I am making this entry on a hopper plane from Caracas, Venezuela to a city just 200 miles to the west, Barquisimeto. I am traveling with a great production crew who will be helping me to report on a popular religious procession in which more than two million people are expected to fill the streets of this South American city. Organizers tell us that it will be a peaceful expression of their solidarity with the traditional roots of their homeland, a homeland that is experiencing tremendous political and social unrest.
FOX will be the only major American channel on the ground covering what is considered the largest single street procession in all of Latin America — Latins really like to process, so that’s a big deal! As the only ones here on the story, we will be giving you what they call in the news world an “exclusive report.” So why are WE covering it? Because, in my opinion, news often “happens” way too late. Let me explain. Unless there are bombs, coups, war, and violence on the street, the media doesn’t care. And I don’t blame them. Bad news sells. But violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and if we wait for things to “happen” we end up with no explanations and no solutions. We lament and complain and wonder how this world got so bad. That’s why in-depth reporting on social phenomenon, even before tragic images do the talking for us, is a serious responsibility for any news outlet. That’s why we are here.
What we want to show in this report is a side of the social and political landscape of Venezuela that never gets on the screen. What we see in the U.S. media about Venezuela is usually very negative, even shocking. President Hugo Chavez knows how to make headlines by launching provocative sound bites about “American imperialism and its Yankee, cowboy president who is making plans to assassinate me,” and other comments of the sort. His close and open political friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the new self-proclaimed leftist president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has made all of us take a second look at Latin America and wonder if we are not falling back to the mess of the 1980’s, marked by the Nicaraguan and El Salvadorian revolutions that caused so much suffering.
So what does two million people in the streets of Barquisimeto, a town of just over a million, professing their faith in God and in their traditional values, mean for a government known for its human rights abuses, election fraud, and a desire to “serve the Venezuelan people for another 6 years” (a quote from Chavez from his three and a half hour radio address of yesterday)? I have some ideas, but I’ve come to Venezuela to find out.
What I can tell you now, is that tyrants don’t like religion, they don’t like traditional values, and they don’t like public manifestations of their citizens’ adherence to anything but themselves. Why? Because freedom of religion and political self-determination are so deeply rooted in the human heart and mind that they can never be ultimately suppressed. They can be quieted for a time (look at Cuba and the ex-Soviet nations), but our innate desire for freedom and truth eventually win out. President Chavez knows this, and his response to this event will help us understand better his true intentions — to be the democratic leader he professes to be, or to continue down the path of “ego-mania” that, when left unchecked, leads to tyranny.
More to come…from the ground.
P.S. Thank you for all of the e-mails that have started to flow in. I’m a bit overwhelmed. I read them all and will try to respond little by little.
Write to Father Jonathan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org