We were so stunned by the moral inanity of Nick Miroff‘s recent Washington Post piece on Cuba, which we’ve been dicing and slicing the last couple of days, that we decided to look back through his oeuvre to see if we’d missed anything else that was equally despicable. We hit pay dirt quickly enough, in the form of an article from November 25, 2014, that was headlined – we kid you not – “On Venezuela’s communes, idyllic future is just over the rainbow.”
The story behind Miroff’s piece is this: the socialists in charge of Venezuela have expropriated private farmlands and used them to form collective farms. Many of the people working on these farms don’t have any background in farming.
Sound familiar? Not, apparently, to Miroff, who managed to hunt down (or was directed by the authorities to?) Ivan Lora, a true believer in the chavista revolution and “lifelong city dweller with no farming experience” who told Miroff he was “turning his weedy hillside into a building block of Venezuelan socialism.”
Describing Lora’s commune as part of “a far-reaching government effort to remake Venezuela into a socialist society,” Miroff wrote that the Maduro regime “aims to use communes as the central organizing feature of Venezuelan life, complete with new forms of government, public services, and socialist-minded farms and businesses that spurn the profit motive.” Commune advocates, reported Miroff, seek to make Venezuela “more wholesome and authentically democratic.” Miroff himself had this to say about the policy: “At its best, it inspires poor and once marginalized Venezuelans to work closely with their neighbors and take control of the planning, execution and fiscal oversight of community projects that improve their lives.”
Lots of chavista PR there, of course. As an apparent gesture toward objectivity, Miroff also presented the views of critics who charge “that the communes are evolving into a parallel state that has no basis in Venezuela’s constitution.” He briefly cited complaints about graft and quoted a sociologist who described the communes as “a mechanism for distributing government funds in exchange for political loyalty.” He also acknowledged that this new social structure was marginalizing non-socialists and people uninterested in working at communes.
But there was no sign in Miroff’s article that he recognized just how thoroughly disturbing a development he was writing about. He didn’t interview anybody whose farm had been seized by the government to be used in this project. He passed without pause or comment right over the word expropriated, as if it were totally kosher for a government to gobble up countless acres of private farmland without due process. He didn’t so much as mention the catastrophic consequences of collective farming under Stalin, which was obviously a model for the chavistas. Why this omission? Could it be possible that Miroff was ignorant of the nightmarish history of collectivism in the Soviet Union? Or did he decide that it would be impolitic to point to the obvious link between this Venezuelan project and Stalin’s?
Then there was the following very curious statement. One Venezuelan commune, Miroff wrote, was designed to be “a planned central cluster of schools, clinics, workshops and stores whose main currency would be communal solidarity, not greedy profits.” Now, presumably we’re meant to understand that Miroff is just being a stenographer here, conveying the Cuban authorities’ view of their project and not his own. Still, it’s a strange way to write a sentence in what is supposed to be a news article. In any event, whether Miroff is presenting the chavitas’ view or his own, “greedy profits” is just plain terrible writing.
But the most striking thing of all about Miroff’s article was that it appeared three months after Reuters issued a terrific, detailed exposé of the whole racket. Venezuelan stringer Carlos Garcia Rawlins’s article described the commune system as having “lax financial controls” and concluded that “exactly how much money passes through this system, who gets it and how it’s used are largely a mystery.” Citing charges that Venezuelan authorities are “using the system to finance its base while bypassing opposition mayors,” he noted that during the previous three years the federal government had given more money to the communes than to the country’s municipal governments. He did real reporting, crunched numbers, provided ample, vivid evidence of official malfeasance. And what did Miroff do, when he came along three months later and wrote about the same time? He didn’t so much as mention Garcia Rawlins’ findings – because he was too busy transcribing chavista PR.
The Washington Post, folks! The Washington Post!