Thursday, July 20, 2006

Venezuela’s future: restrictions on the press

Today I am starting a new series of posts, published as needed. I have come to realize that the government is clearly announcing the color of things to come. Considering that the opposition will be unable to discuss issues and will remain trapped in an endless squabbling on “how many electors should be in district X before we can run a campaign”, chavismo has realized, about time, that it can promise the most outrageous measures and then, after December 4 start to execute them saying that it was all announced during the campaign, it is what the people want. Since the opposition will not have fought such proposals, even if the December 3 result is far, really far from the promised 10 millions “por el buche”, international opinion will be allowed to keep a good conscience in allowing the liberty restrictions in Venezuela with the excuse “well, they knew it was coming, they did not protest, did they?”. The general title will thus be: Venezuela's future: constitutional proposals to come

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Constitutional proposal to come: restrictions on the freedom of the press.

One of the main problems of chavismo is that it has not found a way to effectively muzzle the written press. On the air waves the infamous “RESORTE” law, a.k.a. “gag law” has been effective in shutting down for all practical purpose Venevision and Televen, plus a large numbers of radio stations around the country. Globovision and RCTV are still showing extensive criticism of the government inanities and iniquities, but chavismo now is definitively in control directly or indirectly of a majority of the air waves. In front of the 4 pro Chavez TV broadcast stations, the only and very partisan nation wide radio coverage allowed, uncounted and unaccountable “neighborhood” stations, plus two neutered TV stations accompanied by a majority of neutered provincial TV and Radio stations, what a few dozen independent radio stations and 2 broadcasters can do?

Unfortunately the echo effect hoped for on the written press did not take place. Most papers retain an opposition attitude, from the mild to the drastic but opposition nevertheless. Of course in chavismo mind, even mild opposition is too much, but that is another story. The fact of the matter is that chavismo has been unable to create a mass circulation paper to promote its agenda that people are willing to pay for. The closest it has come to has been to co-opt Panorama and Ultimas Noticias who are “chavista light” and, at least in the case of Ultimas Noticias, smart enough to let significant criticism surface on occasion to retain a large readership.

But of course, in the new man projected for the XXI glorious century of the people, petty papers like EL Universal or EL Nacional cannot be allowed to remain unchecked. Something has to be done. After all many countries have been living for decades without free press and nothing has happened to them (Cuba, Iran, most Middle East countries, China, Burma, most of Africa). In fact, most of the multipolar world of Chavez’ dreams has NO FREE PRESS. Free press seems rather a privilege outside of Europe and the Americas.

I am not sure what the government is planning. But whatever it is it will take some constitutional change. Any law will not find understanding outside as the “gag law” did since, after all, many countries considered democratic do limit what can be said on the air waves. But none limits the free press except for libel and such things. Chavismo wants more than libels law suits, it wants to limit investigative reporting, it want to limit publications of certain things, probably making them “state security concern”, or some lame excuse of the sort, it wants to limit its exposure to the press, period. Today, for the first time in years Chavez held a press conference with a significant participation of the local press (even if he ignored it or lectured it). After all it is election year and he feels obliged, if anything for international scrutiny, to pretend to hold press conferences. But he is ill at ease there and it is certainly a burden he would gladly get rid of.

That a plan to limit freedom of the press is in the works, I have no doubt. Even more after this week visit of the SIP (IAPA in English). The SIP has been having a lot of trouble with Venezuela, constantly warning about abuses from the government. But it seems that we are reaching confrontation time as the revolution advances. The last incident started a couple of months ago when in the last SIP conference a delegation from the Chavez administration went to Quito to invite, that is right, to invite a SIP delegation to Venezuela and verify that the press is free as a bird.

Well, the SIP came this week and it WAS NOT RECEIVED by the government. “no time” was the lamest of excuses offered. Even the Mayor of Caroni, at the center of a crass move to try to close the "Correo del Caroni" (in English here), the venerable Bolivar State newspaper, refused to receive the SIP to explain why he was taking actions against the newspaper.

Now, this is bad enough as it is, but it was made worse by the Minister of Communication, the more and more goebbelian William Lara. He actually had the gall to declare from the Chavez party, MVR, press room, as a minister of "all Venezuelans", that the SIP was not the "Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa" but the "Sociedad Interamericana de Explotadores de Periodistas" (the journalist exploiter press association, reported in unparalleled crudeness by Aporrea, with an irrelevant picture of Carmona to drive the psychotic point). Needles to say that after such treatment the SIP was not impressed and emitted a rather dark statements (in English here). In short, the SIP/IAPA is very clear as to the Venezuelan regime taking all sorts of actions to limit, restrict, block freedom of expression in the Venezuelan press.

It is interesting to note that if the SIP visit was largely covered by the press, except Aporrea no state agency covered it. There was just this communiqué by the Communication ministry (at lest at this typing time, no RNV, no ABN, no MINCI). It is interesting to note that Lara even dared to wish for an "objective" report from the SIP when he refused to meet with them, he made sure none of his accomplices met with the SIP commission, but still found time to declare and trash the SIP. How can the SIP be objective if they cannot talk to all parties? How can one not suspect that there is a long term strategy at work? Is the goal sought to break up completely with the SIP so as to block them entry to Venezuela whenever the government decides to muzzle the press once and for all? If that is not the real intention of the government, well, then they are hiding it really well.

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