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  1. Wealth
April 6, 2009

The politics of disasters

By Spear's

’All politics is local,’ goes an old refrain. So, apparently, is human suffering.

‘All politics is local,’ goes an old refrain. So, apparently, is human suffering.

I awoke this morning at the glorious Castello di Casole near Siena in Tuscany to the shocking news that the central Italian town of L’Aquila had been racked by an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale, killing dozens of people and almost completely destroying a millennia-old town and its surrounding hilltop villages, rendered nearly inaccessible to rescue teams by barricades of fallen debris.

That such devastation and suffering could happen so nearby yet we could be so untouched by it, highlighted the variety and solipsism of human experience: it is so easy to be unaware of the other sides of the stories that surround us.

It also highlights, though, another important aspect of modern life: the power of globalized media to bring the local stories to the world. Natural catastrophes, though, always make good print: shocking and with vast human impact, they are also apolitical.

What all too often goes unreported in the mainstream media, though, are the tales of human suffering with a political cause.

In my constant quest to tell another side of the story of the Chávez-led Bolivarian Revolution, I always come up against newspaper editors who don’t want to hear it because it does not fit the paper’s political agenda or they flatly say they are not interested on the impact to the working and middle classes: they would much rather portray Latin America according to their post-colonial paternalistic mythology as a continent racked by oppressed poor and little else.

This can be the only explanation for their willful ignorance and refusal to accept that most Latinos want stable and transparent political institutions, just like North Americans and Europeans enjoy.

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But that human story, it seems, is still too distant for them to relate to, so they continue to treat the continent as some dark and mysterious Other where normal socio-political rules should be justifiably flouted.

Until the newspaper editors and news programme producers can see beyond their own prejudices, hundreds of millions will continue to suffer under unjust demagoguery. Their shaky ground is political and economic; if only it were natural, then the rest of the world would care.

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