Intentionally ambiguous headline

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"The Lost Harvest of Chinese Food Plants in Venezuela", By José González Vargas, Caracas Chronicles (May 11, 2019)

I read it the wrong way the first time.


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 13, 2019 @ 3:03 am

    It is, admittedly, early in the morning (for me) and I have not yet had my first coffee of the day, but I had to read the article several times before the ambiguity finally revealed itself to me. Like Victor, my initial reading was the wrong one, but so were several later readings until finally something clicked.

  2. JPL said,

    May 13, 2019 @ 4:27 am

    I got the two interpretations before reading the article (the less obvious one second), but for it to be intentionally ambiguous it should be the case that, e.g., the Chinese brought Chinese varieties of rice to Venezuela (as opposed to local varieties) and planted them and harvested them, and then may or may not have sent the harvest to the rice processing plant, but the completed plant itself never materialized and the expected processed rice was stolen, along with the money for finishing the plant. Was this the case? If so, the headline was doing what I like to call "double duty".

  3. Victor Mair said,

    May 13, 2019 @ 4:30 pm

    "China venture in Venezuela flush with graft"

    13 May 2019 Monday

    TUCUPITA, Venezuela (Reuters) — The project was meant to feed millions. In Delta Amacuro, a remote Venezuelan state on the Caribbean Sea, a Chinese construction giant struck a bold agreement with the late President Hugo Chavez. The state-run firm would build new bridges and roads, a food laboratory, and the largest rice-processing plant in Latin America. The 2010 pact, with China CAMC Engineering Co., would develop rice paddies twice the size of Manhattan and create jobs for the area’s 110,000 residents, according to a copy of the contract seen by Reuters. The underdeveloped state was an ideal locale to demonstrate the Socialist Venezuelan government’s commitment to empower the poor. And the deal would show how Chavez and his eventual hand-picked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, could work with China and other allies to develop areas beyond Venezuela’s bounteous oil beds. “Rice Power! Agricultural power!” Chavez tweeted at the time.

    Nine years later, locals are hungry. Few jobs have materialized and the plant is only half-built, running at less than 1 percent of its projected output. It hasn’t yielded a single grain of locally grown rice, according to a dozen people involved in or familiar with the development. Yet CAMC and a select few Venezuelan partners prospered. Venezuela paid CAMC at least $100 million for the stalled development, according to project contracts and sealed court documents from an investigation by prosecutors in Europe.

    The thousands of pages of court papers, reviewed by Reuters, were filed in Andorra, the European principality where prosecutors allege Venezuelans involved in the project sought to launder kickbacks paid to them for helping secure the contract. The material on the China deal, reported here for the first time, includes confidential testimony, wiretap transcripts, bank records and other documents. Last September, an Andorran high court judge alleged in an indictment that CAMC paid over $100 million in bribes to various Venezuelan intermediaries to secure the rice project and at least four other agricultural contracts….

  4. David Marjanović said,

    May 13, 2019 @ 5:02 pm

    “Rice Power! Agricultural power!” Chavez tweeted at the time.

    "If we can have rice, we can have everything."
    – Pol Pot

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 13, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

    Alas, they did not get their rice.

  6. Keith said,

    May 14, 2019 @ 4:38 am

    I read it three times before deciding that it was probably Chinese plant and machinery that was the subject of the article.

    Then I clicked on the link and started reading the article, and was intrigued by the line below.

    This is part of a wider investigation on the Banca Privada d’Andorra, which was intervened in 2015 due to suspicions of money laundering.

    I don't remember seeing "intervene" used like this before today, let alone in the passive voice..

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    May 14, 2019 @ 8:23 am

    I think that the ambiguity arises from the fact that whilst plant (vegetation) is invariably a count noun, plant (machinery) is not. Plant (machinery) can be a count noun, as in "We have installed processing plants at a number of geo-stable locations", but can also be a non-count noun as in “How much plant and equipment, in dollars, can each worker maintain ?”.

  8. TIC said,

    May 14, 2019 @ 12:42 pm

    I haven't yet read the article or any of the previous comments… (Thanks, Dr. Mair, for revealing very little in your introduction and thereby allowing a bit of fun, uninformed speculation!)… I'm going to guess that a fitting subhead might be something along the lines of, Rampant Waste in Food-Processing Facilities… Either that, or mebbe "Lost Harvest" — which does indeed seem intentionally opaque — is a 'thing' with which I'm unfamiliar(?)…

  9. TIC said,

    May 15, 2019 @ 6:28 am

    Well, I finally started to read the article and I'm now questioning whether the headline is intentionally ambiguous or, like much of the article itself, just oddly phrased… In each of the first handful of sentences (and that's about as far as I got) there's a phrasing that to me seems at least a bit off… In the the opening sentence, 'has meant funding development projects' could stand some improvement… In S2, 'signed' seems odd with reference to a 'project' (as opposed to a 'contract' or an 'agreement') and I question whether all of those things are in fact 'one' project… In S3, the third comma should be after, not before, the 'and'… S4 identifies Reuters, rather than the quoted speaker, as a state official…

    It's not unlikely that the writer is more adept in Spanish than English… (And his English is certainly faaar better than my (nonexistent) Spanish!… Or perhaps the article was less than expertly translated… Or perhaps I'm being overly critical… Or perhaps all three…

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