It was certainly a surprising day today in Caracas. It was as if the magnitude of the measure of closing RCTV only hit people today. Or maybe they were awaiting some form of miracle or last minute concession by a Government that is not given to such gestures once it has made up its mind.
Of course, it was all started by the University students who decide to protest what they viewed as a serious step by the Government to silence the media in its criticism of what the Government does and the constant watch over its actions and missteps. It is easy to say that RCTV participated in the so called coup/Chavez resignation event of 2002, but reality is that Chavez’ cohorts themselves never allowed the infamous “truth” commission to complete its investigation so that events and facts could be hidden, manipulated and distorted by them since then. Thus, RCTV, once referred to by Chavez as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, became a lonely horseman, as Venevision and Televen are following the party line and getting the Government’s business, while Globovision’s rating is a scant 5% of the audience and the Government probably understands it is a 5% that it will have en extremely hard time convincing to jump sides.
In contrast, RCTV had 40% of the audience, which was gone with the cancellation of the concession and whose possible rebirth from its ashes as a cable or satellite station, was impeded by the perverse and absurd confiscation of its equipment last Friday. Moreover, cable and satellite’s reach is a scant 28% for obvious reason, which would have severely limited its coverage anyway.
So, there were no magic solutions and while students decided to protest within the bounds of their campuses, the repression by the police ignited a countrywide movement. It was mostly sparked by injuries at Universidad Metropolitana and Carabobo and the refusal by the police to allow students from Universidad Central de Venezuela to hold their rally at Plaza Venezuela. I guess they forgot the multiple entrances of the “The house that defeats the shadows”, as the students simply left out the backdoor, wandering around the city in search for a place to hold their rally. As they did, they called other student movements and agreed to join the event by Reporters for Free Speech in Plaza Brion in Chacao in the afternoon, where a lot of the action I reported today took place.
As I joined the students this afternoon, as they just happened to go by where I was at the moment, two things struck me: One, that this is the first nationwide involvement of the students in protests since Chávez took over, as only local issues like those at the University of Los Andes have raise the outcry of the students. Moreover, voter registration by the young has been very low in the last few years. But the second factor that I noticed, was a level of anger that I had not seen since 2002. One lady walking next to me walked over to the Metropolitan police and started calling them cowards, who have no qualms about attacking peaceful demonstrations, but fail to meet crime head on because they fear the criminals.
Meanwhile, as if there was any doubt that the Chavez Government had crossed an important threshold in terms of its credibility in its commitment for plurality and human rights, a new offense appeared to begin and the foreign press was in focus this time, as CNN was targeted, together with Globovision. While this may seem like an empty threat, it would be quite easy for the Government to obligate both cable and satellite systems not to carry certain networks and broadcasts because they violate the country’s laws. And as we have seen in the last few years, these international concerns care little for the rights of Venezuelans, as long as the bottom line is doing well.
And even those TV stations abiding by the desires of the Dictator were surprised to learn that they will be under constant watch, as the regime was very careful to extend the concession of Venevision, at the last minute, by only 5 years, rather than the customary twenty years of the past few decades. Could it be any clearer than that?
And the workers of Venevision clearly decided to split from the owners of their TV station, crowding Plaza Brion to support RCTV and showing up at the Globovision studios to make amends with their now out of work colleagues, after the tough words of RCTV’s Marcel Granier directed at them last night.
And to close a long list of international organizations with exquisite credentials in the defense of human rights and freedom of speech, Reporters without Borders published a strong condemnation of the shutdown of RCTV on the part of the Chávez Government, which left no doubt in the clarity of its words:
“The closure of RCTV, which was founded in 1953, is a serious violation of freedom of expression and a major setback to democracy and pluralism…President Chávez has silenced Venezuela’s most popular TV station and the only national station to criticize him, and he has violated all legal norms by seizing RCTV’s broadcast equipment for the new public TV station that is replacing it…The grounds given for not renewing RCTV’s license, including its support, along with other media, for the April 2002 coup attempt, are just pretexts.”
thus leaving no doubt in its arguments and its strong criticism by an organization of unquestionable credentials in defending human rights, which now joins similar ones like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The Government continued on the offensive all the day, using excess force at every step and manipulating its own TV stations to claim the demonstrations today were not student led, but a new manipulation by the coupsters on the opposition. But it was clear where the violence came from, in a clear attempt by the Government to intimidate and instill fear in the population to attempt to contain future protests.
But the Government may have awakened a formidable competitor in the university students. While this battle for RCTV seems to be a lost cause, the Dictator has clearly stated that control of the country’s universities is now at the top of his priorities in the upcoming year and will b handled within the Enabling Bill. Having the students ready to protest and demonstrate against him, may lead to the type of opposition to Chavez’s actions that the opposition no longer seems capable of coordinating, but which the students proved today they can do on the spur of the moment.