Dear Mr. Kent:On your recent official trip to Venezuela, in the name of Canada, you made some remarks that embarrass us as a country, and disgust me as a Canadian. They are as follows:
Mr. Kent, Canada is NOT “concerned” about the Venezuelan government’s legitimate actions regarding broadcasters in violation of its laws. And for that reason, Canada would appreciate you not rudely fobbing off your personal views as those of an entire nation when you are the guest of a foreign leader. You were the guest of President Chávez, were you not? And if you were not there as his guest, whose guest were you? Were you in fact a guest of the putschist opposition, and was that the reason you didn’t show your face there for very long–or present it to the president himself, at Miraflores Palace? The reason I ask is because you made those uncalled-for remarks in your official capacity as a minister of state. Just as you made the following remarks in your official capacity on the shameful occasion of the military coup against the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya:
“Canada is concerned over the Venezuelan government’s recent suspension of broadcasting of [three] television stations and the death of two students in protests related to this action. These events are further evidence of a shrinking democratic space in Venezuela.”
Now, that’s all very right and proper. No one could fault you for saying that. But when that legitimately elected leader attempted to return to his country, from which he was unceremoniously ousted, and regain his rightful seat, you said:
“Canada condemns the coup d’état that took place over the weekend in Honduras, and calls on all parties to show restraint and to seek a peaceful resolution to the present political crisis, which respects democratic norms and the rule of law, including the Honduran Constitution.“Democratic governance is a central pillar of Canada’s enhanced engagement in the Americas, and we are seriously concerned by what has transpired in Honduras.”
What a strange thing to say! Somewhere between the coup and the attempt at return, your sense of what constitutes an American democracy underwent a rather odd shift. You went from being against the coup to being, in effect, for it. Why else would you oppose an elected leader’s efforts to regain what is rightfully his, and restore his country to normality?It’s nonsensical and incongruent remarks like these that make me seriously question your credentials as a diplomat and a democrat, Mr. Kent. And they also make me question your moral right to pronounce on the situation in Venezuela. Especially when you do it in the name of Canada.You see, I don’t think Venezuela happens to be suffering from a “shrinking” of its “democratic spaces” at all. I can understand Spanish, and I have been following the RCTV situation (as farcical as it is), along with the rest of the Venezuelan media situation. And I don’t see a “shrinking” at all; in fact, I see quite the opposite. The media in Venezuela are still overwhelmingly in corporate hands. Public and alternative media are still a minority there, albeit a vibrant and growing one, and increasingly popular with ordinary Venezuelans. That’s an expansion of democratic spaces, not a “shrinking”!But then, you are a fine one to talk, sir, are you not? After all, you made your official remarks in the name of a minority government, at a time when Parliament has been prorogued out of a very antidemocratic combination of sheer spite and irresponsibility. Canada’s democratic space has been closed off altogether under the watch of your party, Mr. Kent. Where is your moral authority to say anything about the media situation in Venezuela?Ah, but I suppose you may be speaking in your capacity as a former broadcaster. I vaguely recall that you used to work for CanWest Global, a private media conglomerate, before you entered politics. I can well imagine that the arch-conservative CanWest Global corporate editorial line, which you also represented for a time in an official capacity, would have colored your outlook on non-conservative, non-corporatist governance somewhat.Still, that doesn’t excuse your remarks, which were supercilious, ignorant, and totally inaccurate. And it doesn’t excuse what you said in response to Venezuelan ambassador Roy Chaderton, after he quite rightly rebuked you for your disrespect before the OAS. Far from being the “rhetoric of desperation”, as you called them, Mr. Chaderton’s remarks were based entirely on fact. And if you, Mr. Kent, were worth your salt as a journalist, you would appreciate that. After all, journalism is supposed to be about reporting facts, not opinions-disguised-as-facts. It is awfully hard for a former reporter to be bested at his own game by a diplomat from South America, is it not, Mr. Kent?But of course, I forget to whom I am writing. CanWest’s stock in trade has been opinions-disguised-as-facts for so long that of course, as an old loyalist to the company line, you would have difficulty distinguishing the one from the other. Poor judgment is a known occupational hazard at CanWest Global; it may be why that once prosperous corporation is now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Still, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. And ignorance of the real situation in Venezuela is no excuse for sticking both feet in your mouth. As long as you work in an official capacity, representing all of Canada–or claiming to–you are obliged to seek the fullest picture of the situation abroad, and not rely on the narrow viewpoints of a corporatist few as you have done. Our parliament is not the CanWest news desk. Our nation is not a corporation. Mr. Kent, you are an ignorant man; you may be an ignorant man as a matter of profession. Certainly you are a partisan of the arch-corporatist party of ignorance. But we Canadians are not an ignorant people, nor are we corporatists. We are well aware of how much our democratic spaces have shrunk under the reign of your party, just as we are aware of how much the overall quality journalism has declined in Canada thanks in no small part to CanWest’s hard-right editorial line.Your ignorant remarks embarrass us all before the world.
“We urge restraint. We view his initial and subsequent attempts to re-enter the country as very unhelpful to the situation.”