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The systematic destruction of the Rule of Law in Venezuela

By Marcel Granier

Speech by Marcel Granier at the Inter-American Press Society (10-09-05)

1. Exclusion, fear and sectarism

What is the most anti-democratic of everything that is happening in Venezuela is the use of exclusion, fear and military force as government policies to bend citizens to the will of Hugo Chávez.

The President boasts that he is governing only for one group of Venezuelans, from whom he demands absolute and unconditional support in exchange for the pittances and small privileges he grants them.

He is not the president of all Venezuelans, but rather only of those who follow him unconditionally. Those who do not agree with him can either leave the country and their assets and ideals, or else they will have to bear the brunt of the anger, violence, insults and police and judicial persecution of the autocrat himself and his minions. To put it in his own words, “He who is not with me, is against me,” or “If you don’t want to cooperate, we will take away everything from you.” The infamous “Tascón List” and the “Maisanta List” are just two of the many instruments the regime uses to identify, discriminate against and persecute those who will not bow to the regime’s will.

This explains the violence and impunity with which military, para-military, police and para-police groups, all supporters of the regime, violate human rights and participate in drug and human trafficking.

2. Concentration of power, militarism and eradication of pluralism

The concentration of power in the hands of the President of the Republic and the total control he exerts over institutions (including the legislative and judicial branches, electoral power, as well as the Supreme Court of Justice and monitoring entities, the Armed Forces, the Public and Intellectual Property Registry offices, and the Central Bank) are inconceivable in a democratic society, and even less under the aegis of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The Venezuelan Armed Forces have become a political party at the service of Hugo Chávez and are not answerable to civil authority. In the words of the President himself: “we will send the Army against those who don’t want to negotiate.” Concomitantly, armed militias, indoctrinated by the regime, are being created.

Opposition political parties cannot obtain financing from the State or from foreign parties or organizations. If they try to collect funds among Venezuelans, those people will suffer retaliations and economic, fiscal, administrative and criminal sanctions, besides becoming targets for public and uncontrolled insults and defamations by the President of the Republic. Pluralism is being eradicated from public debate in Venezuela.

3. The monopoly of political propaganda

Meanwhile, the President takes to the air waves almost on a daily basis forcing (this is mandatory) all radio and television stations in the country to transmit, without prior notice, simultaneously and without any time limit, his speeches and harangues, during prime time (almost always selecting the hours set aside for news and opinion programs). He uses this time to rant about political or personal topics, without allowing those he attacks the right to reply, and without letting the political opposition have equal access to the media.

There is no electoral balance in Venezuela. So far this year the President has “commandeer” the approximately 1400 national, regional and local radio and television stations on 171 occasions for an average duration of 27 minutes each time he wants to address the nation. In addition, he has aired 26 programs of his “Aló Presidente” (Hello, Mr. President) each such program lasting approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes, and has ordered them to be repeated or summarized 35 times, each such summation lasting 1 hour and 30 minutes. As if this were not enough, he has made use of 2,800 minutes for propaganda favoring his regime, which has been transmitted by each of the 1,400 stations in the country. In this same period of time the political opposition has only been allowed to transmit 30 seconds per day, for less than a month, and only on 66 of the 1,400 stations operating in the country. In short, while the president has made use of 20.944.000 minutes, the democratic opposition has been allowed to use only 825 minutes.

4. Rise in crime and impunity

During the term of this regime, more than 50,000 homicides have been committed with the utmost impunity; more than 6,000 persons have been “executed,” exterminated or been victims of what the regime calls a “settling of accounts” with the participation of officials or under their protection. Human rights of the prisoners in Venezuelan jails are consistently violated. Each day a prisoner dies in our jails. Nothing is investigated if it might affect to good “image” of the government; thus, the rampant impunity that prevails.

