VTV’s Darkest Day

Today, the state’s main TV station, VTV, will celebrate a 25-year-old coup with epic narrative. Tragic, considering how the insurgents painted those walls with innocent blood.

As many other Venezuelans at the time, I woke up early on November 27th, 1992. I was ten. The family gathered around the TV and watched a taped message on loop from an incarcerated Hugo Chávez, leader of the February coup, calling for open insurrection against president Carlos Andrés Perez.

They took over VTV, the only functional state television channel (Televisora Nacional stopped broadcasting around 1991) and the Mecedores Tower, the main source of its signal. It was an attack led by Jesse Chacon, who went on to be a Chávez minister and now serves as Venezuelan ambassador to Austria.

When Chávez launched his coup earlier in the year, the insurgents didn’t take any of the media outlets. That became a big advantage to Pérez, who addressed the nation live from Venevisión. He had the upper hand by being on the media and it helped him regain control.

Learning of this tactical mistake, those behind the 27-N coup were partially successful in interrupting the flow of information; there was another broadcasting antenna at El Cuño (used by Televen) and, along with pay-TV channel Omnivision, Venezuelans were able to get news coverage and president Pérez did it again.

The assault of VTV was brutal, leaving nine people dead and plenty of damage, both in the station and around Los Ruices neighborhood. The channel was relaunching its image, which was supposed to be followed by a larger reorganization into more efficient broadcasters. It all died that day.

The state’s “communicational hegemony” has tried over the years to reshape the events and fit them into its ideological narrative, and what happened inside the channel isn’t safe from historical revision. Here’s how “La Hojilla” discussed the assault five years ago:

Watching the media coverage of the coups and the Caracazo (which Caracas Chronicles included in both specials about the events), you can see a stark contrast in how news were handled during critical moments. Compare it, for example, to how traditional media covered the round of protests this year (or, to be more accurate, how it didn’t). If you relied on radio or TV, you hardly noticed. Instead, new digital tools and outlets show what the hegemony tries to hide.

And now, thanks to a certain “legislation”, the spirit behind that November massacre might be finally satisfied.

Special thanks to Venezuelan journalist Manuel Felipe Sierra, VTV president at the time, for providing useful information for this article.