Chavez’s latest move may be the beginning of the end for him (update) Posted by: McQ
on Friday, June 01, 2007
The New York Times carries an interesting analysis of Hugo Chavez's latest move to consolidate his dictatorial powers in Venezuela. One can't help but think he may have jumped the shark by shutting down RCTV, Venezuela's most powerful and popular television station. It seems to have opened a lot of eyes both within and outside the country. It is a also a case study in the subversion of a democracy, paranoia and manipulation. Chavez knows full well that in order to exercise dictatorial control, he must control the press. But his move to control the press has been both clumsy and arrogant. And a large number of Venezuelans are neither pleased or impressed.
His reaction to their displeasure has also been rather crude and obvious:
“Sound the alarm in the hills, slums and towns to defend our revolution from this new fascist attack,” President Hugo Chávez said in a nationally televised speech this week as his government was under siege by student protests over his decision to take a dissident television network off the air. “We are waiting for you.”
With such chilling threats of retribution, Mr. Chávez seems prepared to harden his treatment of both the protesters and any media organizations that oppose him, even as the demonstrations ebbed somewhat on Thursday.
Analysts say such statements reflect a savvy reading of Venezuela’s polarized politics that has enabled him to withstand acute challenges to his government, like the general strike that paralyzed the economy in 2002. Protests then were larger, and a plunge in oil exports wreaked economic havoc, but Mr. Chávez emerged stronger than before.
“Chávez cannot appear to be weak among his own people, or to be another Allende,” said Steve Ellner, a political scientist at Oriente University in eastern Venezuela, referring to Salvador Allende, the Chilean socialist toppled in a 1973 coup.
The obvious point here is Chavez is sounding and acting more and more like a strongman in the mold of every other banana-republic, tin-pot dictator Latin America has ever seen. While he couches his words in inclusive socialist terms, in reality he is, as pointed out above, pitting one pole against another in his country. It is pure class warfare with promises to the deprived class that he is their champion. That's how he holds their loyalty and that along with his consolidated power, is how he maintains his control.
But, give this obvious and arrogant move at silencing opposition and taking control of the press, how long will Venezuela put up with the destruction of their liberties?
As an indication of the effect of closing RCTV, the NYT offers the following:
Opponents say the decision is evidence that Mr. Chávez’s definition of the enemy has been enlarged to include news media outlets that are critical of his government. Otherwise, say detractors like Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of the small opposition newspaper Tal Cual, Mr. Chávez would have also decided not to renew the licenses of Venevisión and Televen, networks whose coverage similarly supported the 48-hour coup in 2002. Those networks have become far less critical of Mr. Chávez, while RCTV has maintained its criticism.
Indeed, watching television here this week has become a lesson in how Mr. Chávez is extending his control beyond political institutions to include the broadcast media. It is a marked shift from the early years of his presidency, when he faced vitriolic criticism from most news organizations, which were owned by the country’s moneyed elite.
With Chávez loyalists controlling the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the federal bureaucracy, and with RCTV off the air, coverage of the protests by every television broadcaster except a small cable news network, Globovisión, fell into ideological step with the coverage by Mr. Chávez’s expanding state-controlled broadcasting interests.
Venevisión, the largest private television network, showed soap operas during many of the protests, largely ignoring them. And Venezolana de Televisión, or VTV, the main government network, paid relatively little attention to the protests, instead interviewing government officials and pro-Chávez student groups at smaller counterprotests.
Mr. Chávez also urged legal action against Globovisión this week, the only remaining network that is explicitly critical of him. Relying on analysis by semioticians of video broadcast in recent weeks by Globovisión of the shooting of Pope John Paul II in 1981, Mr. Chávez said the images were an attempt to incite an assassination attempt against him.
“Yesterday’s news,” Mr. Petkoff, the editor of Tal Cual, wrote in an editorial on this latest assertion by Mr. Chávez that he is the target of an assassination plot. “A cartoon rerun. Paranoia and manipulation.”
Of course, the salient question is, how brutal is he willing become to silence his critics and quell the protests. My guess, based on the first paragraph of the NYT article is "very", but he'll use proxies to do so if he deems that necessary. According to this report, the number of protesters is less than the previous 3 days, but still thousands are protesting. The other question, of course is what this seemingly very unpopular move by Chavez, a supposed man of the people, will have in spurring more popular opposition against him (or at least cooling the zeal for him among a significant part of the population)? And will this particular move be looked back upon as the tipping point which inevitably led to his eventual loss of power.
We'll watch and report.
UPDATE: Ah technology. RCTV continues to broadcast, at least partially, via YouTube. (HT: Linda Morgan)
CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) — Radio Caracas Television, the station silenced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has found a way to continue its daily broadcasts — on YouTube, the popular video Web site.
Although the station is officially off the air, CNN’s Harris Whitbeck said its news department continues to operate on reduced staffing, and the three daily hour-long installments of the newscast “El Observador” are uploaded onto YouTube by RCTV’s Web department.
In addition, RCTV’s Colombia-based affiliate, Caracol, has agreed to transmit the evening installment of “El Observador” over its international signal. The program, which will run at midnight, could reach about 800,000 people in Venezuela.
Although this is drastically reduced from RCTV’s previous audience, its continued presence is a sign of hope for the staff.
“We’re just doing our job as journalists,” said an employee of RCTV. “As long as somebody is seeing us, we consider what we are doing to be valid.
Of course, the salient question is, how brutal is he willing become to silence his critics and quell the protests. My guess, based on the first paragraph of the NYT article is "very"...
Agreed. He seems not only to have read the Brutal Communist Repression Playbook, but to be bucking for a chapter all his own.
And this quip from a supporter is pretty scary as well:
“They came out because they’re looking for deaths to keep justifying themselves,” Iris Varela, a member of the National Assembly, said of the protesters.
Darn those crazy college kids! They’re going to make us kill them just so they can have something to justify all their whining.
According to this report, the number of protesters is less than the previous 3 days, but still thousands are protesting.
But you have to wonder, though, how accurately anyone can estimate the number of protesters given that major media coverage of their protests has been pretty much shut down. Or rather, for the time being anyway, shifted over to YouTube, according to Hot Air.
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