Colombia: Political Row Over Guardian Op-Ed Plagiarism

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Did commentator make free with someone else’s identity? Radio W says it did.

ONG usó nombre de Carlos Gaviria en artículo para ‘The Guardian’ que lo enfrentó con Mindefensa: El Tiempo reports that “an NGO used the name of Carlos Gaviria in an article for The Guardian that put him at odds with the Minister of Defense.”

[Update, September 26, 2007:

As a commentator on Radio W’s coverage of the story notes, however:

OJO QUE LO DE CARLOS GAVIRIA PARECE EN UN BLOG NO EN EL PERIODICO COMO TAL

Look: That thing of Carlos Gaviria appears on a blog, not in the newspaper as such.

That seems to be correctly observed and on point, too.

Approval of the free-trade agreement with the United States is being held up by demands from the new congressional majority that Colombia reform its labor laws pretty substantially.

Bleeding-heart liberal overreaction to those mass graves in the countryside, no doubt.

Juan Manuel Santos acusó al presidente del Polo de escribir la columna en la que supuestamente hablaba contra Colombia y el presidente Uribe; Gaviria afirma que nunca escribió ese texto.

Juan Manuel Santos accused the president of the Alternative Democratic Pole coalition of writing the column that allegedly speaks ill of Colombia and President Uribe. Gaviria disclaims authorship of the article.

El periódico inglés confirmó a la emisora ‘La W’ que el movimiento Justicia por Colombia envió el documento haciendo creer que era autoría del presidente del Polo.

The British newspaper confirmed to Radio W that the Justice for Colombia movement sent the article, giving to understand that it was authored by the president of the Pole.

And they did not double-check the sourcing of the article?

Santos le pidió el lunes al Gaviria que le explicara al país por qué le está haciendo el juego a ONG que propone la congelación de la ayuda militar que Gran Bretaña envía a Colombia.

On Monday, Santos asked Gaviria to explain to the nation why he was playing the game of an NGO that is arguing for a freeze on British military aid to Colombia.

Su declaración se produjo después de que un grupo de laboristas pidió la congelación de dicha ayuda a Colombia, con los mismos argumentos que emplearon la ONG Justicia por Colombia y supuestamente Gaviria en la columna de opinión que le atribuyeron en el periódico ‘The Guardian’.

The statement came after a group of labor activists called for the freezing of said aid, using the same arguments as the NGO Justice for Colombia, and supposedly Gaviria as well, in an opinion column attributed to him by the newspaper The Guardian.

No, by the Guardian blog, Comment is Free.

Has its own staff.

“Nos preguntamos si es una simple coincidencia el artículo de Carlos Gaviria con lo que dice el aviso de la ONG Justicia por Colombia, o será que están confabulados Carlos Gaviria y el Polo con ese tipo de organizaciones, o el Polo se deja manipular por estas ONG”, afirmó Santos.

“We ask ourselves if Gaviria’s article, given what the NGO’s position is, is a mere coincidence, or whether he and the Pole are not conspiring with these types of organizations, or perhaps the Pole let itself be manipuated by these NGOs,” Santos said.

And what did Gaviria say?

Luego, dijo que era “insólito” que Gaviria le hiciera el juego a una ONG que dice que Uribe “es hijo de un mafioso y que creció con mafiosos. Yo quiero escuchar la explicación de Carlos Gaviria”.

He later said that it was “unprecedented” for Gaviria to let himself be used by an NGO that says that Uribe “is a mafioso and grew up with mafiosos. I want to hear an explanation from Gaviria.”

And what did Gaviria say?

“Jamás he escrito artículo alguno en un periódico inglés ni he dado declaración alguna. No sé a qué se refiere el Ministro de Defensa. Soy el primer interesado en saber qué hay detrás de todo esto”, dijo anoche el Presidente del Polo.

“I have never written any article in a British newspaper or made any [such] statement. I do not know what the Minister of Defense is talking about. I am more interested than anyone to know what is behind all this,” the president of the PDA said last evening.

Lo cierto es que antes de esta acusación y su respectiva defensa, un grupo de laboristas le pidió al primer ministro, Gordon Brown, que congele la asistencia militar a Colombia, por estos motivos:

What is certain, given the accusation and Gaviria’s defense, is that a group of labor activities did ask Gordon Brown to freeze military assistance to Colombia for the following reasons:

Wait a minute: You mean you are not going to go check whether an op-ed bylined or attributed to Gaviria actually appeared in that newspaper or not?

Radio W reported:

Mark Donne delegado del partido laborista ante la ONG aceptó a la W que todo se debió a una confusión y misteriosamente no quiso salir públicamente a reconocerlo, pero admitió que fue él mismo quien envió el artículo después de una reunión que sostuvo con integrantes del partido Polo Democrático Alternativo en Bogotá hace algunos días.

Mark Donne, a Labour Party representative to the NGO, admitted to W that it was all a misunderstanding, but inexplicably did not want to come out publicly and acknowledge it. But he did acknowledge that he himself sent the article in after a meeting with members of the PDA in Bogotá a few days ago.

Al conocer esto, el presidente del Polo Democrático Carlos Gaviria se mostró satisfecho de que las cosas se aclaren y negó que se hubiera reunido con representantes de esa ONG en Bogotá.

