Quico says: One of the most striking aspects of the RCTV Shut-Down episode has been the scale of the rhetorical U-Turn involved. These days, with regime apologists arguing that there is no link between shutting down a dissident TV network and freedom of speech, it’s easy to forget that, over the years, it’s chavistas who have made that link most forcefully. In fact, Chávez supporters used to positively brag about how they had never shut down an opposition media outlet, and consistently cited that fact when presenting their democratic bona fides.
So join me, gentle reader, on a stroll down Memory Lane, a tour of what some prominent chavistas have had to say on this issue:
Let’s start with Heinz Dieterich – Chávez’s favorite theorist. Watch him gloat over the regime’s record in this regard in an interview on June 24th, 2001:
“There isn’t a single persecuted journalist, not one media outlet has been shut down, there is not one political prisoner in the country. It would be hard to find another government in Latin America that has allowed so much press freedom.”
We heard this kind of line all the time. Take Ultimas Noticias editor Eleazar Díaz Rangel. Invited to give the keynote address to the National Assembly on January 23rd, 2002, he spends much of his speech setting out in detail the pre-Chávez era’s sordid practice of intimidating opposition news outlets through temporary shutdowns and sporadic arrests. He then pivots and contrasts that history with Chávez’s proud record of restraint:
“No one can show, here or abroad, an instance of a single news item or a single article that hasn’t been published as a consequence of the government’s actions. There hasn’t been a single imprisoned or jailed journalist, a single suspended or closed media outlet.”
On April 5th, 2003, then Defense Minister José Vicente Rangel joined Dieterich in marching down that well-trod rhetorical alley. How can you tell that Chavismo is more democratic than the old regime? According to JVR, in part it’s because they used to shut down critical media outlets, but we’ve never done anything like that:
“In Venezuela, in the real country, there isn’t a single political prisoner, a single media outlet censored or banned, a single prosecuted journalist, a single desaparecido or torture victim. However, in the 40 years of the democracy that came before, all of that happened.”
A few months earlier, Rangel had followed up virtually the same line with:
“Rest assured that Venezuela, under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, will not step off the path of democracy, shall never exit the path of the constitution.”
It was JVR who most consistently made this link, implying time and again that moves to shut down opposition media as anathema to a democratic regime.
Want more? Luis Britto Gracía, writing in July 2003, takes evident pride in the democratic tolerance the revolution has shown to the coup-plotting news outlets, hinting that Chávez is such a democrat that his tolerance has virtually been excessive:
“In effect, after three years of trying to invoke a coup through the media, the state hasn’t shut down or sanctioned a single media outlet, hasn’t arrested a single journalist, censored a single news item, suspended a single constitutional guarantee or established a single minute’s state of emergency. It’s been an exemplary and almost unprecedented respect for the media…”
Variations on this riff, always built around that rhythmic, sing-song “ni un X, ni un Y, ni un Z,” always designed to call attention to various instances of tolerant restraint, became boilerplate for chavistas who wanted to highlight their democratic legitimacy.
We heard them even from fairly obscure chavista pols, like National Assembly member William Querales, who went on the floor of the AN on October 7th, 2004 and said:
“I’m not ashamed to say that President Chávez is the only President in the history of Venezuelan democracy who hasn’t shut down a single broadcaster, a single radio station, a single newspaper.”
He followed it up by contrasting Chávez’s record with the media intimidation tactics of the “false democracies” that came before. By 2004, even Miranda state legislators were using it.
In fact, the riff became so firmly entrenched in the revolutionary rhetorical arsenal that some high officials continued to use it even after Chávez had announced he would shut down RCTV! Here’s Vice-president Jorge Rodríguez on January 8th, 2007, during his swearing-in ceremony.
“If there’s one thing this government has stood for is individual liberties, civil rights and especially freedom of speech. The only media outlet that has been shut down in the last eight years was Venezolana de Televisión, on the tragic night of April 11th.”
And here’s Human Rights Ombudsman Germán Mundaraín in an interview he gave even later, on January 30th of this year:
“We’ve seen a significant change, especially concerning freedom of speech. Never has a media outlet been shut down, except when there was a coup and the coupsters did it.”
So, up until a few months ago, chavismo’s position was clear: shutting down media outlets that criticize you is something only golpistas do.
In the last couple of months, though, the line has been not so much scrubbed from official rhetoric as reversed outright. This week VIO, Chávez’s lobbying outfit in DC, sent out a “Press Advisory” that contends that:
“RCTV is Venezuela’s oldest private broadcaster, but also the nation’s most often cited for legal infractions. Previous offenses committed under other presidential administrations have led to repeated closures and fines for RCTV.”
It’s staggering. The same pre-Chavez measures that used to be cited to draw a contrast between Chávez’s tolerance and past governments’ intolerance are suddenly flipped on their head, reinterpreted and redeployed as a justification for Chávez’s move. What can you even say?
Turns out Venezuela has always been at war with Eastasia.