Laureano Márquez: “Governments Hate It When You Tell the Truth”

EspañolThis Friday, February 27, the daily edition of Venezuelan newspaper Tal Cual will cease to circulate. From tomorrow, the paper will be distributed weekly and online. Laureano Márquez, a political analyst and humorist, has previously shared his Humor en Serio column with the paper every Friday, calling Venezuelans’ attention to the relevant issues of the day.

Márquez shared with the PanAm Post his take on the changes to print media and recent events in Venezuela. While an outright closure of the newspaper is not on the cards, he says it’s set to see a severe decrease in its size and reach: “almost like freedom in Venezuela, which is declining in the same way.”

In the space of 15 years, some seven separate judicial complaints have been filed by government officials against the paper. The latest was introduced by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello against an opinion article signed by Carlos Genatios, but the case goes after the paper’s entire management.

A previous lawsuit emerged as a result of Márquez himself addressing an open letter to the daughter of late President Hugo Chávez. Many Venezuelans defended the newspaper’s position, helping it to pay the resulting fine: “What’s happening with the newspaper is to do with the process of intimidation of the media, and the hegemony over communications that the government is trying to create.”

“Tal Cual is threatened, harassed, fined; it hasn’t got enough strength to resist such fierce attacks, and for that reason it’s had to reduce the dimensions of its circulation.”

Why was Tal Cual so irritating for the government of former President Chávez, and is now proving the same for that of Nicolás Maduro?

It’s strange that this newspaper, which is small compared to the others, should be one of those that has most annoyed the government, and certain sectors of the opposition as well. Tal Cual has tried to position itself within a critical and reasonable spirit; it’s a paper which has no agreement with any political force in particular, although obviously it’s been opposed to and critical of the current government.

It’s obvious that what Tal Cual says is often exactly on the mark — if it weren’t, it wouldn’t annoy people so much. Governments always hate it when you tell the truth, and even more so when the media are critical. The more authoritarian, arbitrary, and dictatorial a government is, the less it likes the media.

Tal Cual is run by Teodoro Petkoff, and it’s managed with absolute freedom of thought; we write according to our conscience, with no kind of pressure or direction.

As a political analyst, what do you think about the recent events in Venezuela, and particularly the arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma?

I believe that the country is going through an extremely grave crisis, the product of bad policies applied by the government, which it’s refusing to recognize.

The government is seeking someone else to blame for the crisis, which is the result of 15 years of bad government. As a result, it’s opted for rationalization, maximizing its authoritarian element. It’s now persecuting and imprisoning the opposition.

Venezuela has crossed the limits of democratic alarms, the world is watching what’s going on with concern, because it senses that in this country democracy is under serious threat.

With these actions they’re seeking to terrorize the opposition so it doesn’t protest, and also to distract from the situation of the country, disguise what’s going on, under the supposed threat of the North American empire, and a “fascist” opposition allied with the CIA which is seeking to cause a coup d’état.

They’re tales that the government peddles to try to distract us from the genuine problems facing Venezuela: that there’s no food, we have the highest inflation in the world, the worst insecurity on the planet, and other extremely grave issues.

Do you think the government’s latest actions could influence the next parliamentary elections? 

Sometimes I think the government is generating such an unstable political climate to give it an excuse to suspend the elections, because it knows that it will face losses.

The other option is that the government is seeking to disrupt the opposition, and intimidate them so much that they consider abstaining themselves from the elections. I think the government is seeking to provoke the abstention of the opposition, because it knows that the elections are absolutely lost if it takes the normal and regular route.

As a humorist, what’s the most difficult thing that you’ve seen or been through with this government or that of former President Chávez?

We’ve had many moments of difficulty, but the most difficult occur when there are threats of violence, punishments, fines, or prison for you or one of your colleagues.

For those of us who deal in humor, the most difficult thing has been fighting against official censorship and the self-censorship that the media are operating under. Space for freedom of speech is being lost. For example, Rayma [Suprani] now no longer gets published in El Universal; it’s a complicated situation. You can’t do anything else but live through the tough moments in Venezuela.

Right now I’m in an airport: but taking a flight, going to the bathroom, eating an arepa, finding water, and getting medicines is difficult. Everything that ought to be normal, and is around the world, is made difficult in Venezuela.

In a phrase, how would you describe the situation in Venezuela? 

Color de hormiga [“Things are turning the color of the ant”] is a phrase people use a lot in Venezuela when things are really bad.

What I’d like is for us citizens to bear in mind the value of freedom. That toilet paper, that flour, that milk you can’t get in the supermarkets, and what happened with the student that a policeman killed in Táchira — all of this has to do with the concept of “freedom,” which implies living in a country of respect, of institutions, of the rule of law.

What we’re living through is the total absence of rights and of the law. This, in other words, is called dictatorship.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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