Reunión de Medio Año

Puebla, México

8 al 11 de marzo del 2013

Vice President Nicolás Maduro, accompanied by other officials, at 5:30 p.m. on March 5 announced the death of President Hugo Chávez Frías from the Caracas Military Hospital where the president had been admitted. Chávez died at 4:25 that afternoon. Because of the impact of the announcement Maduro asked the people to express their grief “peacefully and calmly,” assuring them that Chávez’s legacy would remain intact. Crowds in all cities went out into the streets to show their affection, while in Caracas the funeral cortege traveled almost five miles to the funeral chapel of the Caracas Military Academy, where the wake was held. Seven days of mourning were decreed. Several days earlier, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua had announced that Vice President Maduro would assume the Presidency and call elections in 30 days. The announcement created a controversy, due to constitutional rules that indicate that the interim Presidency should be occupied by the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. In the months prior to Chávez’s death, freedom of expression and of the press were greatly harmed during this period due to the secrecy and manipulation of information on the part of the government concerning the Preident’s state of health, which led to a general state of political uncertainty in the country. President Chávez was out of all sight of the public since he left for Cuba on December 9 to undergo surgery. Since then and until his death, he had been unable to finalize his swearing-in for the new term in office that should end in 2019. According to the government the secrecy about the president’s health ¬– including since he returned to the country on February 18 to continue his treatment for cancer at the Military Hospital in Caracas – is based on the argument of personal privacy and the right that every citizen has regarding family privacy. But in any country in the world the health of the president ¬ – especially if he or she is suffering from a sickness of this nature –¬ is a matter of undoubted public interest and legitimate coverage by the press. That is what the government wanted to happen and that is why it wrapped the case in a state of secrecy common in totalitarian regimes. The only authorized source of information was Vice President Maduro and some ministers, who had given information that did not offer medical details. The lack of information generated all kinds of rumors that intensified over social networks. The opposition said that the government’s attitude was due to an extreme manipulation of information. It charged that the truth had not been said, that uncertainty had been generated which stemmed from disinformation, and it criticized that the justice system is manipulated, to the point of preventing the naming of a medical board to examine the president and report the truth. The opposition also said that there are threats to the independent media that attempt to report on the matter or raise doubts about the official reports. It also declares that the excessive propaganda through governmental media seeks to create an atmosphere that “nothing is happening, everything is normal.” The government for its part, through Vice President Maduro and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, among other senior officials, accused the opposition and independent media of torpedoing its objectives, of destabilization, of obstruction of its intent “to make a great socialist fatherland,” and of spoiling society’s peace and tranquility. In addition, it has indicated that such criminal and unlimited intrigue makes use of the world press, giving as an example the publication of a false photograph on the front page of the Spanish newspaper El País, about which it announced on January 24 that it would be taking legal action.The government has always charged that the press “wants to create an institutional crisis, with perverse informational campaigns” regarding the president’s health. And far from admitting any criticism and responsibility for manipulation of information on February 26 Vice President Maduro declared that in the country “there is freedom of expression” and that the diversity of opinions “is respected.” The country has just come out of two exhausting electoral processes, one in which the Venezuelan President was chosen, held on October 7, and a second one in which 22 governors were elected on December 16; it is a process – and polarization – that will continue in July with municipal elections in which 326 mayors will be chosen. The National Journalists Guild (CNP) strongly condemned the pressure that the government is putting on news media that are prone to shut down opinion programs, withdrawal of reporters that are involved in such programs and are asked to “tone down” their editorial stance. The Guild also regretted that media owners give way to pressures aimed at silencing dissident voices. Similarly, the Venezuelan Press Bloc called on the government to end restrictions on the purchase of newsprint. “The conditions for its importation were changed, forcing the media to request a certificate of no national production in order to be able to obtain foreign currency from Cadivi (Administration of Currency Commission), but this certificate from the Industry and Commerce Ministry takes months to obtain, to the detriment of the small provincial newspapers.” Faced with this harsh reality the inland papers go without newsprint, or ink, making their daily distribution difficult. The president of the newspaper El Impulso in Lara state, Carlos Eduardo Carmona, said that “the inventories of newsprint, ink, plates and other essential printing supplies continue to be reduced and the official response does not come.” This state of affairs also forced the Maracaibo newspaper La Verdad on October 22 to take strong rationing measures to cut down on newsprint and extend its reserves. Such steps led to the temporary “merger” of two of its plants, reducing the amount of information. In August the government issued a decree in the Official Gazette no. 39,980 that excludes newsprint from the list of supplies of prime need, putting aside priority in the provision of foreign currency by Cadivi. Regarding harassment, threats and discrimination by sources, access to public information has become more difficult, reporters with independent media continue to be given restricted access to government offices and official events, and there continues to be a lack of punishment in cases of attacks on journalists. Of every eight cases raised seven have been declared inadmissible. The secretary general of the National Press Workers Labor Union, Marcos Ruiz, said that freedom of expression violations during 2012 increased by 37% and that 58% of the cases reported involved public officials. The National Journalists Guild offices in Miranda state were set on fire by unidentified persons on November 30, and those of the newspaper El Carabobeño in Caracas were attacked. In another development, the Supreme Court fined the newspapers El Progreso and El Luchador in Bolívar state for having published photos of murders