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Covert Op

By Tom Chalkley | Posted 6/28/2000

Speaking of human rights, The Sun's Perspective section on June 18 led with a guest column about the sordid history of the Chilean "tall ship" La Esmeralda, which has since arrived at the Inner Harbor as part of OpSail 2000. In 1973, early in the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, La Esmeralda was employed as a floating prison where at least 110 political prisoners were held without charges and subjected to beatings, electric shock, and water torture.The ship has been the object of protest ever since--but you wouldn't know it from The Sun's special "OpSail 2000 Spectator's Guide," which appeared June 21. Half of this eight-page puff piece is devoted to Sun boating columnist Gilbert Lewthwaite's diary of six days on board the former torture ship, illustrated with nifty color photos. (Apparently half a special section devoted to Lewthwaite's Esmeralda adventure wasn't enough; another lengthy account appeared in the June 22 Sports section.) Lewthwaite's stories glossed over the vessel's history, as did Jacques Kelly's reminiscence (in the OpSail pullout) about the tall ships' first visit to Baltimore in 1976, when Pinochet was still in power in Chile and La Esmeralda was greeted by protesters. An editorial in the June 21 Sun (illustrated with a photo of La Esmeralda) kept up the gloss job with a mealy-mouthed allusion: "Each of the ships has a past. Some of that history . . . may be controversial."

Several readers wrote letters to the editor to protest the paper's weird vacillation between journalism and PR fluff; to its credit, The Sun printed three of them. One writer asked, "Couldn't The Sun have found some other ship to highlight?" No doubt some of Calvert Street's finest are wondering the same thing.

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