Sunday, March 12, 2006

LA Sheriff's Deputies Working for FBI Grill College Prof on Venezuelan Ties

An update on the "New Axis of Evil"TM

The campaign to vilify and libel populist governments that reject un-regulated, laissez faire, free-market, consumerist models of capitalism is picking up steam. There may also be a campaign against individuals who are associated, even loosely, with these governments.

A California professor of Latin American history was questioned by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department on Friday about what ties, if any, he might have with the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez. Miguel Tinker-Salas says the deputies, who identified themselves as being part of an FBI anti-terrorism task force, compromised his academic freedom and threw legitimate academic work into an unsavory light.
"They cast the Venezuelan community as a threat," said Tinker-Salas, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Latin America who was born in Venezuela. "They asked me if the Venezuelan government had influenced me one way or another. I think they were fishing to see if I had any information they could use."
This is nothing new. This campaign to paint democratically elected, populist Latin American governments red has been going on during most of the Bush administration's tenure. "Lula Watch," a website sponsored by an organization called The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, has been warning of a "new axis of evil" in Latin America for several years. Right-wing media outlets have made the claim that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "supports terrorism" in Latin America, even though the US State Department refuses to list Venezuela as a state-sponsor of terrorism.
The Venezuelan government weighed in as well Friday, issuing a statement that called the questioning "a violation of freedoms of expression, thought and academic inquiry," and said the government "views the move as a desperate attempt to link Venezuela to terrorism."
As an American and an academic (and so, as Howie tells me, automatically a "left-winger") I am concerned about this encroachment on academic freedom and violation of the Constitutional right to privacy. But as a five-year citizen of Bush's "America," I am not surprised.

Keep your eyes open for this story to develop.

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