Learning of this, the president of the PDA, Gaviria, seemed satisfied that the matter was clarified and denied having met with representative of this NGO in Bogotá.

If there is still reason to doubt this story after Radio W’s report, El Tiempo ought to say so, instead of insinuating that it is not sure which side of the story is true.

The Santos family nominally controls El Tiempo, by the way, though whether its recent transaction with Spain’s Planeta publishing group was a transfer of control or not remains a subject of controversy.

Can I please read the Guardian article in question?

Oh, here it is, in Comment is Free.

[UPDATE, OCTOBER 3, 2007:

The image “https://i1.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/sorry.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
More honest would have been, “The page you were looking for turned out to be a hoax, sorry. Which is why we removed it.” Click to zoom.]

Which is true. And you often get what you pay for.

Comment is Free is

a collective group blog, bringing together regular columnists from the Guardian and Observer newspapers with other writers and commentators representing a wide range of experience and interests … [and] edited by Georgina Henry, former deputy editor of the Guardian. Matt Seaton is the deputy editor, Brian Whitaker is a commissioning editor, Theresa Malone is chief sub and Mary Clarke is the editorial assistant. Richard Adams and Conor Clarke are commissioning editors based in Washington.

Which of them commissioned this piece?

The article does not bear a byline, but it contains such statements as

In pursuit of a more inclusive, equal, democratic and critically more peaceful Colombian society, I challenged incumbent President Alvaro Uribe for the presidency of my country at our general election last summer. I came second, and unfortunately I believe the priorities on which I stood have been given a secondary level of priority under Uribe.

Presumably that is not true of Mark Donne.

Who is now reportedly an admitted plagiarist.

A Jayson Blair confabulator on a massive scale.

And Comment is Free is his messenger.

No response yet from the Comment is Free editor’s blog, which provides

a daily account of the process of editing the Guardian and Guardian Unlimited. It covers how editorial decisions are made, the events and discussions that take place and how the editorial side of the organisation works.

Or doesn’t work, in this case.

Maybe the Unlimited needs more limits.

A “regret the error” seems to be long overdue here.

The text in question follows.

I learn from British counterparts that Prime Minister Brown’s inaugural leader’s speech at Labour party conference today may present genuine cause for optimism for all in the British labour movement who have suffered disquiet in recent years, particularly with reference to foreign policy. I am hopeful that good news for you in the UK translates into good news for democratic and progressive elements in Colombia who have suffered far worse.

In pursuit of a more inclusive, equal, democratic and critically more peaceful Colombian society, I challenged incumbent President Alvaro Uribe for the presidency of my country at our general election last summer. I came second, and unfortunately I believe the priorities on which I stood have been given a secondary level of priority under Uribe.

Not to pierce the tone of optimism, and with a degree of humility, I secured more votes (22%) than any other leftwing candidate in Colombian history. My party, the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party are now the opposition in Colombia; a significant achievement when one considers the hurdles that we have had to overcome.

Colombia is a country riven by internal armed conflict and during election periods the climate becomes particularly hostile, especially for parties opposed to the ruling orthodoxy. In the pre-electoral weeks and months, attacks and threats against journalists and human rights defenders increased in several regions. According to Amnesty International:

“In May, in the run-up to the presidential elections, trade unionists, left-wing party activists, human rights and peace non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and university students and staff received e-mail death threats, reportedly from groups claiming to be new paramilitary structures.”

The election was characterised by an extremely high level of abstention, well under 50% of the population voted at all. Over 3.6 million people in Colombia have been forcibly displaced as a result of the conflict; many are destitute and sympathetic to the views and proposals of my party. A majority of these people are not registered to vote.

This situation is representative of general political engagement in my country, where those on the left, particularly trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders are routinely persecuted. Colombia has an appalling human rights record and the vast majority of abuses, including the assassination of over 3,000 trade unionists in the last 15 years, are attributed to government armed forces and state backed paramilitaries. More trade unionists are assassinated in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined.

In Bournemouth today, a Colombian senator, Piedad Cordoba, will be telling Labour party delegates that in the run up to our elections, her own assistant Jaime Gomez died in extremely suspicious circumstances. Jaime had been working on proposals for a legislative programme to apply greater pressure on the paramilitary groups who work in collusion with the official armed forces, often resulting in grave human rights violations. The Colombian Commission of Jurists believes that Jaime was the victim of politically motivated murder.

The UK is the second largest donor of military aid to Colombia after the United States, although under Tony Blair, the government refused to disclose full details of this aid on grounds of “national security”; so it is impossible to verify the extent of the military assistance that Colombia receives from Britain. Your Foreign Office insists that military aid to Colombia is contingent upon complete respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, yet the UN states that abuses by the Colombian security forces are increasing. Why then does UK military aid continue to flow?

Senator Cordoba will today join with the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, Tony Lloyd MP, conference chair Mike Griffiths, over 80% of the ruling national executive committee, over one hundred Labour MPs and every Labour-affiliated trade union general secretary in calling for the immediate suspension of UK military aid to Colombia, until basic human rights standards are adhered to by the Uribe administration.

In the spirit of change and a new, more progressive and more responsible political direction of travel for the left in Bournemouth and Bogota, I and many of us in Colombia who have been persecuted for our political beliefs are willing the prime minister to listen to this message and send a clear signal to the Colombian government forces by freezing military assistance. The killing must stop.

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