A REAL INTELLECTUAL’S DEBATE IN VENEZUELA
Friday 17, October 2003
A few days ago I translated an article of Milagros Socorro pondering what it would take to effect reconciliation in Venezuela after the Chavez tenure (1). Follow up was surprisingly fast and the main person she alluded has been responding. It is Eleazar Diaz Rangel, director of Ultimas Noticias (2) who has used his pulpit to justify the unjustifiable actions of the National Guard tear gas bombing of people in their sleep. There has been a series of exchanges and today I am translating the second installment of Ms. Socorro, again a brilliant article if perhaps a little bit too long for the non-Venezuelan reader. But I can assure you that for a Venezuelan concerned with where our country is headed to, it is a riveting read.
The second part of the article details very clearly, and briefly, the legal case against the abuses committed by PDVSA (3) on its ex workers, presumably on the direct orders of Chavez more concerned by revenge than by legal technicalities. And of course the second part demonstrates the shameful duplicity of Mr. Diaz Rangel that some thought fair enough to head the Electoral Board when it was named in August (4). In all fairness, I should perhaps post Mr. Diaz Rangel articles on this subject, but I will not translate them, chavistas can do it. To each its own, though I engage myself to publish the link of the eventual translation if any one of them sends it to me, and if they publish the link to my translations of Ms. Socorro telling articles.
Of Semerucos and complicity (5)
The recent seizure of the Globovision equipment – which legality and relevance has not been demonstrated – has just served to strengthen the idea that at this development stage of mentalities and technical advances it is impossible to curtail freedom of speech.
The closure of a media outlet by the fiat of a ruler in our days is an eccentricity, a fancy of abortive completion. It is very simple: societies do not tolerate it. And simultaneously, the proliferation of media, and the increasing limberness of the message to spread through Internet, who against the grain of the economic crisis keeps gaining new users, constitute a very consistent technological rein against the repression of the freedom of expression and its corollary, the freedom of information.
This lucky tandem was not inaugurated in Venezuela with the abduction of the Globovision microwaves, of course, but we were offered an opportunity to see live how difficult it is to blind a TV station… with procedures that still display a legal fig leaf. My point: to close the transmissions from a TV station is not enough to snatch equipment and take it away. Much more is needed. With technology present state – and the pacts among TV stations – much more than the simulation of a technical operation is needed to pull out a signal; it is crucial that the Government loosen up on its way to authoritarianism and let fall the last institutional rhinestone that it still holds.
In the present context, freedom of speech is mediatized only when the collective surrenders that basic human right, because a certain menace of jail, assassination, torture, exile or any other type of persecution hovers over the collective. Or because an individual renounces this right through a surrender to idolatry, by complicity, by shamelessness, by business – or petty dealings, which is more common and pathetic – or by fanaticism. This has happened in Venezuela.
The truth is that the regime has not breached the freedom of speech of the Venezuelans who are in opposition, nor has it managed to intimidate a single communication organization. In fact Chavez has only confiscated the freedom of expression of his followers, from which subservient ensemble never a minimal criticism or divergence has been exhaled (which is another matter among the opposition, outstandingly pointed out and even ridiculed by its own members, many of them having going out of the way publicly proclaiming their condemnation to the practices and individuals of the opposition).
To be with Chavez one has to renounce criteria, perspectives and personal opinions. One has to pretend that one does not see, or hear or knows nothing different from what the Great Conductor disposes. One has to follow his designs and adhere to his positions (including his slang and verbal tics). One has to make one’s his enemies and his hatreds (proffering the same menaces and insults). One has to approve his lies and even repeat them, imitating his gestures, assisting his excesses and silliness... One has to swallow political aspirations if they do not coincide with his own and accept without a hint of dissent candidacies and programs that he imposes. To be with the regime you must sacrifice dignity and mental autonomy on the altar of the leader, who exerts in an autocratic form freedom of speech and takes the freedom of his followers as a little floral offering that those would be offering in their adoration.
This armistice of the souls – that must be thrown to the voracious jaws of the owner of the revolution – has operated with cruel intent on the intellectuals that still support the regime; and who to demonstrate their support must coin constantly texts to justify the unjustifiable or to give a new opportunity to a government whose defilements have been so many and have gone so far that one cannot give it the benefit of the doubt.
