Venezuelan journalist addresses his nation’s crisis and challenges to press freedom
May 22, 2017 | By Louise D. Walsh | firstname.lastname@example.org
As Venezuela moves closer to political and economic collapse, the head of Radio Caracas Television told a National Press Club audience on May 18 that his country will very soon need assistance for “food, medicine and public order.”
Marcel Granier, RCTV’s CEO, gave his perspective on the Venezuelan crisis and spoke of the necessary tension between government and the press. He was asked about any parallels to the United States.
“Right now, we have a country with no institutions,” he said. “At any time, the armed forces in Venezuela can collapse.”
Noting the recent deaths of 43 protestors against President Nicolas Maduro and the government’s ongoing attacks on journalists, Granier said that it seems that Venezuela “has now become the most violent society in the world.”
When RCTV was taken off the air in 2007, Garnier founded a cable and satellite company to continue broadcasting. In 2010, the government ordered the cable operator to remove the station.
Eighteen years ago, when Hugo Chavez took power, Granier said that from the beginning the former president had a “project to destroy the republic and to destroy democracy.” To succeed, Chavez needed to move on three fronts: against the country’s press, its political parties, and its army.
Undermining the press, seven journalists were attacked in 2001. By the time their cases went to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, he said, and the Inter-American Court ruled in their favor five years later, 154 journalists had already been attacked. Political parties were Chavez’s second target. Lawmakers were threatened and attacked. The drug trade also drew in government leaders, including the vice president and sons of Maduro. On the third front, the army, Chavez would corrupt it through promotions, drugs and FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Paramilitary groups were also promoted and funded at the same time.
On the same day of Granier’s press conference, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control froze the assets of eight members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court including its chief magistrate. It was the second sanction this year against top Venezuelans after the United States froze the assets of that nation’s vice president. The high court was sanctioned after repeatedly overturning laws and effectively dissolving the National Assembly for several days in March. On Wednesday, the U.S. raised the Venezuelan crisis at the United Nations Security Council, asking it to focus more attention on that country, despite objections from Venezuela.
To demonstrate what happened to what was once Latin America’s richest economy, Granier said that inflation in Venezuela rose from 700 percent last year to more than 2000 percent this year: “There’s more scarcity now than last year and much more than five years ago.”
As for freedom of the press, Granier noted that newspapers today, including the most popular and oldest newspaper in Venezuela, are sold but no one knows who the new owners are. The role of the press, he said, is always going to be difficult: “It’s not our job to be pleasant to presidents.” He said that the internet in Venezuela is restricted and tweeters have been jailed for their tweets. The government controls bandwidth, he said, and can order people to be removed from it.
What about Cuba’s influence on Venezuela, he was asked. He did express some concern about armed help from Cuba: “All public records are controlled by the Cubans.”
Queried about what Venezuelans know about what was happening in their country, he said very little information is available and most is distorted. Self-censorship is rampant but some media do not self-censor, he said. Government data is either unreliable or unavailable: “We have 10 different figures for inflation.” When asked what would bring Venezuela back to its earlier greatness, he answered with one word: “freedom.”
Do parallels exist between Venezuela and the United States, and if so should the U.S. be worried? Yes, he replied, citing a reporter’s earlier remark about President Donald Trump calling he press “the enemy of the people.” Democracy cannot survive, he said, without trust in its leaders and institutions.
When asked if he was scared for himself, he said, of course, but: “I prefer to be afraid in Venezuela than ashamed in Venezuela.” Questioned about what help Venezuela needs, Granier replied: “We don’t need Marines. We need voices calling for freedom and respect for human rights.”