Readers: Over the next week or so we'll be re-posting some of our favorite posts from IPE@UNC from this year, interspersed with new content. Partially because blogging is so ephemeral, and some of our posts are worth revisiting. Partially because it's winter break and we've got eating, sleeping, and catching up on research to do. Nominations welcome.
From January 23, "Chavez: U.S. Purposefully Caused Haiti Earthquake (and a lesson in overcoming bias)":
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez Wednesday accused the United States of causing the destruction in Haiti by testing a 'tectonic weapon' to induce the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country last week.
President Chavez said the US was "playing God" by testing devices capable of creating eco-type catastrophes, the Spanish newspaper ABC quoted him as saying.
Evo Morales was only slightly more sane, calling US relief efforts a "gringo military occupation":
President Evo Morales said Wednesday that Bolivia would seek U.N. condemnation of what he called the U.S. military occupation of earthquake-stricken Haiti. "The United States cannot use a natural disaster to militarily occupy Haiti," he told reporters at the presidential palace.
"Haiti doesn't need more blood," Morales added, implying that the militarized U.S. humanitarian mission could lead to bloodshed. His criticism echoed that of fellow leftist, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who said Sunday that "it appears the gringos are militarily occupying Haiti."
Robert Farley adds comment:
Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and argue that Chavez' comment is substantially stupider than Pat Robertson's, if only because I suspect that God actually could cause an earthquake in Haiti if He so desired. I suppose we could debate the point, but I also find God's motivation (get back at the Haitians for their Satanic proclivities) considerably more plausible than that which Chavez and Morales attribute to the United States; the single last thing that anyone in the Pentagon wants to do right now is devote more troops and treasure to Haiti...
I'm with him, even though I'm an unbeliever. Robertson's quip is eminently more sensible than Chavez's (although I can understand Morales' skepticism of the U.S.'s intentions given our history in Haiti).
Chavez, Morales, and Robertson are interpreting current events through their ideological prisms. Their presuppositions are absurd, so this predictably leads to bias, and these biases lead to borderline-insane statements. Farley is right to poke fun at their expense.
Unfortunately, Farley's co-blogger Charli Carpenter recently made a similar -- though much less egregious -- mistake when she referred to the Haiti earthquake as a "climate disaster". I took umbrage in comments to that post, and she responded by posting this link as evidence that the Haiti disaster could have been related to climate change. But what does the author of that post conclude about the likelihood that the Haiti earthquake was caused by climate change?
I don't mean to pick on Carpenter, who is one of my favorite bloggers and who provides a unique and vital voice to the blogosphere generally and the IR blogging community specifically. I know that I regularly make the same mistakes in bigger ways. And her broader point -- that the U.S. and international community don't have a coherent disaster-response program, much less standards for infrastructure development -- is certainly well-taken.
But framing matters, and framing crises like the one in Haiti as a climate disaster can be counter-productive. Even people who acknowledge the reality of global warming can be skeptical that every natural disaster is a result of these processes, so claiming any particular crisis is a result of climate change can come across as opportunistic. That turns people off, as it did when similarly dubious claims were made about Hurricane Katrina. The fact is that no one can know, nor could they prove, that the Haitian earthquake or Hurricane Katrina was caused by climate change, and such needless spinning-of-wheels distracts from what's really important: improving and institutionalizing emergency responses to disasters, and improving global infrastructure so that the effects of disasters are not as extreme.
If it's counter-productive when Chavez or Morales or Robertson do it, it's no more productive when we do it. So let's not.
UPDATE: I can't believe it, but Chavez has just jumped his own shark:
In a recent speech against capitalism (South Americans must never get tired of them) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lambasted Playstation videogames because they encouraged violence, which is, uncoincidentally, just what capitalism wants. According to the babelfish translation of the spanish language article, Chavez warned that:In those electronic warlike games “cities are bombed, pumps are thrown”, and are promoted by “Capitalism” to seed the culture of the “violence” that, is saying, guarantees that soon it can “sell arms”.
I’m going to assume that “pumps are thrown” is not a mistranslation, but rather some strange Venezuelan violence phenomenon. The best part of the article though is the picture juxtaposing it
Click the link for the pic; it's well worth it. When Hugo Chavez and Tipper Gore agree on something, you know it's wrong.