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Andres Izarra: the first major casualty of Telesur

By Gustavo Coronel

July 29, 2005 | It was only hours ago that Telesur went on the air for the first time and it has already claimed its first major victim: the Minister of Information Andrés Izarra. Officially, the reason for Izarra's departure from the Ministry sounds good: the need to separate the government from direct control over the TV channel. Izarra's role would now be restricted to managing the channel. The unofficial reason is the dissatisfaction of Chávez with Izarra as a Minister due to his colorless performance. A few weeks ago Izarra kept saying publicly that Castro would not be visiting Venezuela, even when Castro was already on Venezuelan soil. The inauguration of Telesur was a rather chaotic, sad affair, to the point that Chávez was so displeased that he probably used the launching of the channel as an excuse to get rid of Izarra as Minister.

But, let us assume that the official explanation is correct, that Izarra resigned as Minister to dedicate himself exclusively to managing Telesur. I have to say that this not only a cynical move but a move that is both too little and too late to show a real concern for elegance and ethics within the regime. Izarra says, in explaining his resignation that, in this way, the regime "does not maintain a direct influence over the channel and we can guarantee a certain degree of independence" ("Izarra garantiza 'cierta independencia' en Telesur," El Universal, July 28, 2005). To maintain a "certain degree" of independence, as Izarra puts it, is far from what journalistic ethics would require. The argument generally utilized by the Chávez regime to justify its widespread lack of ethics is not satisfactory. They claim that yes, they abuse power or are biased or corrupt, because "the preceding governments also did things this way." By arguing in this fashion they seem to forget that what made Chávez a winner in 1998 was, precisely, the desire of the population to have honesty and transparency in government, not more of the same.

When we examine Izarra's claim of having resigned as Minister in order to lend impartiality to Telesur, we have to remember that, if the government really wanted to behave in this manner as a matter of policy, Isaías Rodríguez would not be Attorney General or Rafael Ramírez would not be the President of Petróleos de Venezuela or Hugo Chávez would have never been the president of the political party MVR in parallel with his being the President of the country.

In the case of Isaías Rodríguez, he was the Vice President of Venezuela for long months until he requested a change. As Vice President he was Chávez's alter ego, the person who would replace Chávez in case of absence, the person who spoke the same words of the president. This was his job. Suddenly this man, who was the highest representative of the Executive power only below Chávez, became Attorney General. In Venezuela the office of the Attorney General is the number one defender of the people against the potential excesses and abuses of the Executive power. Isaías Rodríguez, who had incarnated the Executive power, was suddenly placed in the position of being the main check and balance of this power. Isaías Rodríguez has been Attorney General for almost five years now. Predictably, he has not shifted one millimeter from his loyalty to Chávez. He is still what he was before: a Chávez yes man. In his position as Attorney General he has systematically engaged in the persecution of political dissenters to the Chávez regime.

In the case of Rafael Ramírez, he is both the Minister of Mines & Petroleum and the President of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the State-owned petroleum company. This duality is illegal since, by Venezuelan law, no one can have two government jobs simultaneously. In fact, because of this unresolved duality, all he does in both jobs is, strictly speaking, legally invalid, if the law counted for anything in Venezuela. But beyond being illegal, this duality is immoral. It condemns PDVSA to being a political appendix of the regime instead of being a commercial enterprise, as it is supposed to be according to its bylaws and according to business ethics. In this version of the company the President of Venezuela can call his Minister on the telephone and order him to transfer a few million dollars from PDVSA to other, unspecified uses without any controls or transparency. The impact on PDVSA has been predictable: the company has lost 500,000 barrels per day of production capacity. It is no longer in the ranking of the most important world corporations and has become a third rate company under a corrupt and inept management.

These two cases are examples of the moral fragility of the Chávez regime but they are not the only ones, only the most visible. In an environment where ethics are clearly subordinated to political expediency, it is understandable that we have grown skeptic of moves such as Izarra's resignation representing a genuine attempt at transparency. Under Izarra Telesur will still be a Chávez vehicle for political propaganda. As in the case of Isaías Rodríguez, Izarra cannot shift abruptly from being the spokesperson of Hugo Chávez to criticizing his regime from Telesur, as he is publicly claiming he will do if he finds it necessary. It would be like asking Joseph Goebbels to become the President of the Voice of America or like asking Tokyo Rose to become the anchor for ABC's nightly news.

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