The evictions from the oil field camps at Los Semerucos (Falcon state), Campo Rojo (Punta de Mata in Monagas state) and Campo Norte (Anaco, Anzoategui state), perpetrated in the wee-hours and with the ominous participation of the National Guard, should have marked the “This is it” of many people that still fill up the carnival of the regime.
It was not to be. And far from drawing a line with a government that opts for such proceedings, some have tried to give it argumentation. It is the case of Eleazar Diaz Rangel, who with his column of Sunday October 5, in the Ultimas Noticias paper, states that “PDVSA has all the right to demand of its ex employees the evacuation of the houses that they inhabited while the labor relation lasted. It was a just decision to wait 7 months until the end of the school year to initiate eviction through the judicial way, in those cases where they obstinately refused to leave.” And only after having affirmed this, he adds “The National Guard had no right to use force”.
To repeat as a carbon copy the declarations of Ali Rodriguez Araque, president of PDVSA, Diaz Rangel has given up his freedom of speech and, what is worse and desolating, his duty to inform correctly. Diaz Rangel cannot ignore that PDVSA, in fact, has no right to evict these workers, since the firing has never been formal. The more than 18 000 workers that today are separated from their jobs in PDVSA were notified of this bossy decision through some newspapers (those that were not deemed coup mongers or terrorist by Chavez) and in Caracas the selected media was, of course, Ultimas Noticias directed by Diaz Rangel, who could not have failed to notice the large governmental paid adds for the said notification. None of the firings was dictated through a different manner. No one received a letter, a call or a memo stating that s/he was fired.
The truth is that the labor relationship between these workers and PDVSA is not over because this sort of firing is not stated in any law, code or contract as a legitimate form of separation from a job. The Legal Work Code and the Oil Exploitation law that cover workers rights state that to declare terminated a labor relationship it is necessary to go to a labor court within 5 days after the firing; and this was not done by PDVSA in more than 70% of the cases. The company, thus, does not have the right to evict anyone from its lodgings because it has not met any of its contractual obligations, and legally these workers are not fired and are waiting for a judicial decision (the courts have not handed a sentence, keeping alive the dispute between PDVSA that claims that the workers have been fired legally and the workers and their unions that reject the firings as illegal).
Diaz Rangel cannot ignore that today 6 000 minors, children of the fired workers, are out of school because they have been ejected from the PDVSA schools and that the local schools do not have the means to include them (PDVSA has 18 schools across the country, 9 of them on the Eastern shore of Maracaibo Lake, a critical zone for its shortages of school places). Thus he certainly is out of place when he writes “just decision to wait for the end of the school year”.
Of justice, nothing. Of silent complicity of a terrible injustice, a lot. To shut up, to avoid revealing it, to justify it, many have had to throw their freedom of speech in the Chavez’s bonfire. What else will they have to hand to keep the flame alive.
(1) See the post on October 5 , Reconciliation for the general idea.
(2) Ultimas Noticias I rated as a “moderately” pro Chavez paper in my three part media in Venezuela description a few days ago. Perhaps now I should accept the fact and amend my article to say that Mr. Chavez finally got the newspaper he always wanted. This is surprising since Ultimas Noticias was strongly criticized by Chavez last year (albeit not as strongly as El Universal or El Nacional). Perhaps there is a limit to what an editor can endure before he caves in?
(3) PDVSA, the Venezuelan State Oil Monopoly, totally into the hands of Chavez since last January, as if it were his cash box.
(4) One of my favorite editors and op-ed columnists, Teodoro Petkoff from Tal Cual defended Diaz Rangel whose critics at the time he compared to with hunters (or something to that effect). Perhaps it would be time for Mr. Petkoff to revisit the reasons he had to defend Mr. Diaz Rangel whose journalistic impartiality is apparently not of the stature of Mr. Petkoff, at least according to Ms. Socorro view of Mr. Diaz Rangel.
(5) This was published in El Nacional, unfortunately a pay site so I cannot offer the link. It was published October 9, 2003.