Venezuela’s counter-revolution won’t be televised… but it will be on YouTube
BY Nate Anderson / June 01, 2007
When YouTube CEO Chad Hurley told a Congressional committee that his company “advances democracy,” perhaps this was the sort of thing he had in mind. An opposition Venezuelan television station whose broadcast license has not been renewed by the government is now turning to YouTube to get its message out after its transmitter was taken over by a state-run channel. Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has no time for media groups that criticize his government; Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) is now off the air, and another channel, Globovision, could be next, according to CNN.
RCTV journalists and producers have not been arrested or stopped from working, but their main link to the public has been removed. Rather than giving up, the station has turned to YouTube, where it now has its own channel for the show El Observador. A Colombian channel is also broadcasting RCTV content into Venezuela. El Observador clips have been seen 175,000 times since May 28, and the channel is currently the most-subscribed channel of the week. While putting the station’s shows on YouTube is an excellent idea, YouTube still lacks anything near the reach of over-the-air broadcasts. But the use of the site to avoid censorship is growing, and it’s not hard to imagine a day in the near future when the site (or sites like it) becomes as essential as local TV stations. As that happens, YouTube will come into even more conflicts with governments that have an interest in controlling what their citizens see, It’s already happening-Thailand’s king, for instance, has a thing for iPods but isn’t too keen on YouTube. Will Hugo Chavez show more tolerance?
Update: Some readers are concerned that Chavez is getting a bad rap here; RCTV has been accused of supported the earlier coup against him and of calling for the overthrow of the current government. It’s a complicated situation, but the fact remains that RCTV was a main opposition outlet and that its replacement is a state-run channel. Given Chavez’s long history of attacks on the press and his current ability to rule by decree, he doesn’t look like a man interested in a robust and critical press, though he has not instituted mass arrests or official censorship of journalists. Chavez’s concern for government stability and threats against the state are a recent development, too; Chavez participated in a coup attempt of his own back in 1992.
“Article 147: “Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the President of the Republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of 6 to 30 months if the offense is serious and half of that if it is light.” That sanction, the code implies, applies to those who “disrespect” the president or his functionaries in private; “the term will be increased by a third if the offense is made publicly.”
There’s more: Article 444 says that comments that “expose another person to contempt or public hatred” can bring a prison sentence of one to three years; Article 297a says that someone who “causes public panic or anxiety” with inaccurate reports can receive five years. Prosecutors are authorized to track down allegedly criminal inaccuracies not only in newspapers and electronic media, but also in e-mail and telephone communications.
The new code reserves the toughest sanctions for journalists or others who receive foreign funding, such as the election monitoring group Sumate, which has been funded in part by the National Endowment for Democracy. Venezuelans or foreigners living in the country can be punished with a 10- to 15-year sentence for receiving foreign support that “can prejudice the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela . . . or destabilize the social order,” whatever that means. Persons accused of conspiring against the government with a foreign country can get 20 to 30 years in prison. The new code specifies that anyone charged with these crimes will not be entitled to legal due process. In other words, should Izarra determine that my Caracas-based colleagues continue to collude with the State Department against Venezuela, they could be summarily jailed.
Chavez and his propaganda apparatus don’t feel compelled to live by their own rules. The president has directed crude epithets at President Bush and even more vulgar sexual innuendo at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund Americans in the United States who write articles and letters glorifying Chavez and attacking the Bush administration.”
CHAVEZ HAS A SHOW EVERY SUNDAY CALLED “ALO PRESIDENTE”
THAT GOES FOR HOURS AND HOURS
SOMETIMES HE SINGS SONGS HE WROTE
‘MR. DANGER’ IS A REFERENCE TO A COLONIALIST CHARACTER
IN AN OLD VENEZUELAN BOOK (WRITTEN BY A FORMER PRESIDENT)
WHO TREATED THE NATIVES THE SAME AS THE FARM ANIMALS
Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy
By Rodrigo Arcaya / May 31st, 2007
Hugo Chavez was once Venezuela’s media darling. The love affair has taken increasingly bad turns. Now, he is the media.
As the world now knows, Chavez shut down Venezuela’s respected 53-year-old TV station RCTV, accusing it of “subversive activities.” Out in the streets of Caracas, and in many other cities, people have been taking to the street – particularly the high school and college students. This has caused incredible traffic jams here in Caracas, as the most common form of protest is to close the streets, leaving only one lane for the cars. Many of the drivers that have been trapped in these traffic jams show their support for the dissenters by keeping their emergency lights on, shouting slogans against the government and even stopping their own cars on the only open lane.
