Is Uruguay on the Path to Venezuelan Totalitarianism?

Venezuelan businessman Marcel Granier spoke in Uruguay about the hardships of life in Venezuela and the importance of free speech.
Venezuelan businessman Marcel Granier spoke in Uruguay about the hardships of life in Venezuela and the importance of free speech. (Oslo Freedom Forum)

Español“People are sick of insecurity, shortages, inflation, and corruption,” said Marcel Granier, head of the Venezuela-based Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), during his visit to Uruguay on October 22. Garnier came to Uruguay on the invitation of the magazine Búsqueda with the objective of sharing what life is currently like in Venezuela.

The businessman eloquently described the country’s present-day reality: people are no longer protesting in the streets, or complaining about the long lines to buy food, he says, “because a feeling of suspicion and fear prevails.” Openly criticizing President Nicolás Maduro or his government could mean being set aside from the queue, and going back home empty-handed, which, in Venezuela, could be tragic.

Granier describes the current Chavista government in Venezuela as quasi-totalitarian. He explains that there is a huge difference between traditional dictatorships and totalitarianism. In the latter, leaders typically aim to control everything and attempt to reform the minds and spirits of the public, such as with Nazism and communism. The same is true of Cuba, where Hugo Chávez received his training, he says.

Granier spoke to an auditorium full of journalism students at ORT University. There was a particularly emotional moment during the event when a young Venezuelan girl asked to speak. She told the audience that her family was forced to emigrate due to the current conditions in her homeland. She said she yearns to return, but knows it’s currently impossible.

She told a story of about the way certain people in Venezuela reacted to her decision to study law: “Why would you want to study that in Venezuela, if there’s no law or independent judiciary anymore?” they told her, she recalled. She had to interrupt her speech several times, because tears prevented her from speaking.

This young girl vividly embodies the underlying consequences of regimes like the one in Venezuela: frustration, pain, estrangement, and the crushing of dreams.

Her mother, who was also in the audience, interjected at one point to clarify much of the disinformation that the Venezuelan government has propagated. She made it clear that the street protests in her country were led by self-organized groups of students.

Her mother also told the crowd that many of those killed during the protests died at the hands of snipers located on the rooftops of nearby buildings. She said the murderers must have been government agents, since the authorities are quick to make sure that civilians stay away from rooftops during protests.

Despite silence from the local media, which is either directly or indirectly under state control, the Venezuelan people are fully aware of what’s going on in their country. That explains the widespread outrage that followed the decision of “Judge” Susana Barreiros to condemn opposition leader Leopoldo López to “13 years, nine months, seven days, and 12 hours” in prison for allegedly provoking riots during the student protests in early 2014.

One journalism student at the conference asked Granier how a country could stoop so low as to have citizens lose all their rights. He replied by explaining that it was a gradual process, and advised Uruguayans to protect their republican institutions, particularly free speech and checks and balances.

He emphasized that a republic allows for constant vigilance on those in government, and that’s why Chávez’s first move as president was to reform the Constitution, so he could “legally” suppress free speech and control the judiciary.

Granier’s remarks fit perfectly with the times in Uruguay. During his tenure, former President José Mujica (2010-2015) repeatedly clashed with the Supreme Court after they struck down several of his legislative proposals as unconstitutional. Mujica never hid his discomfort, straining the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.

For example, the court is currently hearing over 19 cases challenging the constitutionality of some 60 articles in the Media Law. Meanwhile, Congress is debating the budget sent by President Tabaré Vázquez, who belongs to the same party of Mujica.

The budget bill caused surprise and raised concerns among Supreme Court justices, because “not only does it not include any of the proposals from the judiciary, it does not even mention it.” Chief Justice Jorge Chediak called it a “strong signal” from the executive, and said that President Vázquez’s decision to ignore their initiatives is “unusual.”

Chediak has warned that the judiciary is facing difficulties due to a lack of funds, as it did during the Mujica administration, and has called the situation is “bad for democracy.” He says Congress has completely ignored their requests to improve court services for the public that were made during congressional hearings.

The judge also notes that the task of the Supreme Court to protect the Constitution “includes the possibility that one of the other branches will not like its decisions.” However, he says that “democracies have leaned that this is the normal operation of the system.”

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“We all have to defend the branches of government. Uruguayan democracy is one, and it depends on the proper operation of the three branches,” Chediak said, echoing Granier’s words.

Thanks to the free press in Uruguay, the public is able to become aware of these threats to an independent judiciary and free speech.

If you would like to see what happens when you restrict those rights, just look at what’s going on in Venezuela.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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