Thursday, May 29, 2003

CHAVEZ’S OPPOSITION REDUX
May 29, 2003

As the opposition is slowly coming to grips and prepares to sign the agreement promoted by Gaviria it is a good opportunity to talk a little bit of these guys (May 28 post).

The opposition is definitely a mixed bag. If its diversity is a source of strength it also a source of weakness when it opposes a single-minded guy such as Chavez. But this might not be its real problem.

The opposition strengths

The first strength of the opposition is of course Chavez failures. Some wits even say that Chavez is the real leader of the opposition as his blunders regularly revitalize them. Indeed in Venezuelan XX century history we have no example of somebody that went so high that became embattled so fast.

After initial setbacks the opposition has understood that it should be all-inclusive. It encompasses the enterprise owner associations, the traditional trade unions, political parties from the left such as Bandera Roja, historical and new parties like Primero Justicia, all sorts of NGO and some rather right wing groups coming from some retired military organizations for example. And a few unsavory personages that like to fish in troubled waters, many of them flushed out in April 11/12. This variety and unity is what has made the marches so successfully well attended, why Chavez polls felt below 50% after hitting stratospheric 80+%, why the opposition, in spite of all the foreign pundits dictum, is such a grass root movement that breaks all traditional political molds from the past.

My favorite quality within this heterogeneous group is that there is no strong leader. After the uber alles leader that Chavez is, it is refreshing to see that the opposition leadership needs to gather and discuss for a while before they can come to a conclusion.

But there is a price to be paid for diversity.

The opposition weaknesses

The first original sin of the opposition is the April 11 to 13 blunders. When Carmona managed to highjack with a rather unsavory cohort the rather unexpected Chavez resignation, it was clear that some right wing characters had been manipulating some of the action. This has offered a seemingly never-ending propaganda tool to Chavez. And it is sad to observe that many in the opposition have never came quite clear condemning some of these actions preferring the “I had nothing to do with it” lameness.

The second failure was not to promote sufficiently the CD, Coordinadora Democratica. This is the umbrella organization. Originally it had some significant successes. For example, its creation allowed the opposition to recover from the April tragedy and regain the initiative, in particular with the non-binding referendum petition drive. It also forced the government to sit down at the “mesa de Negociación y Acuerdos” presided by the OAS. But its loose structure did not allow it to control events when the general strike came in December. After a few days and a few provocations from the government, the strike leadership went to the business and trade union leaders, soon joined by the striking PDVSA. The CD seemed a passive follower and was not able to provide more realistic goals than the Chavez exit. Then again, who knew that Chavez would not hesitate to wreck the economy to maintain his power. The CD never quite recovered from that strike failure, while the leaders went into exile or into hiding. The consequence is the not very good agreement that the opposition is dragged to sign today.

A graver failure of the anti-Chavez crowd is to fail to understand clearly the nature of the opponent. Yes, now it knows that Chavez is a convenience democrat and that he will not balk at anything legal or pseudo-legal to remain in power. But this should have been accepted earlier. It would have probably given rise to a better opposition strategy confronting Chavez on the legal level instead of trying a direct showdown that he had a better chance to win. After all, since April 2002 he has been diligent in making sure that such a thing would not happen again. A non-violent opposition can fight a wannabe tyrant only if it accepts patience as its guiding principle and avoids hard but tempting confrontations for quick time results, confrontations which the other side thrives on.

This is probably due to the very Caracas nature of the leadership. The first strong rejection of Chavez came form the educated elite of Caracas, namely its Eastern side. Provinces were left to Chavez for too long and we had to wait for the December 10, 2001, first general strike to see some provincial participation. But April 11 was a Caracas event, and a Caracas speech. Many of the military that backed Chavez return were not from Caracas. The leadership sometimes think that just with Caracas they will kick Chavez out and that is a weakness making them underestimate some of the local strength that Chavez has. They might not like Chavez anymore in San Felipe but kicking him out to give the job to a Caracas “patiquin” is not very motivating.

Finally the more damming criticism is the personal ambitions that fluster the opposition. The success of February’s El Firmazo has made many a leader salivate at the prospect of all these votes that could congeal on his, or her, leadership. If this is a normal reaction, it was the CD’s failure not to be able to control it. This projected an image of disunion, a fight of personal ambitions while on the other side Chavez survival had made him the unquestioned leader.

Which brings to the real failures of the opposition, which have become clear in the last two months. The first one is its inability to offer a clear message to the people besides “We want Chavez out”. Yes, there are discussion tables, many projects, etc, and if Chavez were to leave tomorrow the country would not be rudderless. But this is no excuse not to have offered a brief governmental proposal, if anything as a transition program for a couple if years after an eventual Chavez departure. Maybe its heterogeneity refrains the opposition to agree on some basic principles? The other major need is to elaborate a strategy that will tie all the loose ends between the shantytowns, the Caracas middle class and the provinces if it hopes to succeed. These processes are unfortunately too long for some hotheads that cannot wait and thus offer an impatient and not very democratic image.

The other failure, which is now very worrisome, is the non-existence of a leadership functional structure. This is in part why some people have vented their presidential aspirations. If the CD does not think that naming a leader is appropriate right now, it could at least show that there is a mechanism to name a leader when the time comes. No serious discussion on that and this could be fatal since the electoral system is a winner take all set up and a divided opposition could let a unified pro-Chavez candidate squeeze by to office and allow Chavez run the show from behind. All the effort to oust Chavez would be lost.

The Venezuelan opposition in other words has shown itself incapable to rule its domain, just as Chavez is incapable to rule the country productively. It is time that Chavez adversaries put their act together. With no money, no army, and soon no media or no police to help, I wonder how they are going to get rid of wannabe tyrant if they keep bickering among themselves.

There is a saying that countries get the governments they deserve. I would add that they also get the opposition they deserve.


GOOD NEWS FROM BRAZIL
May 29, 2003

Is the header of one of today New York Times Editorials quite rightly commending the realism of Lula da Silva inaugurated in January 1st of this year.

What is remarkable is that Lula, a long time trade union leader, a leftist of perfect credentials, a three time presidential candidate, has not succumbed to cheap populism. Simply put, he seems to have realized that if you want to spread the wealth you must generate it first. Thus in his first 4 months in office, he has not been afraid to tackle his left wing
“Since taking office in January, President da Silva has pursued policies that have strengthened the nation's financial standing. Brazil's currency and bonds have rallied strongly, easing its debt burden, and rampant inflation is beginning to taper off. The government is also maintaining a budget surplus.
Some of the president's most ardent supporters within his Workers' Party are not thrilled by all this economic orthodoxy, or by what Mr. da Silva himself calls "bitter medicine." The government's tough reform proposals for civil service pensions may cause further friction between the administration and party militants. But the president, a former labor leader, is right in saying he cannot succeed on his ambitious long-term social welfare agenda unless Brazil first gets its economic house in order.”