But why are people here so upset? Because Chavez is clearly making a play to control the national TV media as a mouthpiece for his government. He is doing this using a little-known law that resembles the U.S.’s Emergency Broadcast System. Some background on the relationship between Chavez and the Venezuelan TV media is needed. In Venezuela, we have four TV channels that have national coverage, and about twelve local ones. Of the four national channels, we have RCTV (whose license was just revoked), Venevision and Televen, which are privately owned, and VTV, which is owned by the government. At the local level, the most important is Globovision (which Chavez is threatening), a 24 hour news channel. It has coverage in all major cities (it’s pretty spotty in rural areas). It’s also worth mentioning the Asamblea Nacional channel (think C-Span, owned by the government), and TeleSur, a 24 hour news channel that is co-owned by the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries. We don’t really have many local cable channels. Most cable channels are Spanish language versions of U.S. networks (FOX – the entertainment channel, and MTV. We also get the U.S. versions of Fox News and CNN in English) or channels oriented toward Latin America as a whole.
Venezuela has an odd little law that most international analysts don’t comment on. But the law plays an important role in this narrative. It allows the president to order all TV (including local stations going through cable) and radio station to transmit the same signal that is being transmitted through the government channel. The idea is that the president can have a way to talk to all the country in an emergency. In theory, it is not much different from the U.S. Emergency Broadcast System, but it’s centralized through the presidency. We call it a “chain” – as all the signals are chained to one. However, the idea is not the same as the application, as we will see in a moment.
Hugo Chavez is truly a Media Phenomenon. He entered Venezuela’s collective psyche when he led an unsuccessful coup against Carlos Andres Perez in the year ’92, while he was an active officer in the Venezuelan army. After he was captured, some of his army accomplices did not put down arms, so the government put him on camera to prove that they actually had him in custody. He was shoved in front of live news cameras, and he said, “Comrades, I assume all the blame for the failure of our operation. We have been defeated. For now…” With those words, people fell in love with him. Not only had he assumed responsibility for his failure (an uncommon trait among political leaders everywhere), but even in his defeat, he had the courage to see a future where he would be victorious.
And if the people fell for him, the private TV channels positively swooned. The private TV networks were instrumental in getting the idea out that Chavez and his people were not actually traitors to their oath to protect Venezuela. In fact, they were young idealists who – by following that oath to its last consequence – had to rid Venezuela of its corrupt ruling government. In that climate, Chavez and his co-conspirators were pardoned by then President Caldera. The love affair was not surprising. Since the end of the ’80, most of the private media had turned really critical of the government. Fueled by this media frenzy, Chavez created his party MVR, and against all prognostics, managed to win the ’99 election. For the first two years, the relationship between private media and Chavez can only be described as a honeymoon. The happy marriage started to fray when, after having a new constitution approved, Chavez started to demand “legislative powers.” The idea was that the presidency could draft up new laws and get them approved, bypassing congress. Private media was critical of the move, but Chavez had a convenient way to retaliate. Every time he wanted to tell his side of the story, he just ordered a “chain” and started talking through all the TV and radio channels.
Things quickly became quite surreal. One time, I was driving to work and turned on the radio. The only thing I could hear was a “thump-thump-thump” noise. I flipped to the next station, and the next one, and the next one. “Thump-thump-thump.” Was my radio broken? Had aliens attacked, jamming all the radio waves? I got to my office, turned on the TV, and found that the president had decided to “chain” a live broadcast about the inauguration of the construction of a tunnel where Chavez worked on a hydraulic hammer for about half an hour. “Thump-thump-thump.”
REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED
LLAGUNO BRIDGE: KEYS TO A MASSACRE (PARTS 1-8)
This brings to mind the strangeness of the April 11, 2002 “coup.” I’m not even going to try to explain that Gordian knot of surrealism in this dispatch – but let me introduce a few basic facts. On that morning, quite a few people in Caracas took to the streets (the numbers range from the Government estimate of 20,000 to over a million claimed by the opposition – judge for yourself from this picture or this one.)
This throng of dissenters had decided to march to Miraflores (think the White House) to show the President that they were real. (You see, Chavez’ government had claimed that there were only a few people at previous protest marches. They claimed that the TV channels were using special effects and most of the protesters were actually “virtual
people.”) The crowd on April 11 got a little out of hand. In fact, it was a bit of a riot, but the demonstrators were essentially unarmed. (Venezuela is a bit like Texas, so we have to assume that some folks may have had guns).
