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Venezuela: The Opposition Is Not Allowed a Voice

By: Trino Márquez - Aug 18, 2013, 10:59 pm

A Paranoid Government

The weakness of his government has unleashed in Nicolas Maduro a paranoia intrinsic in leaders whose support base is fragile and who depend on borrowed or unearned legitimacy. The president therefore inevitably sees conspiracies and assassination plots everywhere. This political tool, so widely used in authoritarian systems, did not go beyond a crazed and folkloric episode when employed by the late head of state Hugo Chavez. Yet used by his successor, the trick reveals the enormous fragility of a ruler vested with a usurped legality.

Public and Private Media Networks

In the brief period since he was sworn in as the constitutionally approved president before the ruling party majority of the National Assembly, businessmen linked to the regime have bought-out two important outlets of communication. One television channel: Globovisión, and one print publication publisher: La Cadena Capriles. Yet despite close ties with the government, neither of these two powerful outlets has made a significant change in its editorial and informational lines. They have shied away from alienating the core audience that they worked for so many years to maintain.

Even as many important journalists have left Globovisión, such as “Kiko” Bautista, Carla Angola, Roland Carreño, Pedro Flores, Ana Karina Villalba and Nitu Pérez Osuna, the television channel continues to broadcast its emblematic program Aló, ciudadano and one that is clearly in favor of the opposition, Grado 33, known also for its anchors Roberto Giusti and Norberto Mazza. The early morning programming has remained untouched. Journalist Vladimir Villegas, who publicly displayed his support for Henrique Capriles in the two previous presidential campaigns, has also recently been added to the midday line up.

The station has reduced confrontations with the government by becoming a more neutral space. This shift is not welcome to the radicals in the opposition camp who prefer a more combative and upfront approach. But if Globovisión maintains this neutral line, it could continue being the station that exercises critical journalism, embarks on penetrating investigations, and carries out daring interviews without falling into fanaticism or unconditional commitments.

It is precisely this tone of neutrality that Maduro dislikes and the reason he has accused the channel of  “continuing to conspire.” The critical practice of journalism and the transmission of information that reveals the sad and cruel realities are not to an authoritarian leaders’ linking, particularly if they are convinced that their political and social support base is precarious. This type of ruler needs to maintain control of all the means of communication and information—it is not sufficient to neutralize, reduce the critical tone, or temper them—he is looking for subjugation. The aim is to transform them into propaganda arms of their governments. A communicational hegemony therefore consists of domesticating the outlets so that no information, investigation, or opinion considered dangerous or simply uncomfortable is broadcast. That essential human right—a conquest of modernity—to a plurality of information, opportune and truthful, is abolished.

The leaders of the red government have reappeared on the Globovisión screens. Vladimir Villegas launched the interview space with Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, a symbol of the hereditary nature of the government and, moreover, one of the most detested characters of the regime. Other important and equally hated figures have also appeared such as Pedro Carreño who, despite his reputation for being corrupt, became an implacable accuser and persecutor of the “crimes” committed by the opposition.

Disregarding and Attacking the Opposition

While this takes place in Globovisión, a private channel, Venezolana de Televisón (VTV)—financed with public funds extracted from the Treasury, which receives its own funds from oil and taxes paid by Venezuelan citizens—continues to be inscrutable to the opposition, notwithstanding the fact that in the worst case scenario, they represent fifty percent of the country. VTV does not even concede one millimeter of its coverage so that leaders, sympathizers, or supporters of the opposition party can express their opinions or develop their arguments as to why they do not back the government project. Neither does the station accept the smallest dissidence within government party lines. The renowned journalist Alberto Nolia, for example, who led the program Los Cuadernos de Mandinga, a symbol of the degradation and aggression of the regimen, was fired for daring to criticize Nicolas Maduro’s civilian security policy. There is zero tolerance to both the opposition and in-party dissidence. Half (and then some) of Venezuelan citizens who think differently to the governing elite were made invisible by VTV, following an order from the executive.

In VTV, as in the entire National System of Public Media, Henrique Capriles, the coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), and the opposition only exist to be slandered, degraded, and threatened. No form of recognition or acceptance is allowed. The prevalent routine is to lead them to the scaffold to be beheaded. This paranoid obsession constitutes a sign of weakness, not strength. The regimen cannot compete with the opposition in balanced conditions—it needs to abuse in order to reassert its precarious power.

The violent hegemonic acts against the law have not succeeded for Maduro to gain the favor of the majority. The people continue to support democracy.

Trino Márquez Trino Márquez

Doctor of social science, professor at the Central University of Venezuela, and academic director of Cedice-Libertad. Follow him on Twitter @trinomarquezc.