Yet, I am quite certain that Lula at some point will bring deep reforms to the Brazilian society. If he is confident and controlled as he seems to be his chances are good.

What a difference with Chavez!

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

AN AGREEMENT! GOOD NEWS?
May 28, 2003

After months of “negotiations” last week an agreement was announced between the Chavez administration and the opposition representatives at “La Mesa de Negociación y Acuerdos”. This negotiation table was set up last October by an agreement between Chavez and the OAS, under the mediation of its General Secretary, Cesar Gaviria, ex-president of Colombia.

Qualifying the negotiating table as ineffectual is mild. Not seeing Gaviria as weak is difficult. The table could not avoid the general strike of December and if anything was a source of rumors such as an imminent resignation of Chavez during the first days of the strike. But Chavez mettle is not one that the democratic mind understands and basically the opposition dangled at the table through weeks of strike until eventually Chavez stubbornness prevailed, at the cost of a devastating crisis.

The negotiations then were for an anticipated electoral solution. After the strike the negotiations did not really made much sense anymore since the constitutional provision for a recall election in August became more of a reality. What was left was to negotiate a modus operandi on how to face the electoral process. Even that was too much to stomach for Chavez. Yet, he could not come outright and kick out a rather complacent Gaviria. Complacent but no fool, Gaviria seems to know what type of individual is Chavez, but Gaviria does not want to flounder on the Venezuelan problem when he has bigger aspirations. In his eyes probably he feels obligated to mediate a solution to a problem that Venezuelans had coming from their lack of political seriousness. He is not necessarily wrong in this appreciation.

With the South American Cuzco summit coming, the first big event for Chavez since the strike, it became clear to him that he had to do something. Sensing that the opposition had recovered quite a lot of credibility since the April 2002 coup attempt, and considering perhaps that his extensive counter attack was going well according his plans he decided to sign an agreement. Of course the news broke while Chavez was in Cuzco, maximizing the effect and improving his standing there, or at least relaxing the atmosphere some.

I must confess that I have only glanced through the agreement. No matter its contents, one of the signing parts, the one with the guns, has had no qualms in repeatedly violating the constitution. Surely a casual agreement would not be a hindrance. I even allowed myself to wonder if it was worthwhile signing it. However it should be signed for three simple reasons: 1) no agreement can guarantee an election; 2) not signing it could damage more the opposition than Chavez, which is quite apparent from the glee that the administration showed when some within the opposition derided the agreement; and 3) it will be cosigned by Gaviria for the OAS, and the Carter foundation with he PNUD for the UN. If anything, it will compromise morally these international organizations which until now could not do anything about the Venezuelan crisis. Well, they probably will not be able to do much but at least now they will be able to condemn Chavez if he does not abide by the rather light obligations of the agreement

The opposition slowly, and grudgingly for some, is rallying to the agreement realizing that it is the best thing it can get at this point towards the electoral goal. The agreement will be signed tomorrow. Perhaps. Chavez might actually be sorry, since the agreement could slow down some of his intended “reforms” to block the recall election. However, Gaviria will definitively be happy when he "passes the buck".


Monday, May 26, 2003

LA POLITIQUE DU PIRE [1]
May 26, 2003

The reality in which the Chavez administration is living these days is the looming recall election. This vote on Chavez rule is available to the opposition as of August 19, after fulfilling some specific requirements. All serious opinion polls, and the vehemence of the government in denying them, indicate that indeed Chavez is likely to lose the election. That is, if this one takes place. And the administration is not sitting still.

The first strategy is to make sure the opposition will have trouble to finance the recall election. The economic crisis is a godsend to Chavez. With his hijacking of the oil industry he has enough money for his pet projects and his supporters. This is an excellent carrot to rally his supporters and show the other side that if he happens to win then they would really be in trouble. Obviously they should reconsider their opposition. The daily reminder of what Chavez can do to their finances is the currency control installed since January 22.

It would be better to legally find a way to block or postpone the election until Chavez improves his numbers or manages to trump the cards in his favor and win. The sneaky way that is being used to name the electoral council, the miscellaneous laws to limit freedom of speech, tamper the composition of the high court, regulate the way a referendum can be called are all maneuvers to reach this goal that cannot be totally shut up since it is written into the 1999 constitution.

But if everything else fails, if the opinion polls do not improve, if the private sector accepts to bleed to death to finance the election, if the international pressure is too strong to resist and the legal tricks cannot be implemented fully, there is still the unrest card. Creating commotion is a good way to justify a state of emergency and adjourn sine die any type of election.

Why is Chavez so bent in not losing any election? One could say that no politician likes to lose elections but in the case of Chavez this goes further. Chavez aspires to be a world leader, the heir of Castro. All his international activities, all his support of Cuba no matter what, all his anti-globalization speeches aiming at rallying the new left around his persona bespeak to this frame of mind. Castro has never subjected himself to a free election and after 45 years is still alive and troublesome. In Nicaragua eventually the Sandinistas accepted to take the risk of an election. They lost and they became irrelevant on the world stage, becoming just “another” Nicaraguan political party. Chavez knows very well that if after 4 years of rule an election sanctions his system, he will become irrelevant on the world stage. He cannot bear the thought.

Plenty of factual evidence of Chavez strategy can be found reading any Venezuelan newspaper through May. Indirect evidence can be found by reading the pro-Chavez media that are strangely silent on certain events such as the land seizures. They all amount to a good example of “la politique du pire”, the politics of the worst, made famous by Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Chavez is playing at creating a controlled havoc in the hope that he will reach eventually his ultimate goals, regardless of what people think or suffer. Chavez should be reminded that it cost Louis his head.

[1] This is the last installment of a series of articles on the Chavez counter-offensive, started on May 20

Sunday, May 25, 2003

WHO BENEFITS FROM THE SOCIAL UNREST? [1]
May 25, 2003

From the preceding posts the reader must have discerned that there is significant amount of social unrest in Venezuela. Of course, the worsening economic situation and the non-stop political battle since Chavez reached office are propitious to such a situation. However, after more than 4 years in office one is allowed to wonder how come there is no end in sight, and why isn’t the government trying harder to appease tensions. It would be unfair to say that the Chavez administration wears all the blame, however its attitude makes one put squarely most of the blame at its feet. The best example is the conciliatory attitude of Chavez after his return in April 13 last year. This lasted barely a month and was soon to be seen just as a tactic to win time in the political battle. Because that is what is going on, the administration is constantly on the offensive and any break is just to save time when some particularly strong pressure is brought to bear on it. The opposition attacks on Chavez must be seen, under this light, as a constant reaction rather than a plain ideological rejection of the Chavez system, a knee jerk rejection that indeed existed in the early days of the administration.

