devoted to defending freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the Americas” that aims “to support the basic principles of a free society and individual liberty”.Héctor Peña, director of El Nuevo Día’s opinion pages, is on the Association’s board of directors.
IAPA has often been accused of fronting for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and not without reason. Chilean entrepreneur Agustín Edwards, owner of the El Mercurio newspaper and IAPA president from 1968 to 1969, met in 1970 with CIA director Richard Helms to discuss ways to undermine the government of elected Chilean president Salvador Allende (3), who would be overthrown in a bloody CIA-instigated right-wing military coup in 1973. El Mercurio, which strongly opposed Allende, went on to become a strong supporter of the dictatorial regime that followed.
In 2014 the US State Department revealed some startling information about Edwards and his relationship with the CIA in a document titled Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976: Chile, 1969-1973 (4).
According to journalist and Columbia University professor John Dinges, this State Department report “is the remarkably candid official story of the U.S. clandestine intervention... first to prevent Allende from winning the election in September 1970 (unsuccessful), then the plan to provoke a military coup to prevent him from taking office six weeks later (disastrously unsuccessful, leading to the assassination of the commander of the Chilean Armed Forces, Gen.Rene Schneider), and finally the three year campaign in concert with multiple independent Chilean actors to ‘create the climate’ for the military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power on Sept. 11, 1973.”
“… The documents in the 1,000-page volume reveal not only that the CIA was helping to finance El Mercurio but that Edwards himself had been following instructions from the U.S. government. The evidence indicates he may have been what professional spies call an ‘agent of influence’.” (Parentheses in the original)
Three decades later, IAPA reprised its destabilizing role in Venezuela, where it enthusiastically supported the right-wing coup attempt against elected president Hugo Chávez in 2002, and the brief dictatorship of Pedro Carmona, who temporarily ruled the country until the coup failed. In that occasion, right-wing journalists, editors and media owners were actually involved in planning and executing the coup together with high-ranking military officials, practically photocopying the CIA blueprint for overthrowing the Chilean government in the previous decade. The slew of rabid anti-Chavez editorials that appeared at the time in IAPA-associated newspapers in Latin America and the US glossed over the fact that it was a military coup against a duly elected government (5).
Dropping any pretense of journalistic objectivity, IAPA president Robert J. Cox, praised the coup as a pro-democracy action: "This is a classic example for the new government headed by Pedro Carmona, which hopefully will turn things around, respect freedom of the press and encourage the independence of the judiciary, and thus, ensure restoration of true democracy".
Another outspoken “defender” of press freedom at IAPA is Uruguayan journalist Danilo Arbilla, who was the Association’s president from 2000 to 2001. In 1998 he headed an international delegation to Puerto Rico that investigated allegations made by El Nuevo Día about attacks against the press by then governor Pedro Rosselló (6). Back in the 1970’s Arbilla had no time to defend press freedom - he was busy working as press secretary of the dictatorial regime that ruled his country. Under his tenure as press secretary, the government shut down 14 news media and sequestered all the copies of the UNESCO journal. Tens of the country’s finest journalists were imprisoned and tortured, includingRubén Acasuso, leader of the Uruguayan Press Association (APU) and reporter / labor organizer Héctor Rodríguez. Hundreds of Uruguayan journalists who defended democracy could not find employment and many had to go to exile (7).
In the 1990’s Arbilla teamed up with Cuban exile Carlos Castañeda, former editor of El Nuevo Día, to defend press freedom in Cuba, the same freedom that he did not defend in his own country.
Mauricio Gallardo, a close associate of Agustín Edwards, was in Puerto Rico from 2007 to 2009 working as executive director of El Nuevo Día. He had previously worked for El Mercurio as editor of its Sunday magazine. Gallardo is currently back in Chile directing La Segunda, another newspaper owned by the Edwards family. “Mauricio Gallardo has practically made his whole career in the Edwards family’s media conglomerate in Chile. This chain owns 22 newspapers and 33 radio stations”, says Un Diario Amable, a critical documentary about El Nuevo Día broadcast on Puerto Rican television in 2009, for which Gallardo was interviewed. (8)
“Gallardo participated in the change of the Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias from traditional right-wing daily to sensationalist rag… a transformation considered a good move because garbage journalism sells more”, said Ernesto Carmona, of the Chilean Journalists’ Association (Colegio de Periodistas), in the documentary.
Gallardo was allegedly fired from El Nuevo Día shortly after he was featured in Un Diario Amable.
Good riddance, according to the documentary’s executive producer, Luis Fernando Coss, who said that “Gallardo represented the worst of corporate strategies, that is, those measures that compromise journalism with greed and market routines in detriment of the interests of the people and their most noble hopes. Corporate colonialism suffered a hard setback.” (9) From 1986 to 1998, Coss was chief editor of Diálogo, the University of Puerto Rico’s monthly newspaper. Before that he directed Claridad. He now directs the80 Grados online magazine.
IAPA responds (sort of)
I repeatedly tried to contact Héctor Peña, El Nuevo Día’s liaison with IAPA, for comment but he did not respond. But I did get an email response from IAPA’s new executive director, Ricardo Trotti.
“Criticisms of IAPA come from all sectors,” according to Trotti. He said that the followers of Peru’s Fujimori, Paraguay’s Stroessner, Chile’s Pinochet, and Argentina’s Menem, and the Nicaraguan contras have all considered the Association to be “unbearably to the left”; and the leftist followers of Ecuador’s Correa, Venezuela’s Chavez and Cuba’s Castro accuse IAPA of undermining democracy while serving imperialism and colonialism. He also pointed out that in the US, both Democrats and Republicans have similarly accused the Association of being biased against them.
