A New Threat on Venezuela's Press
During the last two decades, we Venezuelans have experienced the systematic and traumatic takeover of our democratic institutions.
Our judicial system is no longer impartial, apolitical, and respectful of the rule of law. Our different branches of government are no longer independent from one another. And virtually all major politicians of opposition are either in exile or banned from public life.
The same has happened with our free press. Before Hugo Chavez rose to power in 1998, we Venezuelans had a relatively healthy press. We had major newspapers. Journalists were allowed to speak their minds. Citizens had the opportunity to read the news from different sources and choose their preferred ones.
However, with the Bolivarian revolution, everything changed. Chavez closed newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, threatened journalists, and overall, the Venezuelan state implemented a climate where the government and the press were not just adversaries but mortal enemies.
This occurred as, according to Chavez, controlling the press was a ¨fundamental priority¨ for the revolution, a ¨weapon for ideological struggle.¨
In other words, Chavez and his political movement never identified the press as a healthy counterbalance to the power of government. It never saw the press as a bridge between the government and the people, nor a mechanism from which the people can express their opinions.
The case of El Nacional
El Nacional was one of these newspapers in Venezuela that experienced constant aggressions from Chavez back in the day and Maduro ever since he became president in 2013.
This happened because el Nacional shortly after Chavez rose to power, became clearly opposed to Chavez's policies and agenda.
El Nacional's opposition to Chavez was a huge deal at the time, as the newspaper is the biggest in the country and the most influential one.
The government's aggressions to El Nacional intensified when the government's former vice president, Diosdado Cabello, filed a million-dollar lawsuit for defamation against the newspaper.
As everyone would expect, Diosdado Cabello won the lawsuit under Venezuelan law. The country's Supreme Court of justice ruled the newspaper to pay Cabello over 30 million dollars for ¨moral damage.¨
For this reason, Diosdado Cabello was awarded the newspaper's headquarters in Caracas, a building in Los Cortijos.
On top of this, Diosdado Cabello just said this Thursday that El Nacional still owes his money, which is why he wants to take over even the newspaper's website, which is the only thing left of the newspaper.
"With the value of El Nacional you didn't pay me, I think now I'm going to go through the page, I believe," Cabello said on national television, referring to El Nacional's editor-in-chief, Miguel Henrique Otero, who lives in exile in Madrid. "You are provoking me to go one step further," he warned Otero.
In response to Cabello, Otero said that in Venezuela, the regime is committing a "communicational genocide.¨ "Files are rigged and aired in courts that are in charge of gunmen disguised as judges, wearing caps and gowns, committed to handing down sentences to convict innocents and acquit the guilty, according to the instructions they receive from the leaders of a regime that liquidated the principle of separation of powers in Venezuela", he said in an interview.
"In Venezuela, there is no separation of powers because the Chavista leadership controls the judiciary and all of them," Otero added.
On the issue, Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said:
"The regime, what a desire it had for the newspaper. The intention to destroy El Nacional is truly grotesque. They hand him over to the second man of the revolution, a character who is tremendously discredited and singled out in Latin America because of his positions and links, which have made him worthy of sanctions", he said.
"It is clear that the headquarters of the newspaper is lost to a judicial system that does not exist," he added.
Our Support for El Nacional
At Freedom Today Network, we want to express our support to El Nacional and all Venezuelan journalists who have had to face the regime's attempts to silence dissident voices in Venezuela.
We believe in freedom of expression. We believe in the job of journalists. We believe in societies where all opinions are allowed and debated with respect. We believe this is the only way to make progress, to be closer to the truth. And this is why we will keep doing our part so that Venezuela becomes a free and democratic country once again.
By Jorge Jraissati
Jorge Jraissati is a Venezuelan economist and freedom advocate. He is the Director of Alumni Programs of Students For Liberty, an NGO advancing the ideas of a free society in over 100 countries. Beyond SFL, Jorge is a research consultant for IESE Business School, an economist from the Wilkes Honors College, and the President of Venezuelan Alliance, a policy group specialized in the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. Jorge is a weekly columnist at Freedom Today Network.