Zozobra” is the Spanish word that qualifies best the present unrest or emotional turmoil to which we are subjected these days. Unfortunately, there is no good translation to characterize this feeling we have. This state of quasi-emotional unrest we live is a mixture of depression, irritability, and anxiety, due to varied forms of belligerence that we witness daily. It is easy to deduct that creation and control of a state of “zozobra” can give an advantage against the adversary. Is Chavez deliberately abetting such a situation? And why? Before I try to give an answer to that let’s examine a few events in this recent weeks.

INVASIONES” (land grabbing invasions)

Although Venezuela is perhaps the most urbanized country in South America, Chavez came into office with rural ideas worthy of the XIX century. In a time where less than 5% of the North American population live from agricultural ventures and feed 100% of the US population, and a few percentage points elsewhere, Chavez dreams of the Venezuelan agrarian pasts and has put as a corner stone of his system a return to land. This gave birth to a Land Law that pretty much threatens private property in the country side. Though parts of this law were struck down by the courts, the administration has circumvented that by application norms that disguise the objectives desired and are less easy to appeal in courts. The original principle of the law is not bad: use it or lose it. That is, if you have thousand of acres and are not putting then to produce then you should leave them to whoever wants to work them. But the practice is another matter since it is up to the government to decide whether land is properly used, and if the original property titles are to be respected. The institute that directs this new law is presided nothing less but by Chavez’s brother.

This has created chaos in some areas of the country. Effectively Chavez supporters have decided to start taking lands from established producers. Usually they invade the best portion of a given estate, helped by the National Guard that goes as far as forbidding the re-entry of the legitimate owners to check out on their cattle, their own installations or simply retrieve their personal possessions. This video taped in due form and shown on TV. That the owner has all titles in legal order does not seem to cut it out for legal protection. But to add insult to injury, some Chavez officials are buying huge ranches on public function salaries, and are not molested by these alleged peasants asking for land. Ah! The invaded properties tend to be close from cities, next to paved roads, and not far at the end of dirt roads.

The psychological effect is quite clear. If you own land you wonder when your turn is going to be and whether being friendlier with chavistas might protect you.

A NEW TRADE UNION

Since one of the main opponents to Chavez is the old CTV, what else but to create a new trade union? Done, with the foundation of UNT who supposedly should assemble these Bolivarian workers unhappy with the old union bosses. The union competition results quickly in increased pressure to the factory managers, owners and workers as the only way the UNT has to recruit is to promise more than the CTV does.

The effect is that in the middle of the worst crisis in our country we are witnessing union fights that do not belong in a country where more than half of the people are jobless or work in the informal sector. The effect is magnified as the government is trying to organize UNT even in the newly jobless, or jobless to be, by promising to organize the workers to take over closing factories and running them as “co-operatives”. The potential for disturbances are endless.

PERSONAL SECURITY

Crime is a major source of “zozobra”. How is affected your life style when going out requires that you ask question such as: Is the place safe? Is the parking secure? How late can I stay? Must I drive through unsafe areas? Are you going to stay late working as a volunteer for political organizations when you better be home by 9 PM?

Consider how awful and scandalous is the jail situation, that it has become a major source of hard criminals. Consider the images of rioting inmates that have become a weekly routine. Consider the poor state to which local police forces have descended due to either lack of funds or governmental sabotage. Consider that if you get caught in some street demonstration you could get jailed for a few hours in that hell. It would dampen your will to demonstrate in the streets, in particular since you know that pro Chavez folks are waiting for you at the end of the march as it happened yesterday in Catia , for example, with one death and two dozen injured [2]. The helpless police almost reduced to witness status.

FAVORITISM

Reports abound that if you are not with Chavez, you get at the bottom of the ladder from anything to dollars for business, to subsidized housing or health care. Yes, patronage is a “normal” consequence of democracy but in the ever more scarce fund availability due to the crisis and out of control corruption, this aspect of “member” reward is reaching yet new heights. People that used to get some minimal services and are not getting them anymore are starting to take things in their own hands with an endless series of street protests. More “zozobra”.

GRATUITOUS PROVOCATION

Constant “cadenas”, relentless threats and weird to stupid announcements bring a daily dose of upsets. And make you wonder what is really going on. Just a recent example is the proposal of an alphabetization plan under the supervision of Cuban teachers. That this is the third one since Chavez came to office, indirectly admitting that the previous two were a failure, does not seem to have occurred to the administration. Then one sees the reading-books from Cuba shown on TV. Whether these would be the books actually used is not the issue as the mere idea to teach the letter G to your child with words such as Guerilla is very perturbing.

SO, WHAT IS GOING ON?

Clearly the government is not making things easy and seems to be quite happy with the general unrest and desperation. There is really one very simple explanation. Chavez might not have willingly created such a state of unrest but he has decided now to use it to his advantage. With the coming potential recall election on his tenure his administration is trying all sorts of legal ways to postpone it as much as possible, if not call it off altogether. If these strategies fail, it would be easy to whip up the “zozobra” into a general state of public disorder, invoke a martial law to reestablish order and claim that no elections can be performed while the disorder exists. Voila!

Indeed, there is significant verbal offensive from Chavez, repeating all the promises that he has made years ago and that he has not fulfilled. Just as if he were running for the first time again. El Universal today publishes the promises made these days and how they were worded 2 to 4 years ago [3]. Sobering comparative reading. If these renewed promises do not convince people to go back to his leadership, “zozobra” should provide an excuse to force them back into the fold.

[1] This is the third installment of a series of articles on the Chavez counter-offensive.
[2] In Spanish, El Universal
[3] In Spanish

Saturday, May 24, 2003

A REFLECTION ON THE INCOMING CONTROL OF THE MEDIA
May 24, 2003

El Universal had an interesting article last Tuesday 20/05 which I think illustrates well my last post. And it will be an meaningfull break in the series I am writing these days.

Roberto Giusti is an important journalist in Venezuela. Besides doing a radio show, writing a regular column in El Universal and being a frequent guest on TV he has done recently a rather complete investigation on the infiltration of the Colombian warring factions across the Venezuelan borders. Mainly the FARC and the ELN apparently more than tolerated by the Venezuelan army, with sometimes the AUC pursuing the Colombian guerilla. Only the Colombian Army has not crossed the border, yet. For these results, on which the Venezuelan government has kept a strange silence, he has received death threats and was attacked by some of Chavez supporters blaming him for the death of a suspected extortionist. That the death looks more like a mob like settling did not perturb these people preferring to blame Giusti and perhaps distract form his other findings.