“IAPA has always criticised and denounced press freedom violations from all kinds of governments,” said Trotti. He added, almost certainly in response to my questions about Edwards and the Association’s political activism in Venezuela, that IAPA cannot be held responsible for the behavior of each and every member.
However, the fact that characters like Edwards and Arbilla, who put journalism in the service of totalitarianism and against democracy and press freedom in their respective countries, actually became IAPA presidents says an awful lot about the political nature and ideological profile of this organization.
The shenanigans of these individuals and the connections of the powerful and influential Ferré-Rangel clan, including its virtual buyout of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón’s Communication School, go to show that one cannot naively view journalism as objective and neutral, as a disinterested activity that looks at the conflicts of the world from an “outside” and that is indifferent to the interests of privileged elites and popular struggles. The work of the journalist always has something to do with political power and is never neutral in relation to it. All the uncritical praise and worship of the “free press” and “freedom of the press” must be tempered by hard and intense questioning and serious reflection.
- Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist. http://
carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/ @ carmeloruiz
3) “Agustín Edwards-Eastman, owner of the Chilean newspapers El Mercurio and La Segunda, admitted to meeting with former CIA director Richard Helms and former U.S. National Security advisor Henry Kissinger shortly after the election of then-Chilean president Salvador Allende... The statement was made during his testimony in a trial investigating possible illegal activities by the media leading up to the 1973 coup, heightening the level of scrutiny El Mercurio has received for years regarding its role during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.”
Travis Knoll. “Owner of Chile’s El Mercurio admits pre-coup contact with CIA, denies cooperation” Journalism in the Americas, October 9 2013. https://knightcenter.
utexas.edu/blog/00-14552- owner-chile%E2%80%99s-el- mercurio-admits-pre-coup- contact-cia-denies-cooperation
4) “EE.UU. publicó una recopilación de documentos sobre la relación con Chile entre 1969 y 1973. Un memorándum que ya había sido desclasificado en 1999, parcialmente y con muchas partes censuradas, aparece ahora en una versión más completa de la histórica reunión entre Agustín Edwards y el (entonces) director de la CIA Richard Helms. El documento arroja nuevas luces sobre el intenso lobby que hizo el dueño de El Mercurio para promover un Golpe de Estado contra Allende con apoyo de la CIA.”
Peter Kornbluh. “Nuevo informe de cita de Agustín Edwards con el jefe de la CIA devela su rol clave en el Golpe” 27 de mayo 2014. http://ciperchile.cl/
2014/05/27/nuevo-informe-de- cita-de-agustin-edwards-con- el-jefe-de-la-cia-devela-su- rol-clave-en-el-golpe/
John Dinges. “Agustín Edwards: The unfinished story” Santiago Times, June 2 2014. http://santiagotimes.cl/
5) Diana Barahona. “The Corporate Media vs. Chavez: Uneasy Standoff in Venezuela’s Media Wars” Counterpunch, August 16 2005. http://www.counterpunch.
org/2005/08/16/uneasy- standoff-in-venezuela-s-media- wars/
"En Marzo de 2002, a escasos días del golpe de Estado, la SIP (IAPA) reprodujo su papel durante el derrocamiento del presidente Allende cuando aprobó una resolución que condenaba ‘las violaciones a la libertad de prensa y la libertad de expresión’ en Venezuela, al tiempo que aupaban la bochornosa conducta de periodistas y medios que realizaban una abierta campaña contra el gobierno incitando a la desobediencia... Una ‘edición especial’ del diario El Nacional el propio 11 de abril, llamaba a la manifestación antichavista para que se desviara hacia (el palacio presidencial) Miraflores. Asimismo, la SIP acusó al gobierno de practicar una ‘deliberada política… para restringir el ejercicio de la libertad de expresión y el derecho a la información’, practicar el ‘terrorismo de estado’ contra periodistas, utilizar a círculos bolivarianos para agredir a los medios, conformar ‘Tribunales Populares’ para juzgar a periodistas y medios y declararlos ‘objetivos de guerra’, entre otras mentiras que formaban parte de la misma estrategia golpista."
Antonio Guillermo García Danglades. “La SIP: falta de autoridad moral e interés tergiversado” Rebelión, 24 de marzo 2006. http://www.rebelion.org/
6 Carmelo Ruiz Marrero. http://alainet.org/
7 Arbilla "...fue un funcionario de confianza de la dictadura en uno de los períodos más violentos de la represión contra la prensa y contra la ciudadanía en general. Arbilla fue director de Prensa de la Presidencia de la República entre el golpe de Estado del 27 de junio de 1973 y el año 1975. Arbilla, en realidad, accedió a ese cargo en democracia de la mano de Juan María Bordaberry y se quedó con él luego de perpetrado el golpe. Durante la gestión de Arbilla se realizaron 14 clausuras definitivas de medios de comunicación, 159 transitorias, se requisaron tres diarios extranjeros, se confiscó la edición completa del libro ‘Paren las Rotativas’ de Federico Fasano Mertens e incluso se llegó a secuestrar una edición de la prestigiosa publicación cultural internacional ‘El Correo de la Unesco’. También durante ese período se allanaron la sede sindical de la Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya y su colonia de vacaciones en el balneario San Luis, se encarceló y torturó a decenas de periodistas, entre ellos el histórico dirigente de APU Rubén Acasuso y al periodista y dirigente sindical Héctor Rodríguez. En esos tiempos también fue asaltada la redacción del diario El Populary secuestradas sus máquinas. Cientos de periodistas que defendieron la democracia perdieron su trabajo y otros tantos debieron marchar al exilio, como el recordado y referencial Carlos Quijano y los dirigentes históricos de APU, Carlos Borche y Santiago Puchet."
9 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero. “When Is a Corporate Media Group Too Powerful?” Inter Press Service, 5 de noviembre 2014. http://www.ipsnews.net/