Poverty, malnutrition and unemployment have increased alarmingly with the concomitant deterioration in the quality of life and life expectancy of our people, as well as in the height and weight of Venezuelan children, which, in turn, negatively impacts their opportunities in life. All this is taking place in an era in which the country has had the highest petroleum and fiscal income in its history!

At the same time, drug trafficking and drug consumption have increased so alarmingly that the United States was obliged to “decertify” Venezuela for its lack of cooperation and for the alleged participation of high-ranking Armed Forces officers in those activities. Venezuela is a sanctuary for guerrillas, terrorists and criminals of all types, provided they support the “process.” Many close collaborators of the President have criminal records (kidnapping, homicide, theft, fraud, armed robbery, etc. …)

5. Toward the elimination of independent opinion

As regards freedom of expression, the situation becomes more alarming with each day.

Numerous reporters are being pursued and subjected to illegal trials before military courts. Media offices are searched by the military in order to make photographs and other documents disappear.

All the aggressions against reporters and the media to date remain unpunished. The appeals for Constitutional protection granted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and by the Inter-American Court are continuously and repeatedly ignored or violated by the government. The same happens in the case of the defenders of human rights and the family members of victims of these crimes. A journalist and an editor were assassinated after denouncing the participation of police and ranking officers of the National Guard in drug trafficking. Both cases continue unresolved.

At the same time, codes and laws are modified to penalize free expression and the right to an opinion, and access to public information, which should be made available to all citizens by all democratic countries, is being impeded. A pseudo-juridical order has been created to intimidate reporters and the media and force them to censor themselves, leading to the disappearance of an important number of independent opinion programs. Those that survive do their work under great pressure and are the targets of constant persecution.

6. Attack on the Media

The attack against the economic viability of the communications media has intensified. New taxes are created (four so far this year) that violate express Constitutional provisions. Limits are set for advertising so as to undermine the earnings of the companies. Norms, regulations and provisions are enacted that cause the expenses of the companies to skyrocket, making it increasingly more difficult to operate and seriously affect the media’s capacity to generate income. Added to this economic control is the confiscation of radio and television time by forcing the media to run free official propaganda for up to 70 minutes per week, and to set aside five–and-a-half hours each day (from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) for productions designed and imposed by the government.

As regards programming, the regulations are unintelligible, extremely costly and are constantly changing. Their ambiguity and the discretionality of the political official applying them, as well as the disproportionate and ruinous amount of the penalties such an official can levy, are serious obstacles to the independent exercise of free thought, expression and information.

This is compounded by the discriminatory and arbitrary way in which the State’s advertising budgets are allotted. Newspapers that are “friends” of the regime receive up to 27 pages per day of official propaganda, at a cost of up to US$6,000, each. Friendly television stations receive millions of dollars per year in advertising. Those that try to remain independent, in the best of cases, receive a minimal fraction of such advertising, and many receive nothing.

All these pressure mechanisms and economic and moral attacks against the media are expressly prohibited by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights signed and ratified by Venezuela.

7. The “Chávez” hacienda and its hostages

Venezuela has become the personal “hacienda” of Hugo Chávez where he keeps hostage against its will more than half of the Venezuelan population. Hugo Chávez is not accountable to any institution, and even less to the people, for his immense outlays, gifts and donations, or for the “investments” he makes on a whim. He has had his followers approve laws that allow him to avoid control of his performance, and others that place the Venezuelan Armed Forces and para-military forces he has created under his personal, sole and direct command.

No accusation of government corruption is investigated and most public entities and State-owned companies cannot stand up to an audit.

Corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion and seizure of assets and persons is growing exponentially in this climate of savage pillaging that the President encourages with his violent discourse, and which he blatantly protects for his own benefit, for that of his family and his closest collaborators.

This is accompanied by confiscations of productive factories and lands to hand them over to government entities without due process of law.

This personal and successful model of a dictatorship, half Neo-Fascist and half Neo-Communist is also blatantly being exported to all of Latin America. It is time for the international community to pay more attention to what is happening in Venezuela.

Translated by M.B.



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