At any rate, a few days ago Giusti published an article on El Universal which is more of a mediation on what the media has gone through in Venezuela and what is that law in the making about. I did a version that I post below. Kindly Mr. Giusti gave me permission to do so.

----------------

Until he falls

The contention that the media picked up the reins dropped by the political parties was never true. Although these ones were on the verge of their demise and lost, until today, their will to lead, as it happened with other institutions, the media managed, not only to survive, but to fulfill the role that was theirs.

At the expense indeed of many sacrifices, aggressions, intimidation, threats and one murder which, nevertheless, could not reduce or even less suppress, a margin of freedom of speech wide enough to stop the advance of the totalitarian attempt.

If today in Venezuela there is no consolidated autocracy nor a single political party nor a single trade union or a single educational model, if private property has not been confiscated for good, it is for the existence of media who have limited themselves to what they have always done: reflect reality, denounce outrages, vent off the wretchedness of corruption, uncover crimes, the maneuvers to reduce the other powers and the campaigns to destroy PDVSA [1] and transform the Army into a militia to serve the would be dictator and his cohort.

Have the media jumped above their natural boundaries? Have they been subjective when it was time to film the Llaguno gunmen shooting against a defenseless crowd [2]? Did they lie when they revealed the presence of Montesinos in Venezuela [3]? Did they exaggerate when they exposed the protection that the government gave Montesinos or the complicity with the Colombian guerilla? Did they falsify, perhaps, the picture where the President appears as a co-pilot of Saddam Hussein or overdid it when warning of the scandalous subvention to the Cuban regime which gave it enough oxygen to continue enslaving and assassinating its people [4]?

After the obligation to work for the search of truth as guiding principle, the media have the right to survive and this right becomes an obligation when their existence carries along the preservation of freedom and democracy.

To do so does not mean that they are becoming conspirators. To the contrary, the conspirator is a regime that pretends to perpetuate itself indefinitely and impose on us a model (if it can be qualified as such) inspired in the total subservience of the human being.

If something has become clear during these last four years is that as long as a free media exist, critical and independent, it will be impossible to consolidate the dictatorship. This is why they are coming now with everything they have got through a legal construct, under the pretense of the defense of the mental and emotional integrity of the children. Lies! Beyond the forms, beyond the alleged redeeming motives of the moral or the rights of the beneficiaries, what is there is the intention to liquidate television and radio. Of course, there are other strategies under way: the bureaucratic constraints, the proliferation of “alternative” TV and radio stations, including those of the FARC and the acquisition of some stations with the money of all Venezuelans. When everything is said and done the power of the media sustained on a militant and engaged audience, not only has survived but will keep undermining the basis of the regime with the simple tool of exposing its misery.

And it will be so until the day he falls.

------
1- The State Oil Company
2- The famous shootings of April 11, 2002, where a few guys shot from Llaguno bridge “in self defense” against the crowds advancing to Miraflores Palace.
3- Montesinos, the notoriously corrupt former security chief of Alberto Fujimori, the former Peruvian president-dictator. Montesinos did hide for several months in Venezuela, although the government denied it until suddenly the government “arrested” him.
4- Chavez is the only elected head of state to have visited Saddam Hussein since the first Gulf War. As for the Venezuelan financial help to Cuba, words fail me.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

ENSURING A “SAFE” LEGAL SYSTEM [1]
May 22, 2003

The main problem for Chavez now is the upcoming recall election that can be legally required as of August 19. Chavez knows that no matter what legal trick he tries, the opposition will be able to raise enough signatures to force the election, and that the outcome right now is not rosy at all for him. Since the international opinion is still courted by the administration, ways that appear legal must be implemented to slow down the electoral process, denature it, and perhaps even stop it.

The economic crisis that we now suffer is not seen as totally Chavez fault according to polls, but these same polls also reflect clearly that Chavez is not considered able to take Venezuela out of the crisis. Since December Chavez numbers according to issues float between a 20 and a 35%. Even at 35% it is still a daunting task to win a recall election. Even though chavista paid polls claim 40 to 50% the attitude of public officials speak more of packing their office rather than renovating them. Time is thus seen as too short to bring back Chavez in favor.

One of the strategies of the Chavez administration is to try to use the thin, but hard core it seems, majority left in the National Assembly to pass a few laws that could come in handy if need be. The first law that needs to be passed is one that will limit the access of the opposition to the media. Then a law to modify the high court must be passed to deal with electoral issues. And then a series of laws will tend to limit what people can indeed do to protest government abuse and call for referendums. Very logical and simple if one has the outlook of democracy that a leftist military has.

LEY DE RESPONSABILIDAD SOCIAL EN RADIO Y TELEVISIÓN

This law destined to establish the responsibilities of the media in transmitting news and setting their programs is in due form a “gag rule” law (Ley Mordaza). The Human Rights Watch has taken the trouble to issue a devastating report on the attacks to the freedom of the press in Venezuela, signaling this law as an absurdity.

I post next excerpts the main criticism section from to the law project.

--------------------------
IV. PROBLEMS WITH THE NEW MEDIA BILL

On January 23, 2003, the Chávez government tabled in the National Assembly a new bill regulating television and radio [snip] "Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television" enlarges the state's role in the control of broadcast content, and contains several provisions that infringe international freedom of expression standards. [snip]

The primary justification advanced by the government for the new legislation was that current television output exposes children to an unacceptable amount of violence and fails to respect their special needs. Government officials objected strongly to scenes of violence in opposition demonstrations that were replayed repeatedly during peak viewing hours. [snip]

If these norms were interpreted literally, stations could be penalized for showing news coverage of wars and internal conflicts before 8:00 p.m., making it necessary for them to present a sanitized version of the news during the day. Many films and soap operas, which contain erotic scenes, fights, family arguments, swearing, and the like, also could not be shown during the day. Children's cartoons could even be questioned for their violent content. [snip]

Under the draft law, television companies, advertisers, and broadcasters could be punished for transmitting:
contents that promote, defend or incite lack of respect toward legitimate institutions and authorities, like the deputies of the National Assembly, the president of the Republic, the vice-president of the republic, ministers, magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the attorney general, the public advocate, the comptroller general of the republic, the senior authorities of the National Electoral Council and the armed [snip]

Seven infractions contained in the draft law are considered so serious that a culpable station can be immediately suspended for up to forty-eight hours. [snip]