Just as the march was approaching Miraflores, Chavez “chained” the broadcast, and started giving a speech. He told the people that the situation, which people had been watching on their TVs, had been calmed. He appealed to the few “misguided people” that were coming to Miraflores to think twice. At the same time, open warfare had come to the streets of Caracas. People on both sides were dying. A group of Chavez supporters that were “guarding” Miraflores opened fire on the march. The police and some people on the march started firing back. Or, maybe the government narrative was correct and the marchers started shooting the government supporters first. Either way, el Presidente was on live TV saying everything was under control while, less than 6 blocks away, people were firing guns at other people.
At this point, all the TV stations came to a decision: They would respect the spirit of the law, and keep the president’s feed, including the audio. But they split the screen, so that people could see what was actually going on at the same time. This is the main reason the government now says that RCTV was behind the coup. You see, if those images hadn’t been broadcast, people would not have started rioting all over the country. Of course, RCTV, Venevision, Televen and Globovision all did this. So why did Chavez single out RCTV? This one is a no brainer: over the last two years, there has been talk about the end of the concession to RCTV, Televen and Venevision. And in these last two years, both Televen and Venevision have been letting go of their hard-hitting journalists. They have stopped reporting things that the government doesn’t like. This self-censorship hasn’t been at all covert. Everybody here knows. It is telling that the ratings of Televen and Venevision have dropped, while RCTV’s ratings climbed to over 40%. It is also telling that cable subscriptions have jumped to 60% in urban areas and is rapidly increasing. The concessions for Televen and Venevision have been renewed for five years. And, as everyone now knows, RCTV – Venezuaela’s first network – stopped broadcasting this Sunday, May 27.
Many naïve, foreign “Chavistas” seem to believe that the government “only” stopped a concession, and that they did not interfere with a private, independent media company. That is false. This is particularly illustrated by what followed. On Thursday, May 24, a group of “concerned citizens” entered a plea with the Supreme Court. They claimed that shutting down the RCTV signal was unconstitutional, because RCTV was the channel with the greatest coverage in the country. The litigants claimed that if their signal was to disappear, a lot of people were going to be left without TV. The intention of this suit was devious. On Friday (less than 24 hours later – it usually takes a year to get a case before the court) the Supreme Court ruled that, in defense of the citizen’s rights, RCTV had to give, without payment of any kind, all their broadcast equipment to the new government channel that was to operate in their old frequency.
So the government has a brand new channel. This is not about a concession. This is about a Government taking control of a private media company. They claim they’re doing this to “increase the free speech in the country.” Here’s the logic: before Sunday, we had two strongly critical networks (RCTV and Globovision, which is local), two uncritical but indifferent networks (Televen and Venevision), and one strong Chavez supporter (VTV). With RCTV out of the picture, the number of strong opposition messages are reduced. According to government spokespeople, these voices are somehow replaced by something they call community messages: “Messages produced by The People, for The People”, as they say. Thus, of course, there will be more free speech. (I’m not making this stuff up. These are actual arguments used by government spokespeople.). Of course, when you realize that one of the principal party slogans of the government is “Chavez is The People,” this message turns even more sinister.
As of today, there are still people who refuse to give up. They are willing to keep the protest going for as long as it takes to bring RCTV back. Meanwhile, a YouTube channel, created by the news crew of RCTV, continues to post news content, including footage of protests that no other TV channel here is showing. It has had more than 71,000 views in just two days – an enormous number when you consider that Internet penetration here is below 15%. As of this writing, it is number two on YouTube’s “Channels” listing for new subscribers. It looks like things will get worse. The President is talking about shutting down Globovision for – and I swear that I’m not making this up – “subliminal association.” His evidence: during a talk show with the head of RCTV last Friday, every time that they cut to commercials they showed a little clip of the most important news events that have been covered by their news department: the first landing on the moon, the return of democracy to Venezuela in 1958, and so on. During one of these segments they showed the Pope’s assassination attempt, while playing Ruben Blades song that says, “Everything comes to an end” as music background. The regime claims that they were subliminally inciting people to kill President Chavez. Yesterday the General Attorney announced that both the General Director of Globovision, and the anchor of the talk show have been summoned to be “interviewed” regarding this “plot”.
Hugo Chavez is a world-class authoritarian. Those of us who are anti-authoritarian and who have seen it up close, tend to know more than those beyond our borders, about what he has done and how he has done it in his almost 8 years of government. It seems that there is a sort of racism underlying some of the sympathies and excuses made by American and European dissidents (who should know better) for the Chavez regime. They imagine that Latin American people are backwards and need an authoritarian government. In fact, most educated Latin Americans are quite accustomed to free speech and basic human rights. We don’t really need the paternalism… but thanks anyway. Of course, this regime is no ordinary Autocracy. If it were, probably most of the people in Venezuela (and in the rest of the world) would have wised up and recognized it as one. What we are living now down here can only be described as a Surreal Autocracy.