and accidents. Unidentified assailants destroyed the shortwave relay station of TV Guayana. And television channel La Tele and FM radio stations 91.9 and 96.9 were fined for failing to “get together” in a broadcast hookup in which the health of the president was reported on. Added to this gloomy panorama is the hounding of Globovisión television by motorized gangs and a new administrative fine was imposed on it for having aired four short programs about articles of the Constitution. In late February the federal government launched Open Digital Television in an address in a nationwide radio and television hookup. Globovisión meanwhile accused the government of “discrimination” in not considering it among the TV channels and regarding it as solely an analog broadcaster. Globovisión said it had been given a “death sentence.” Some days later, Congressman Miguel Ángel Rodríguez warned that this decision must be denounced as a step in a strategy to restrict the dissemination of news and opinions critical of the federal government, and added, “With the Popular Communication Law the end to freedom of information is approaching.” Still closed down are RCTV television, 32 radio stations and two television stations, and legal action is being taken against journalists and media owners, forcing them to remain in exile, among them the editor and publisher of the magazine Zeta and the newspaper El Nuevo País, Rafael Poleo, and his daughter Patricia Poleo, and the president of Globovisión, Guillermo Zuloaga. El Nacional continues to be subject to a ban imposed in 2010 on publication of photos connected to acts of violence. The most notable developments: On October 17, the governing PSUV party proposed in the National Assembly control of cable television under the Law on Social Responsibility of Radio and Television. On October 24, the National Assembly’s People’s Power and Social News Media Permanent Committee said that it would investigate “the use that some of the country’s political sectors” make of privately-owned news media “to generate uneasiness and fear” at election time that turn into “expressions of hatred” among the people. On November 1, the president of the National Journalists Guild, Silvia Alegrett, said at an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing that in Venezuela “access to pubic information is difficult and restrictions are maintained on journalists with independent media to enter government offices and attend official events.” On November 16, the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) announced the start of a new investigation into Globovisión at the request of a group of community journalists supporting the government who accused it of interrupting the presidential nationwide address on November 15. On November 22, inland newspapers went without newsprint and ink. El Impulso has been waiting for three months for the approval of a Certificate of No National Production, which is an obstacle to the provision of foreign currency. On November 23, two men carrying rifles attacked the offices of the newspaper El Carabobeño in Caracas, located in the Iberia building on Urdaneta Avenue. On December 15, a team from the Colombian news channel NTN24 was intercepted at night by two men on a motorcycle who seized a cassette containing an interview made with members of Congress Edgar Zambrano (of the AD party) and Saúl Ortega (PSUV) on the absence of President Chávez at regional elections. On December 16, the signal of TV Guayana in Bolívar state was sabotaged repeatedly for three days. Its shortwave station with relay to Puerto Ordaz, located on Las Palmas hill, was destroyed by unidentified persons. On January 3, Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas in a press release described as “unacceptable” the fact that television news channel Globovisión had “erroneously identified” Nicolás Maduro as “acting president.” On January 4, Conatel called on media to respect legal principles and be careful about news related to President Chávez’s health. On January 10, Conatel prohibited Globovisión from broadcasting four short items regarding Article 231 of the Constitution. It began legal proceedings. On January 23, Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas described as “truly regrettable” the acts of violence that occurred during a Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) party event being held in Miranda Park. He was referring to attacks on the reporting team of the Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) channel covering the political event. VTV reporter Pedro Carvajalino and his team were expelled from a MUD event commemorating “January 23.” Carlos Chacón, a VTV cameraman, suffered multiple injuries and a broken neck bone. Three people were arrested for the attack. The Interior and Justice Ministry’s press chief, Jorge Galindo, reported that one of those arrested “had a knuckle-duster taken from him.” On January 25, the Inter American Press Association questioned the blockade of the online newspaper Diario de Cuba in Venezuela, considering it to be a “suspicious” act of censorship restricting the right of the people to access differing sources of information. On January 27, Minister Iris Valera criticized the treatment given by news media of the massacre that occurred in the Uribana prison and described as “grotesque” the images of the event that are being distributed. On January 28, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello denounced the attacks on journalist Pedro Carvajalino and the VTV team. On January 29, Congressman Eduardo Gómez Sigala criticized the fact that media were not allowed entry into the legislature during his participation in a debate to reject the publication of a false picture of President Chávez in the newspaper El País. On February 2, the Bolivarian People’s Communication Front and other organizations called on Globovisión to cease its political editorializing. On February 6, National Assembly 2nd Vice President Blanca Eekhout complained that Venezuela and international privately-owned news media were attempting to engage in a psychological campaign to confuse and destabilize Venezuelans. On February 7, Congressman William Ojeda accused Globovisión of “irresponsible management of information and lack of ethics.” He said that his response to accusations by Congressman Richard Mardo were “suppressed” in that news media outlet. On February 15, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza denied that President Chávez had permanently lost his voice. “These are pure speculations by the media and doctors who regrettably violate their Hippocratic oath.” On February 19, Maracaibo lawyer and council member Joaquín Chaparro criticized the arrest of the photographer of the newspaper La Verdad, Tarquino Díaz, after he took photographs that showed the problem of garbage in the northern district of Maracaibo. On February 20, the Bolivarian National Guard attacked demonstrators and a Globovisión team at the Pérez Carreño Hospital. They abused the medical and administrative staff who were protesting at the lack of supplies and demanding salary increases and the dismissal of the hospital’s director.