As already noted above, the "incite, advocate, or promote" language is extremely broad and could include speech that is protected under international standards. Under the new law, stations could easily be taken off the air temporarily for broadcasting political messages like those advocating mass protests in December 2002 and January 2003. The norms on advocacy of war might, for example, inhibit discussion of the Iraq invasion, or the war against terrorism. Again, the authorities responsible for enforcing the law might use these overbroad categories to restrict the public debate. Given the ambiguity about their scope, managers and editors are likely to exercise self-censorship to avoid sanctions. [snip]

The draft law stipulates that a station that has been temporarily suspended twice during the last three years will have its broadcasting license revoked. [snip]

Under the new media law a National Institute of Radio and Television would be created. The institute's executive council would be responsible for enforcing the new content regulations, and imposing sanctions. (The minister of infrastructure would still retain the powers he currently enjoys to suspend or revoke broadcasting licenses). The composition of the proposed eleven-person executive council is heavily weighted toward the executive and legislative branches. It has no representatives from the broadcasting industry, and there are insufficient safeguards to preserve its independence from the government of the day. [snip]

The president of the institute's eleven-person executive council would be appointed by the president of the Republic for a three-year period. Four members of the council are to be "representatives" of the ministries of education, health, communication and information, and of CONATEL. Three members will be legislators from the National Assembly. Two of the remaining three members will be representatives of viewers' committees, and one will be a representative of independent national production companies.

Thus, five out of the council's eleven members will be officials from the executive branch and three will be politicians from the legislature. No expertise or experience in the media industry is required for appointment. Media organizations, universities, and religious organizations will have no representation on the council.

There are no safeguards in the proposed legislation to minimize the risk of political interference. [snip] The lack of safeguards against political interference in the governing body is especially troubling given the complexity of the legislation it is supposed to enforce, and the imprecision of the numerous regulations with which companies, broadcasters and advertisers are required to comply.

------------------

The above is pretty much self explanatory.

The only thing I need to add is that the original project had 150 + articles and it was reduced to 30 + articles by compacting these articles and removing some of the very most controversial ones. The reason is to avoid a filibuster since every representative can sign out for debate for each article. The government cannot afford to be mired for weeks in a controversial debate when all eyes are on it. As I write these lines the battle goes on in the National assembly and if the majority manages to vote it, the opposition will walk right there to the High Court. Which brings to the next subject.

MODIFICATION OF THE TRIBUNAL SUPREMO DE JUSTICIA (TSJ)

The TSJ or high court was composed by 20 judges in the 1999 constitution. Unfortunately the initial nominations did not turn out quite the way Chavez would have liked them to be. Now he has a solid 8 votes in it and the opposition a solid 6 votes. But the remaining 6 votes tend to go mostly to Chavez and are not real swing votes the way one understands it in the US. The result is that Chavez , even if he gets 90% of the other rulings, has lost a couple of important rulings and he cannot deal with that.

Since the definitive law on the organization of the TSJ or High Court of the country was not completed after the new 1999 constitution, the government has decided that it should be seen to it right now. The simplest way is to say that there is too much work and that the number of judges should be increased. To make it not look too crass, and to make sure that if “errors” in nomination occurs one does not get saddled by unwanted justices, the new scheme would provide for a variable number of judges. That is, the National Assembly could increase or decrease the numbers of judges depending on the workload. The highest number being 32 and the lowest 24. One wonders sometimes who comes up with these bright ideas…

The urgency is due of course to the incoming electoral process and all the law suites that are in the horizon, including boatloads of corruption cases that one day will eventually reach the TSJ. Not to mention that some authorities must be named by 2/3 of the National assembly and if this one fails to reach that magical number the TSJ gets to appoint “provisionally” the title holders until the Assembly puts its act together. That transient title holder of course has all the same powers.

OTHER PROJECTS

Once these two biggies are settled it would be easier to bring in other projects. They are still “in development” but enough is known already to make one wonder about our future. One is to bring all the police departments under a single umbrella organization depending directly from the central government. Goodbye State and Municipal policies. Another one, LEY DE PARTICIPACION CIUDADANA (Law For Citizen Participation), will regulate among other things how people can ask for referendums to eliminate laws, modify them, or request recall elections. The intention being, of course, to make it as difficult as possible. It will also regulate some of the figures in the new constitution as to the organization of NGO and other social structures that supposedly have a right to question elected officials activities.

CONCLUSION

All these projects share one thing: they open the different powers to heavy interference form the executive and legislative branches. If all come to pass, that will be the end of the separation of powers, and the possible end of federalist decentralized aspects of the Venezuelan administration. All will point to the tenant of Miraflores Palace who has expressed his desire to remain until 2021. Yes, 2021, there is no typo.

[1] This is the second installment of a series of articles on the Chavez counter-offensive.



Wednesday, May 21, 2003

CHAVEZ 'S OFFENSIVE ON THE ECONOMY FRONT ? [1]
May 21, 2003

After the crippling strike of December-January and the even more crippling economic results of 2002 [2], Chavez needed to do something to stop the bleeding in his revenues. The simplest way was of course to establish a currency control exchange on January 22. By this stroke he forbade any Venezuelan citizen to purchase any foreign currency and he reserved the right to fix the exchange rate and the amount of foreign currency that people would be allowed to buy, eventually. A price control scheme for basic food staples was set up along, and already collapsed.

The controls were announced with an initial moratorium of 5 working days. Today, May 21, the dollars sold are a risible few millions, and only as of this week. The first authorization was announced grand style by Hernadez Behrens, who repeated in front of the cameras the incredible announcement that Cargill had been allowed to purchase 8,000 dollars. Eventually somebody must have told him how ridiculous that sum was and a few days later he tried to say that he meant 8 million. Cargill has remained mute.

It remains that from January 22 until May 16 the private sector has not exchanged a single dollar. Justification? Well, people that want dollars for business have to justify their need and prove that they owe nothing to the government. In a country of deadbeats this was OK, however what was not OK is the sheer incompetence of the government to set up the registration system. One must wonder actually if people can be so incompetent. Is there a devilish purpose behind this? The apparent incompetence of people seems a very good first hint. And there are more.

One governmental option would be to simplify their system at least for some type of imports, such as medicines. Instead, to compensate for the lack of imports in raw materials such as wheat or soy for animal feed, Chavez administration has announced plans to buy frozen chicken from Brazil and a whole assortment of substandard goods through Cuba as an intermediary! This for distribution at subsidized and controlled prices. The brandished excuse is that the private sector pretends that the fixed prices are below actual costs, so the government will show them. Of course to distribute this imports the government is setting up its own food stores, and it is not paying import taxes which the private sector is forced to pay, increasing thus its costs, while making it impossible to compete against the state. Fair?

Even a Morgan Stanley expert sent to see what was going on came with a lapidary review: “it is all Politics” (EN) [3].

