On April 11, 2002, the Venezuelan photojournalist Jorge Tortoza was killed on the streets of Caracas while covering clashes between supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chávez. Over the following weeks, photos and videos of his death were widely circulated along with conflicting stories about what exactly happened that afternoon. Both sides of the conflict claimed Tortoza as a martyr for their respective causes. Editorials in opposition newspapers depicted him as a “defender of press freedom,” a man whose commitment to journalism put him in the path of the government and its “savage hordes.” In contrast, government supporters, including Tortoza’s own family, claimed him as a committed chavista and the victim of an opposition conspiracy. The controversy made Tortoza the most emblematic victim of the most emblematic event of the Chávez era, what is known as “the events of April,” “the April coup,” “the massacre in El Silencio,” or simply (and most diplomatically) “April 11th.” Through the Tortoza case, Samet makes an argument about the relationship between the press, political polarization, and representations of victimhood. In the Venezuelan context, this relationship manifests itself in the antagonistic political identities “chavista” and “opposition.” Instead of assuming that these political identities necessarily correspond to any specific ideological position, he examines the representational logic that produces and polices this divide.
Robert Samet, his work examines how the everyday practices of journalists shape narratives about violent crime and the politics of security in the Hugo Chávez era. This research is part of a longer engagement with questions of ideology and mass culture, questions which grow out of Robert’s experiences in the New York advertising industry before, during, and after the events of September 11. Robert received his B.A. in English literature from Duke University and his M.A. in Anthropology from Columbia University.
Comments by: Kirsten Weld, Assistant Professor of History, Harvard University; Boris Muñoz, Associate at DRCLAS; Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Nieman Fellow (2009), Nieman Foundation for the Advancement of Journalism.