Frankly, I’ve kind of enjoyed this government. Its comedic moves have provided daily amusements. If I wasn’t aware of the really terrible consequences of continuing down this road, I’d be trying to prop up this regime and find it an agent in the entertainment industry. If people outside the country really knew what is going on here, they could make an astounding reality show and sell it on pay-per-view. We have members of the Congress who claim they have discovered that the DirectTV set-top boxes have bi-directional communication capabilities and that they had cameras and microphones that transmit, by satellite, to the central headquarters of the CIA. (Actually, I guess some American conspiracy freaks wouldn’t find this claim the least bit nutty.) Then there was the very serious announcement from Chavez about how the government managed to stop a plot to kill the president. You see, they found this bazooka in an empty lot that lies kind of near the flight path of Venezuela’s biggest commercial airport. And – ohmygod! – it’s the very same airport that the presidential plane uses. They also found a picture of Chavez. Aha! This was a plan to hit the presidential plane – the picture of the president was for “obvious identification purposes.” No one was ever arrested for this clever and devious plot. These sorts of things happen here at least on a weekly basis. Indeed, I’ve developed a morbid obsession with the entertainment value of this government. But now, I think it’s time for a new show.
LA LISTA (THE LIST)
Irrefutable Proof of the Existence of Political Prosecution in Venezuela
By Aleksander Boyd / London / 15.09.05
The existence of systematic political prosecution in Venezuela, as established in article 7 of the Rome Statute, has been been argued for some time now. Apologists of Hugo Chavez maintain that it is nonsense, just another cry wolf allegation against the ‘democratically elected’ leader. Many people have complained about the existence of a list, compiled by chavista assemblyman Luis Tascon with a group of collaborators, that is widely utilised by government officials at all institutional levels to deny passports, contracts, IDs, employments, benefits, etc. The creation of said database was ordered by Hugo Chavez himself, who in a memo dated January 30th 2004 and addressed to former National Electoral Council’s director Francisco Carrasquero,
stated: “It is a pleasure to salute you in this opportunity whilst notifying you that I fully authorize Mr. Luis Tascón Gutierréz, ID No 9.239.964, to collect the certified copies of the forms utilized during the 2-A event, which took place between 28/11/03 and 01/12/03, whereby a group of citizens petitioned to activate a Recall Referendum on my mandate, as established in article 72 of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”
Not only did Hugo Chavez order and knew about the existence of the database, the president concludes the memo by asking that his request be given full legal consideration (la presente se hace a los fines legales consiguientes). Thus Tascon put together, with the assistance and leniency of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council’s (CNE) director, this Venezuelan version of McCarthyism that could be consulted by the public from March 2004 on the website of Assemblyman Tascon; a revised version was distributed on July 6th of the same year. Hugo Chavez admitted in live television that the list had fulfilled its purposes -he also praised Jorge Verstrynge’s book 1 hour and 25 min. into his dominical charade of Sunday 10th of April- expressing that civil servants ought to stop using it against those who signed to petition for a recall referendum on his mandate. What is more, the database was a key element of the official effort mounted by Chavez with tax payer’s money to win the recall referendum known as “Misión Florentino”. The software programme that comes with the list is called MaiSanta, probably borrowing its name from Comando Maisanta, which was the chavista political campaign prior to the recall referendum. Also with the package there is a rather long power point presentation geared at electoral officials supportive of Chavez.
Researching a bit about this topic I was able to find, download the list via emule (just search for “lista de tascon”) and install the software in my PC. It contains details of 12.394.109 citizens, that is to say Venezuela’s entire electoral register up until July 6 2004. The images speak for themselves. The questions: what would happen should any of the leaders of the democratic nations of the world be caught ordering the construction of such database? What would happen to the electoral institutions of any European country and its officials should they be caught passing critical information with respect to the political tendencies of the electorate to politicians of a given ruling party?
By pressing “Seleccionar” access to the entire electoral roll of a given voting centre can be gained. At the top of the window ID number, full name, DOB, age, against opposition, opponent, abstention, valid signature, rejected signature, Rivas mision, Vuelvan Caras (another social plan), other missions and address details can be observed. The system has been designed to be capable of showing how many supporters of Hugo Chavez there are per voting centre at a national level. By pressing “Patriotas” a list appears, however in the specific case of polling station number 64350, located in Antonio Diaz municipality of Amacuro state, no voter met whatever criteria was set to determine whether a Venezuelan is patriot or not.