CONSEQUENCES

The effect of a two months general strike followed by a three months import “strike” have had a deadly toll on an economy which needs to import 60% of its raw materials.

The Central Bank, which has a more moderate forecast due to its lack of complete independence from the government, has already quite staggering numbers. The expected decrease in the GPI for 2003 is expected to be 17 % (after the 9% decrease of 2002). Just for the first quarter the shock is 35% mainly due to the oil decrease estimated at 45-48% on its own. Its posterior recovery explains why the overall will be 17% (UN). Of course if Chavez is right and the oil industry recovers fully that means that the 17% will be mostly from the private sector.

But private banks are a little bit more pessimistic and talk of a 40-42% first quarter, and a 33.5% inflation for the 2003. Business associations point out that in 1999 there were 11 535 industrial establishments in Venezuela and that by the end of 2003 the number should be down to by 60% to more or less 4500 establishments. This would imply a loss of 800 000 thousand jobs on top of the 600 000 lost until 2002.

A significant report on the custom activities show that this sector has fired 15 000 people since January. Customs revenue has dropped 60% so far this year even though all the imports that were stopped during the strike came in after the imposition of the currency control and thus were processed (EN). The revenues are expected to drop further affecting all the activities linked to custom: transportation, custom agents, shipping, services and others.

Obviously this deepening crisis is going to severely curtail government revenue. No official audit or accounting comes from the oil industry since the take over by Chavez hacks, there is no way to know what is really inside the national treasure. This silence by itself is telling of the mounting financial problems encountered by the administration.

Yet the government tries to appear unperturbed and pretends that everything is returning to normal. One must wonder whether Chavez is looking forward the final economic collapse.


[1] This is the first installment of a series of articles on the Chavez counter-offensive.
[2] A drop of 9% in the GPI (Gross Production Index)
[3] Unfortunately due to the crisis several Venezuelan papers have started charging for Internet access. Thus my ability to put links has been curtailed. For this series of articles I will use the convention UN = el Universal (still free thus some links will appear), EN = El Nacional, for articles appeared between May 11 and today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

CHAVEZ REDUX
May 20, 2003

Venezuela is experimenting these days quite a lot of maneuvering. It is rather difficult for the casual observer to make sense of it, and in all truth what I will be trying to explain now might be contradicted by events within a few days. The root of it all is of course Chavez trying to keep on the offensive since last February snub (see Vignettes form El Firmazo) while the recall election date is approaching, inexorably. With a sinking economy and popularity Chavez is reduced to find creative ways to hold to power and pursue his authoritarian “project”. In other words he needs to find ways to suspend that referendum until he has a chance to win it, either by increasing popular fervor, or by “tricks” has Carter mentioned in his January visit.

The strategies that Chavez is using are several fold. In no particular order:

1- The currency control exchange in place since January 22. This one is clearly destined to weaken the ability of the private sector to finance the electoral campaign for a recall election. An economical war in due form, waged by the Chavez administration on the biggies of the private sector. That the small guys are the unwilling victims is not to be a distraction from the ultimate goal. Add to this that now the money produced by the State Oil company PDVSA can be disposed of by the government as it pleases, without anyone knowing how much is produced nor where it is spend.

2- The social offensive to try to recover some of the popular support that Chavez enjoyed once. By creating rural movements, installing its own trade unions, letting crime increase, and spreading money around, he is basically trying to convey the image that “there is a pot of gold somewhere but to dip in it you must be with me”. The beauty of this is that if it does not work there will be enough trouble generated to claim that it is impossible to hold an election with such an agitation.

3- The legislative offensive is quite clear cut: with the impending economic collapse that is hanging over us, Chavez needs to do some spin control, or damage control. This can be done by negating dollars to the Media or by passing a law, based supposedly on child protection, to limit the type of news that the media can transmit during daytime and prime time. This legislative offensive is assorted with an attempt at controlling the composition of the electoral directors, attempts to revamp the high court to ensure a locked pro Chavez majority and assorted other measures to limit the autonomy of the local powers that do not swear allegiance to the master.

Obviously, a multi pronged approach to trump the deck in case an election must be held. In the next posts I will be trying to develop each one of these themes.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

STREET KIDS
May 11, 2003

Among the spectacular failures of Chavez there is one that shines high: the handling of street kids. This problem is of course endemic in the world and local authorities have diverse programs that deal more or less with the situation, usually less. The presence of street kids is not necessarily the fault of public policies. Social programs cannot foretell all human failures at family level. They are thus mostly targeted at dealing with the consequences of the social break down that dissolved the family unit.

In Venezuela, things are a little bit different. The macho mentality here has a long tradition of leaving unwed mothers and not all of them make it. This mothers might end up in the street with the kid, and eventually the kid might as well decide to strike it on his or her own. Recent numbers published by El Universal today are not very encouraging as to the possibility of things getting better on this front. For Mother’s day the paper publishes the 2001 births numbers.

Total births = 529 552
Births from married women = 146 506
Births from unmarried women but within a family unit = 264 446
Births of unwed women = 108 330

In other words 20,5 % of births in Venezuela in 2001 were without a recognized father.

Ah! And the age of the mothers! 28 758 births are from unwed women that are less than 19 years old. That is, 5,4 % of births in 2001 were to mothers that likely have not finished high school and that will depend on relatives to be able to raise their kid. I think these numbers are quite staggering and point out to a dark future for the births in that 5,4 % group. To this we can add the 11,3 % of births of women less than 19 year old but living with somebody albeit unwed. The odds that many of these women will end up abandoned by their mate are not insignificant.

Of course the prevailing misery and social habits were inherited by Chavez. However, it is fair to discuss what he has done about it. Early in his term, Chavez made a famous discourse, which excerpts are profusely replayed these days. In this speech, he said among other inanities that if within a year there were still street kids he will stop calling himself Hugo Chavez. At the time this created quite a buzz and plenty of initiatives, even at the local level. I was involved by accident with one of these activities in San Felipe while I hosted a friend working with street kids in the US. She gave a seminar, got newspaper interviews, held meetings with me as the translator.

Among some initiatives two big projects came directly from Miraflores Palace. One was the recovery of a big resort abandoned on the Caracas shoreline: Los Caracas. That resort was created 50 years ago as an affordable alternative to the bureaucratic middle class. It pretty much was neglected through the years until it had to be basically abandoned. The idea was to create a special school, away from Caracas, to rehabilitate street kids. Some work started but the deluge of 1999 cut off the road for a few weeks and the project was just shelved. Another project was the recovery of another structure from the 50ies that had been abandoned in Caracas: El Helicoide, a spiral shaped commercial center that was never completed and ended up as a white elephant smack in downtown Caracas. Nobody knows why, but the restoration work was transferred to the political police DISIP and that was that. Now several “dissidents” have had to spend a night at “El Helicoide”, but no street kids that we know off.

