COLUMN

Through rose-colored glasses

Barbara Amiel November 10 1986
COLUMN

Through rose-colored glasses

Barbara Amiel November 10 1986

Through rose-colored glasses

COLUMN

Barbara Amiel

Last month President Samora Machel of Mozambique died in a plane crash. As I watched the coverage of his death I naturally thought of the time I was arrested in Mozambique six years ago. The border guards mistakenly waved my car through after examining my passport and then jailed me for 10 days when I tried to leave, because I didn’t have the correct visas. When I returned to Canada the media castigated me for casting aspersions on Mozambique. There was no significance given to the fact that I had been held incommunicado in appalling jail conditions, without benefit of counsel or diplomatic representation, for a “crime” that was at best the fault of Mozambique’s own administrative incompetence.

At the time, I was dumbfounded. Why were those who interviewed me, including the CBC’s Joe Coté, so anxious to overlook such a repressive regime as that in Mozambique? Millions of blacks were suffering under the tyranny of Machel, unable to travel internally without their identity cards, the Mozambican equivalent of the South African passbooks. The citizens of Mozambique do not have freedom of association or a free press. They have no protection from arbitrary arrest and detention. Human rights organizations document the regime’s torture and executions and its re-education camps. But nobody mentioned this in their eagerness to redeem Mozambique from my criticism.

Not surprisingly, I felt a sense of déjà vu watching the reporting of Machel’s death. Once again there was total silence about the darker side of his regime. Yet the situation is even more desperate now in Mozambique than six years ago. Food shortages are more acute, the famine more menacing, and the Mozambican resistance movement Renamo is on the verge of defeating Machel’s forces. Still, the media continues to stonewall.

It is true that many Mozambicans mourned the death of Machel, but then he may well have been a man of considerable personal charm and charisma. Many tyrants, not to mention many ordinary confidence men, have a charming manner: it is their stock-intrade. For years the Mozambicans have been told that South Africa is the cause of all their sufferings, and now it appears there is no attempt to dis-

abuse them of the idea that Machel was assassinated by South Africa. National pride can be a powerful force.

The Globe and Mail produced the most astonishing coverage of Machel’s death—and I make this criticism not in my role as the partisan associate editor of The Toronto Sun but as a Canadian worried about the lack of information given to our citizens. In the three Globe articles on the day Machel’s death was announced, there was not a single detail of the repression in Mozambique. There was a rueful mention in the editorial of some “botched economic development,” as if the brutal. forced collectivization of Mozambique’s agriculture was like an Ontario egg-marketing plan gone wrong. A reader dutifully going through the Globe’s prose on Mozambique could be forgiven for finishing it all without having the slightest inkling that Mozambique was a land of political prisai reader could be forgiven for not having the slightest inkling that Mozambique was a land of no freedoms

oners, no freedoms and no due process of law. Indeed, the Globe spoke of Machel as the “elected” president of Mozambique.

Nor is there much information in the Canadian press on Renamo. The received wisdom of the day is that Renamo is of utterly no credibility, since it is backed by the South African government and is alleged to have committed human rights abuses. But in the past we have had no difficulty in supporting the aims of some movements even though they are backed by dubious regimes. The fact is that Mozambique is a Soviet-backed Communist dictatorship and, unless we have reached the stage where we think that that is the best way to arrange human affairs, we can only be baffled at the antagonism shown to Renamo and the eulogies given to Machel. Left-wing commentators never tire of pointing out that there must have been legitimate grievances that allowed Castro’s rebels or the Sandinistas to secure themselves among the peasants. Similarly, there must be legitimate grievances that have allowed Renamo to ac-

quire control of the greater part of Mozambique in spite of the fact that it is facing a well-supported and highly trained army.

Despite a campaign to depict the rebels as no more than bandits lacking any aim or infrastructure, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. In a September, 1985, interview in the U.S. Journal of Defense and Diplomacy, Renamo’s secretary-general, Evo Fernandes, succinctly pointed out that the fight to de-colonialize Africa was nearly over, but the fight for individual freedom was yet to come. If Renamo wins, it would be the first internal defeat of a Communist regime in Africa. Surely that is in the interests of the West and a cause to support— not condemn.

The lopsided coverage of the Mozambican situation brought to mind the recent nasty incident with U.S. state department spokesman Bernard Kalb, who discovered he was being asked to give out disinformation about Libya. Quite rightly, in my opinion, Kalb resigned when he found out that he was in effect lying to the press at the administration’s behest. But I suppose one could say that the United States at least had the excuse of reasons of state for its disinformation campaign. What is the excuse of such an independent newspaper as the Globe for creating such a lopsided view of Mozambique? One cannot blame the misinformation of a free press on a scheming government.

It seems evident that newspapers such as the Globe measure dictatorships of the left and right by two entirely different standards. The reasons—torture, political prisons and coercive measures—they hold up for condemning the right-wing regimes of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet of Chile or Ferdinand Marcos are rarely used against left-wing regimes in Central America or Africa.

The conclusion to all this must be that the Globe and similar media outlets are not against dictatorships as such. When they eulogize the late Samora Machel by failing to make any reference to the fact that his was a regime as much contrary to the basic tenets of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as all the fascists of the world, then they are condoning and praising dictators as long as they are left-wing. It is a rotten state of affairs for a free and independent press.