Josef Oehrlein "Europe is disenchanted with Evo"

The 32-year career journalist works for the German newspaper with the widest circulation abroad. From his experience as a correspondent for Latin America, he questions the presidential communication model used in the countries of the Southern Cone. He arrived in Bolivia to present his book "Lights, Camera ... Govern!"

- Is the European press' romance with the figure of Evo Morales over?

- I think that still exists in some intellectual circles, especially within the European left. But I believe that among the bulk of the population, the bad news coming from Bolivia regarding the problems facing President Morales, has made public opinion not very favorable. Those terrible things, such as the knockout he gave a player the opposing soccer team with his knee, gave him a bad image in Germany. I think Evo Morales' charm has ended in Europe.

- How did foreign correspondents' romantic view help construct the president of Bolivia's international image?

- I think that's a German thing. We still remember the 60's, with the Cuban Revolution, the Cold War and its consequences in Latin America. Now Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or Evo Morales, are seen by German and European journalists in general, as characters that emerge as a continuation of this story and meet those ideals. However, this results in very distorted perceptions. I think my purpose is to write about reality and nothing more.

- It has been said that you were one of the few who covered the emergence of Evo Morales, when he was just a union leader, in a balanced manner while your European colleagues succumbed to the romanticism of his figure back then ...

- I just followed the fundamental rules of journalism. I described what I saw and drew my own conclusions. I always try to keep a distance mentally because I can not imagine a journalism that is a "fan" of politicians or their opposition. Always, if possible, try to hear both sides to get the facts. But it is becoming more difficult to get information from the official side. Government officials are increasingly fearful to say something that will not please the president, so they do not want to talk.

- How do you define the type of political communication that is practiced in Bolivia?

- I don't have much experience with what has been going on in Bolivia recently. However, I was often in the country at the beginning of of the political career of President Morales. I must say that before the leader came to power it was quite easy to communicate with him in the Chapare region. I remember one very interesting episode that happened to a colleague. He was there in the tropics of Cochabamba, covering meetings of the MAS with the intention of interviewing Evo. After talking with many members of the party, my colleague asked: "Where is Evo Morales? I want to talk to him ...." Then he was told he had just spoken with him and had not realized it.

- What about this "shell", the difficulty of accessing the president, how does this affect government communications?

- In my work I have seen that in almost all Latin American countries it has been the same over the last decade. It has become increasingly difficult to reach the leaders. For example, in Argentina, at the time of Carlos Menem, it was very easy to get interviews with him, even to the point that sometimes we did not want to talk to him. Menem fluently chatted with reporters, and even joked around. But it became increasingly more difficult with the successive governments, especially since the entry of Nestor Kirchner. Latin politicians only think about the impact of the things they say in their country and not what they say abroad, because all they care about is gaining power in their own country.

- Here the president does not give interviews to the national press, but he gives many speeches in the media ...

- Ah, that's another thing. Latin American presidents, Cristina Fernandez, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales will surely wish to appear in the media but without the intervention of the journalist because they can ask uncomfortable questions. However, I think the uncomfortable questions are important and necessary because politicians have to be accountable to the people for the things they do with taxpayer money. Besides, this is part of the game between politicians and public opinion and there has to be dialogue to ensure transparency.

- What would Germany think of a law that would obligate all media to disseminate presidential speeches, as is being considered in the Bolivian parliament today?

- No. In Germany there are laws that regulate all businesses, but there are no laws governing communication. In my opinion, the best communications law is that which doesn't exist. In Germany and the rest of Europe it is unthinkable that a law be passed to force the media to broadcast presidential speeches. I think that even would not be practical and I think the people would not tolerate it for long.

- Are the media of today equivalent to the military tanks used in the past by de facto governments, as was said during the presentation of your book?

- I think in many Latin American countries this happens. Brazil, for example. There are powerful politicians who are owners of media companies and publishers and that I criticize completely. No I admit, there must be separation between the political and the purely journalistic. Or at least there should be a warning for the reader when a publication advertises its owners.


Latin America Correspondent, born in 1949 in Mainz, Germany. He is an archeological photographer by profession. He studied Romance Languages and Geography at the University of Heidelberg and Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, and has a Doctorate of Arts from the University of Heidelberg. Trained in journalism in 1968 at the Mainz newspaper, as editor of the cultural section. Since 1979, he has been a journalist with the Frankfurt newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the largest German newspapers, with a daily circulation of 400,000 copies. In 1999 he was appointed Latin America correspondent for this newspaper, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has covered the Bolivian political process since the rise of Evo Morales, from his time as a coca union leader, until his election as President of Bolivia.

Source: El Deber Date: 12 June 2011 Read this Article in Spanish

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