During these years it is fair to say that the economic situation has not helped this initiative of Chavez, even though he can be blamed for the sluggish economy. The problem is that he put his name over this initiative like he did not do on anything else. Yet, he has just ignored it even though it was not the most expensive of the social programs.

If you go now downtown Caracas you will be able to see more street kids than ever, scavenging garbage, panhandling, looking for something to snatch. Heartbreaking. And it is made worse with the spectacular growth of an informal commercial economy. This growth of a survival economy due to the collapse of the formal system has littered the main avenues of Caracas with temporary stands and shacks that, of course, provide an ideal hideout for all sorts of thieves, druggies and street kids.
OBJECTIVITY IN REPORTING
May 11, 2003

Today El Universal editorial struck a chord in me. To the point that I have decided to translate it. It talks about how the foreign press on occasion is not afraid of misreporting the news for some obscure interest. Without further ado, today’s editorial, followed by some comments.

----------------------------------
Objective Journalism?

A lot of ink has been spilled here and abroad, lecturing over a supposed lack of journalistic objectivity that some qualify the Venezuelan media with, without much investigation on the events, nor a fair evaluation of the context under which the media undertake their difficult labor.

Fortunately, time and menaces _ thuggery withstanding _ that range from promoting violence to induce assault against journalists, who number hundreds of victims, to the use of ISLR [1], opening of administrative investigations, currency exchange controls and “leyes mordaza” [2], with the objective to cause self-censorship, account for this harsh reality.

The Venezuelan media, although working under an atmosphere of racketeering, have managed adequate levels of professionalism and productivity. Numerous are the investigative works published that support a flow of news that everyday, more and more, point to the nightmare that this regime is becoming, able to exterminate the opposition, destroy institutions and terminate the repose of Venezuelans.

It is disconcerting that sporadically some people report overseas a sort of ritornello, plagued by prejudice, superficiality and concepts with factual mistakes, over aspects related to the popular support of Chavez, or the bounties of a revolution that sometimes rings as a justice bringing to them and some times avenging. This is so, that given the outcry that exists in Venezuela respecting the celebration of a recall election and against a recent New York Times article, two US pollsters felt obliged to send the editor a letter (Chavez and Venezuelans) published May 3, 2003, warning of the mistake that ignoring these realities is. Amen of this other French editor, propaganda master of the regime.

The scandalous controversy that CNN is embroiled in, as a consequence of its decision no to divulge the assassinations and tortures of its local team during the regime of Hussein, allegedly for fear of reprisals and loss of access, which forbade the world to know first hand these horrors, is a warning against the danger of the tyrannies that skillfully charm useful people, to slow down the understanding of the shortfalls and vexations that they subject their citizens to.

[1] Income tax system in Venezuela
[2] “Gag rule law”, currently under discussion.

-----------------------------------

Now let me start by saying that El Universal has been the first target of Chavez and thus it is a little bit sensitive. Chavez’s Venezuela is not Saddam’s Iraq, by far. That Chavez might want to become a tropical Saddam is another issue.

However El Universal underlines a very real issue that I have been addressing regularly through these reports.

Many in the foreign press do not seem to try to understand really what is happening here, and worse, try to make it fit pre-established models of third world conflicts: black versus white, rich versus poor, cities versus country sides. This sometimes sounds extremely condescending almost implying that our societies are too primitive to understand concepts of freedom and welfare the way these journalists think. Two of the main culprits are Juan Forero from the New York Times, or Ignacio Ramonet of the Monde Diplomatique who beats all records in cynicism. At least articles of Juan Forero are sometimes contradicted by editorials of the New York Times or balanced by excellent articles like the one of Moises Naim in March. Still, it is incomprehensible that Mr. Forero goes unchecked at this point in the game, though admittedly on occasion doubt seems to creep into his writing.

But Le Monde Diplomatique, as the editorial alluded to “Amen of this other French editor, propaganda master of the regime” has indeed become the official propaganda agency of the regime in France, going as far as organizing a Bolivarian Forum. The funding still remains to be accounted, and not only in the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique which so far as not published a diverging opinion. Or at least I did not find it. (Note, the venerable Le Monde is more balanced, Le Monde Diplomatique is a monthly paper, beware of confusion). The point is that Ignacio Ramonet is clearly using Chavez to promote his image of the intellectual leader of the anti globalization. Chavez is clearly using him to get the intellectual patina that he has rotundly failed to get among Venezuelan serious intellectuals that have mostly abandoned him.

The CNN reference is actually chilling and I am adding to end this post what I found on the New York Times after a quick search. Additional comments are unnecessary after reading this little bit that the archives grant, but I will remind you that on January 19 I witnessed how a large crowd of tens of thousand booed out of the stage the CNN journalist Criskaut that was trying to report. I wonder if CNN ever mentioned this anecdote…

---------------------------------------

Editorial Desk | April 21, 2003, Monday
Editorial Observer; The Rules for Covering Brutal Dictatorships Aren't Black and White

By ETHAN BRONNER (NYT)
Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 22 , Column 1

ABSTRACT - Ethan Bronner Editorial Observer on Eason Jordon's revelation that CNN failed to report some despicable facts about regime of Saddam Hussein in order to protect news organization's Iraqi staff; says controversy highlights uncomfortable reality that covering totalitarian states forces journalists to act in compromising ways Eason Jordan, the news chief of CNN, unburdened himself of some horrific secrets recently and is the object of withering attack. In an article on the facing page on April 11, Mr. Jordan said that on trips to Baghdad, he learned despicable facts about the regime of Saddam Hussein that CNN could not report without endangering its Iraqi staff. Among those facts: a CNN cameraman was tortured by government thugs; Uday Hussein, the dictator's son, said he intended to murder two brothers-in-law and King Hussein of Jordan; and an aide to Uday said his front teeth had been yanked out with pliers by Uday's henchmen, who told him not to wear dentures so he would remember never to upset his boss. To have reported any of this, Mr. Jordan wrote, would have endangered his local employees and their families.

Nobody assailing Mr. Jordan -- in a flood of letters to The Times and in opinion columns and broadcasts -- questioned the danger. But many argued that CNN should have closed its bureau and then reported the truth. Moreover, they said, CNN's decision to keep a presence in Baghdad had less to do with concern for Iraqis or journalism than with money. With an eye on its ratings, CNN had sold its soul.

