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Venezuela: going the way of Cuba?
Posted by: mcq on Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cuba's Castro is one of Hugo Chavez's heros. And the more you read about Venezuela, the more you recognize the emerging parallels. For instance:
During my visit in 2005, there were disturbing signs that a once free and vibrant press was coming under increasing pressure to either censor themselves or face harassment.

The source of the problem is a series of government laws passed in 2004 and 2005. One, often found in countries with dictatorial regimes, expanded desacato, or disrespect provisions, criminalizing expressions considered "offensive" to public officials and state institutions and drastically increased penalties for libel and slander.

Another requires journalists to have "a degree from a government-accredited institution."

The third, put into effect Dec. 7, 2004, is the "Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television Broadcasting, known as "Ley Resorte" or "Rebound Law."
As Blanquita Cullum notes, these sorts of laws are typical in countries with dictatorial regimes. Cloaked in innocent sounding terms like "respect" the government criminalizes expression and arbitrarily defines it in a case-by-case basis whenever it thinks its power is being questioned or threatened.

Of course the second law gives complete control to the government to decide who is or isn't allowed to become a "journalist". Anyone who doesn't think there is a litmus test involved in receiving a 'degree' lives in a fantasy world. The entire purpose of the law is to ensure government friendly "journalists" receive accreditation while others who fail the test don't. And it also becomes a convenient way to control existing journalists who might think about bucking the regime (and don't have "degrees").

The last law is interesting as well:
The practical effect of these laws was brought home to me during my visit in 2005 to GLOBOVISION, an all-news channel. The station was covering a "breaking news" story of two soldiers who burned to death in their cells when suddenly the screen went black. It seems continuing coverage would violate a provision preventing continuing coverage of a "report on violence." The government claimed the soldiers died from smoking in bed, though relatives insisted they were nonsmokers.

After an earlier similar incident, a medical examiner told the media those soldiers were killed by a blowtorch. He is now serving a five-year prison sentence for violating one of the new restrictive laws (Ley Resorte).
When government can arbitrarily define nebulous laws on the fly in order to justify whatever it deems necessary to retain its power, you're not living in a free society. News coming out of Venezuela continues to point to further erosions of freedom and liberty as Chavez uses his puppet legislature to consolidate his power and to make himself "democratically" invulnerable.
Crackdowns on a free press have often been the proverbial canary in the coal mine, foretelling reductions in political freedom to come. Let us hope for the people of Venezuela that will not be the case under the Chavez regime.
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Check out the parallels at Prensa Latina
Written By: Joe

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