Friday, September 12, 2003

THE CREDIBILITY GAP
Friday September 12, 2003

Who to believe in Venezuela? Obviously, politicians in most countries are not to be taken at face value. Still, there is a certain coherence, a certain pattern to state things that allows the general public to establish whether a minimum amount of trust can be invested in the politician requesting one’s vote.

One of the problems we have in Venezuela is that politicians from both sides suffer from a considerable credibility gap. Let’s examine two personalities who albeit diametrically opposed in every aspect, are equally less credible.

Juan Barreto, the media "expert" of Chavez

Before Chavez Mr. Barreto was certainly was not a media heavy weight, although he cuts a rather heavy figure himself.

With the Bolivarian Revolution, he got involved in the supervision and management of parts of the communicational policies of the government. Among other failures was “El Correo del Presidente”, the “President’s Courier”. This newspaper did not survive long, although it was distributed free. Gossip has that people would not pick up to read the directives of the great leader. Other attempts at establishing a “bolivarian” weekly paper did not fare any better, and the fact is that for all his communicational alleged talents, Mr. Barreto has not being able to set up a decent sheet that people would be willing to read.

This did not stop him to get a notorious career as an elected representative to the National Assembly. We can thank him for many a colorful moment from the Assembly. He has pushed his weight into any commission that has to deal with media and communications. He is the paramount manager of the presently discussed “Ley Mordaza”, “gag law”, whose thinly veiled aim is to at least partially shut down the incessant exposition of governmental failures by the independent media. The excuse? Protect children sensibilities until 11 PM.

The events since April 11 2002 have greatly helped him to overcome his less than stellar performance. He was one of the principal “prosecutors” in the hearings of the National Assembly, more worried about humiliating the opposition participants than getting any true information out of them. He also showed a liking for all sorts of videos “from the real People” that supposedly proved without a doubt things that he was the only one to see in these videos. The blurrier the video, the better.

These hearings lead nowhere, and when in August 2002 the Supreme Tribunal ruled that there was no coup in April 11, but a power vacuum, Mr. Barreto gleefully directed a “popular and spontaneous” assault attempt against the high court. In perhaps his most memorable moment he verbally attacked an opposition party with words unfit for this family oriented publication, though they made it on TV news. Let’s just say that he unflatteringly discussed their alleged sexual orientation. One has to wonder what this has to do with the assault of the high court with a street mob.

But Mr. Barreto has run into some trouble since these days. Or has he? It turns out that he has been rumored consistently as having experienced a considerable improvement of his living standards. One gossip would be that he traded his former apartment in El Valle, a low middle class neighborhood for a significantly more upscale one in El Rosal, the up and coming area. Another gossip says that he won a bank prize because there was a lot of “movement” in his savings account. People sure are mean.

Another interesting incident came from an alleged chauffeur of him conveniently reporting of his new luxuries. This chauffeur was later found a fraud but curiously has not been arrested and was rumored to be working for the Revolution at a more discrete position. The latest stroke of fate was two weeks ago when hand grenade was thrown shortly before dawn under Mr. Barreto’s car. Of course one would never wished such a thing on somebody but after a few hours of reflection one cannot but wonder. The grenade inflicted very limited damage to the car, which incidentally was a rather new expensive SUV. The time and place were the best to make sure nobody would be hurt by accident. And Mr. Barreto was sleeping in the building, his old El Valle building. How convenient it is to be the target of an attack while sleeping where one was not supposed to be sleeping for quite a while, no? Forgive my suspicions, but they actually came when Mr. Barreto “demanded” that the state act diligently in the prosecution, in front of a live TV camera. Perhaps somebody should remind him that since April 11 2002 a lot of people have been demanding the establishment of a truth commission that he has helped block… On Monday September 1, Reporte de la Economia reported his El Valle neighbors saying he was long gone from the area, having bought an apartment “en el Este”, where well to do Caraquenos live. However, the apartment is still under his name. He probably was there that night packing a few items left behind. What bad luck to be bombed just that night.


Cecilia Sosa, a legal "expert" of the opposition

Cecilia Sosa reached fame when she became the head of the high court. In such a job she was the one that witnessed the transfer of power from Rafael Caldera to Hugo Chavez on February 1999. She certainly must have had a distinguished career as a lawyer to reach such a position in a rather machista country, a country where justice is not in saintly odor.

Right after Chavez was sworn in he emitted a controversial decree calling for a consultative referendum for calling a constituent assembly. Well, this legal figure was not contemplated in the 1961 constitution, and the decree was just plainly illegal. The best solution would have been for the high court to rule so and to ask for a speedy change in the constitution to allow such a figure. But in the face of Chavez electoral triumph and the concomitant spectacular collapse of the political parties supposed to organize an opposition, the court caved in and ruled in a way that was not clear at all. One that wrote the decision is today’s head of High Court. Where was Mrs. Sosa during all these intense legal debates? She had inhibited herself supposedly because she had emitted a previous opinion in public. She already seemed to have been rather big mouthed for a Supreme Justice!

The referendum took place and Chavez got his constitutional assembly. But a few days before the election on July 5 the old Congress had its independence day ceremonies. The ceremonial speaker actually delivered a very inappropriate discourse attacking Chavez in a way that, if justified, was at the very least misplaced. At some point the speaker asked the judicial power formally represented by Mrs. Sosa to act on Chavez faults and prosecute him. Mrs. Sosa, previously greeted by Chavez with a kiss stood up and left the session creating a certain commotion.

Whether she was trying to ingratiate herself with the chavista movement it did not help. With the new constitution she was swept away and one of her underlings replaces her to this day.

One would have expected that Mrs. Sosa would have returned to law practice. Instead she joined the opposition as one of its more outspoken personages. Some have not hesitated at qualifying as a “golpista” coup monger. Strange after having all but favored the legal referendum coup of Chavez. During the general strike she was a regular on TV, pretty much calling people to the barricades, though I do not recall her having led any of the marches against Chavez. Perhaps having reinvented herself as the iron right wing lawyer has made the media forgive her previous compromising “absences”. She even lets herself be mentioned as a possible presidential candidate against Chavez. Right wing of course.

One cannot help but wonder about where does Mrs. Sosa really stands up. Or wonder even more about why a sector of the opposition is willing to consider her as her anti Chavez flag carrier. What makes them think she might be effective considering that when she had a chance to risk her career and do something to at least slow the damages that Chavez was doing to the institutions she just sat tight? One really wonders what is going on there.

The presence of so many Barretos and Sosas in the political establishment certainly contributes to the lack of credibility that the two sides enjoy. The real mystery is why they still manage to catch so much attention when obviously they have nothing to say.

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