Friday, May 09, 2003

MAKING THE NEWS: LITERALLY
May 9, 2003

I have been a little slack lately considering all the things that need to be written as the Chavez administration seems on an all out strategy to avoid the upcoming referendum, and its monitoring by international observers. More on that later. I think I should start first by the latest illustration on this operetta revolution that Chavez leads.

MAY 1, the facts.

200 000 people were in the streets for the opposition at the high tide. The pro Chavez rally does not seem to have garnered much more than 10 000 people. 1 in 20 ratio, quite a poll if you ask me.

Obviously Chavez was quite displeased by it. And as usual that creates a backlash. One possible one, but people like me are just so prejudiced, is that to divert interest in the opposition number, and try to scare them away from their march in the remote case that their number were to match those of the government, was to kill somebody.

This was done apparently by your average “malandro” (thug) nicknamed “Pollo Ronco” (“Hoarse Chicken”, don’t ask!). From the videos it was quite clear that he was waiting for the marchers, and from several neighbor witnesses, he had uttered plenty of threats the days before and was a local terror in the El Silencio area. The total was one death and two injured, and a “hoarse chicken” on the run.

MAY 1, the investigation.

This is when things get more interesting and show how the Bolivarian system of justice works.

Let’s start with the prosecution. Normally there are a few state prosecutors on “guard” that automatically get the initial investigation in such cases. The one on guard were bypassed and the ineffable Danilo Anderson, officially an environmental prosecutor, was called. This prosecutor has curiously being involved in all the notorious case where some pro-chavez guy shot an anti-chavez person. Notably in the prosecution of Gouveia, the killer of three people at Plaza Altamira in early December.

The defense attorney is no less colorful. Not only he is a noted chavista (weird since if it had been a “passional” crime any attorney would have done), but he was the defender of Lina Ron early in 2002. This personage is the bleached hair Passionaria that rules the downtown gangs of Caracas. Officially she is a “social worker” but in fact she is one of the few people inside the chavista world that has created a genuine following, an Evita of sorts. She pretty much coordinates the crowds that mobilize “spontaneously” to any section of Caracas when needed to fight any anti-chavez cause. Some of her high feats were storming Caracas town hall, or blocking the November 4 march to bring the signed petition to the electoral college. This last one ended up with a couple of dozen of bullet wounds and multitudinary tear gassing of friends and foes alike.

Last but not least. “Pollo Ronco” was finally arrested after a surrendering “deal” with Danilo Anderson, and brought in front of Judge Maikel Moreno. This personage was the defender of the Puente Llaguno shooters of April 11 2002 notoriety. As a reward he has been named “accidental” judge, judges that are put on temporarily to supply somebody, or until they are approved by the legal review process. In other words, an ideal system to appoint a judge for a specific murky task, even if he should not otherwise qualify. Judge Moreno was appointed barely long enough to be able to manage the arrest of Carlos Fernandez, the president of the Business organization, in another famous “by-pass”. This by-pass of established channels was so obvious that eventually the defense was able to appeal successfully and get Fernandez freed. Interestingly this judge has been charged with some misdemeanors in the past, apparently bad enough to disqualify him from being a judge. Somehow he has managed to avoid being disbarred by the complacent high court reviewing the case…

I will leave at your own criteria to evaluate the judiciary system that now exists in Venezuela. However I trust that you will agree with me that the government does not balk at anything to try to make the news go its way.


Sunday, May 04, 2003

CHAVEZ AND THE MEDIA
May 4, 2003

In the well crafted defense/propaganda of Chavez on the international front, there is a leitmotiv: the Venezuelan media have ganged up on him and broadcast endless attacks. This line is particularly upheld by certain European leftist papers such as the ineffable Le Monde Diplomatique, the monthly paper for the “gauche caviar” (“the caviar-eating leftists”).

There is indeed some truth in that Chavez has “suffered” quite a blistering onslaught from the media, though Chavez and his followers forget, conveniently, to mention that in the first months of his tenure the press in general was quite favorable with the possible exception of El Universal, the only constant critical voice, though not the most strident by far. They also forget to mention that the verbal attacks to the media by Chavez have resulted in countless street attacks to journalists from the chastised media, explaining perhaps why the media has sped up its defection from the chavista cause.

But close scrutiny of the situation, as always, shows that the actual reality is possibly quite different from the reported reality.

El Universal publishes today a recount of all the “cadenas” through the Chavez tenure. By law governments in Venezuela are allowed to commandeer all the media to emit important messages to the nation. Upon a few minutes notice, all media must surrender their signal to the one from the state owned TV and radio. Thus for a given amount of time, at the government discretion, the same message is transmitted all through the country by all TV and radio stations, be them local or national. Only cable TV escapes this.

In previous administrations, “cadenas” were used sparingly, on state holidays, for institutional messages or to announce some public interest services such at school start. Or to announce some important policy changes, the reception of a particular important visitor, etc… Perhaps the total was an average of once a month for up to 30 minutes. During president Caldera first term, he had a weekly “cadena” address of 30 minutes. But its scheduled format was not as disruptive as the “cadena” that can break in at any time.

Well, all records have been broken by Chavez. According to El Universal reporting on the numbers provided by AGB panamericana (a ratings company) Chavez or his ministers have made “cadenas” for a total of 428 hours since 1999 in little more than 4 years. Caldera talked for 130 hours in 5 years! And the pace in 2003 has increased considerably to the point that by April 30 “cadenas” had covered 56.5 hours compared to the 1999 total of 67.6 hours, the lowest “cadena” year so far in Chavez rule.

What does this mean?

Chavez ,and on occasion a minister, talks for an average of 1.8 hours a week on enforced broadcasting. In 2003 the pace has reached 3.3 hours a week!. These 1.8 hours are actually 0.8 hours on PRIME TIME! And the Prime Time portion in 2003 is 1.7 hours weekly so far. Without, of course, any compensation to the private networks and radio stations for lost advertisement revenue.

To give further dimension to this abuse one must realize that the “cadenas” are broadcast by the state TV (VTV) and 4, FOUR, national networks plus all radio stations. In other words Chavez gets a 5 times multiplying factor. And the local networks are not included.

Of course this forced coverage is in addition to the normal news reported by the networks. More damningly, there is a weekly TV address on state TV, 147 emissions so far at an average of 3 to 4 hours, at taxpayer expense, without any question session for the press and media. That is, no accounting! Chavez perorates all what he wants, says any inanity or accusation he seems fit to say and no journalist is allowed to ask him for evidence or explanations. If these addresses are not anymore on “cadena” (they were in the first shows) they still make a significant portion of the nightly news and talk shows.

Next time you hear Chavez complaining that he does not get a fair hearing from the media in Venezuela, think twice before feeling sorry for him. He gets plenty of coverage to transmit his unedited speeches through ALL networks.

Followers