Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three days since the Change-over (...and counting)

(the view from Avenida Mexico at 12:05 Monday morning -- 5 minutes after the end of RCTV's public broadcasting concession)

Since the changeover of RCTV to TVES Caracas has been host to tit-for-tat marches all of which have been more or less peaceful. Both sides have mobilized en masse, with opposition marches and demonstrations tending to either start or dwell in the east of the city, where the municipal mayors are more sympathetic to their cause – mayors Lopez and Radonski, of Chacao and Baruta, respectively, have both attended various demonstrations since Sunday. The ‘tend’ should be emphasized, as today, a quite big student march went through my neighborhood traveling west. Chavistas, for their part, organized a massive march to Miraflores, the presidential palace yesterday, but have had less reason to engage in the political theater of the opposition.

(upside down Venezuelan flags have figured prominently in the opposition demonstrations. While the majority of demonstrators claim they have no pretentions to pursuing another coup, the symbolism should not be ignored)

(detail of Miraflores, the presidential palace, outlining the 5 motors of Bolivarian Socialism)

(Chavistas, yesterday before the rain)

(Opposition march, today -- Students have been on the front line of both sides' mobilizations around RCTV)

So far, there has been little in the way of direct clashes between Chavistas and Opposition, which seems to be at present what both sides want. At present, the ‘escalation’ threatened by many opposition politicians has yet to bear fruit.

(a sign from today's opposition march reads: "This is what we don't want!" with the caricature of a beret-ed figure butting heads with a head sans-hat-of-any-sort)

The rest of the hardcore opposition press (or in other words, Globovision and most of the newspapers) has been covering every utterance of the opposition as if these were the last days of the Bolivarian Revolution.

(I was alerted to today's opposition march by helicopters circling over my apartment building. At first, I thought it was the police. When I made my way out of the building and to the march-route, I saw that the majority of the helicopters were from the press, and were doing multiple close-sweeps of the marchers, much to their cheer.)

Chavez and his cabinet have for their part taken note of these claims, as well as the parallels to April 2002, when protests ‘went hot’ as the two sides clashed at Puente Llaguno, a coup, and a counter-coup ensued.

(Two views of the Puente Llaguno memorial taken during a Chavista march to Miraflores)

Globovision for its part has come under fire from the government for making veiled calls for Chávez to be assassinated (using an oh-so-crafty photo-montage of the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II and a Ruben Blades singing ‘have faith, this doesn’t end here’) while CNN en Español has had the subtlety to place pictures of Chávez next to photos of Al Qaeda militants and leaders. In a second ‘oopsie daisie that sort of thing just happens in journalism’ CNN played footage of a protest against the killing of a journalist in Cancun, Mexico, and claimed it was footage of Venezuelans protesting RCTV.

(I guess either: 1. CNN sucks; 2. They couldn’t get any State Department-prepackaged footage of Venezuela; or 3. They just think all them dern LAHteeenohs look alike anyway – [I mean, Venezuelans are just another type of Mexican, right?)

The opposition continues to treat this as an issue of freedom of expression, making the faulty assumption that there has ever been freedom of expression in a communications system dominated by multi-million dollar transnationals. Chavistas, on the other hand, tend to be more sincere, often openly admitting that they have little time for the liberal ‘rights’ arguments of the opposition and the rich. They argue that TVES, the new station, will finally offer the public entertainment that reflects their values and the values the revolutionaries are trying to create. That is, rather than an ethos of individualism and rampant consumerism, TVES will provide educational services and entertainment that doesn’t come at the cost of the community’s health and well-being. Most importantly, TVES will never engage in the coup-mongering and manipulation of RCTV.

The only question that remains, truthfully, is whether or not Bolivarian telenovelas will be as popular


Cristina said...

So tell me about "the Opposition"--who are these people anyway? I mean, I know generally, but not much about them--is this a fairly straightforward divsion along class lines? Are they referred to simply as "the Opposition" in Venezuela?

Don't know if you've been reading it (or if you care to read it) but NYT coverage of all of this has been particularly obnoxious. I'm so glad you're there and writing about it.

Samuel said...

I agree with the above statement, with little to look to other than NYT, or (shudder) CNN, etc., it's becoming really annoying to try to keep tabs on the situation, or get any real information of worth...until the D posts...thanks, and keep 'em coming!

--d said...

i need to write something on 'the opposition' and have been planning on it for a while...i'll get to it...well...with the spate of marches, demos, and etc this week, i haven't had too much time to actually write much.
NYT has been horrible. i actually know the 'fixer' (the underpaid sap who actually writes the majority of stories that then appear under the name of the bureau chief) down here...who (the fixer, that is) also writes for FOX news, if that tells you anything.
venezuelanalysis reprinted this op-ed piece from the LATimes, which is from what i can tell the most realistic rendition of events down here to appear in the US media...

Hugo Chavez versus RCTV
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

By: Bart Jones - Los Angeles Times

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez's refusal to renew the license of Radio Caracas Television might seem to justify fears that Chavez is crushing free speech and eliminating any voices critical of him.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and members of the European Parliament, the U.S. Senate and even Chile's Congress have denounced the closure of RCTV, Venezuela's oldest private television network. Chavez's detractors got more ammunition Tuesday when the president included another opposition network, Globovision, among the "enemies of the homeland."

But the case of RCTV — like most things involving Chavez — has been caught up in a web of misinformation. While one side of the story is getting headlines around the world, the other is barely heard.

The demise of RCTV is indeed a sad event in some ways for Venezuelans. Founded in 1953, it was an institution in the country, having produced the long-running political satire program "Radio Rochela" and the blisteringly realistic nighttime soap opera "Por Estas Calles." It was RCTV that broadcast the first live-from-satellite images in Venezuela when it showed Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969.

But after Chavez was elected president in 1998, RCTV shifted to another endeavor: ousting a democratically elected leader from office. Controlled by members of the country's fabulously wealthy oligarchy including RCTV chief Marcel Granier, it saw Chavez and his "Bolivarian Revolution" on behalf of Venezuela's majority poor as a threat.

RCTV's most infamous effort to topple Chavez came during the April 11, 2002, coup attempt against him. For two days before the putsch, RCTV preempted regular programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting Chavez. A stream of commentators spewed nonstop vitriolic attacks against him — while permitting no response from the government.

Then RCTV ran nonstop ads encouraging people to attend a march on April 11 aimed at toppling Chavez and broadcast blanket coverage of the event. When the march ended in violence, RCTV and Globovision ran manipulated video blaming Chavez supporters for scores of deaths and injuries.

After military rebels overthrew Chavez and he disappeared from public view for two days, RCTV's biased coverage edged fully into sedition. Thousands of Chavez supporters took to the streets to demand his return, but none of that appeared on RCTV or other television stations. RCTV News Director Andres Izarra later testified at National Assembly hearings on the coup attempt that he received an order from superiors at the station: "Zero pro-Chavez, nothing related to Chavez or his supporters…. The idea was to create a climate of transition and to start to promote the dawn of a new country." While the streets of Caracas burned with rage, RCTV ran cartoons, soap operas and old movies such as "Pretty Woman." On April 13, 2002, Granier and other media moguls met in the Miraflores palace to pledge support to the country's coup-installed dictator, Pedro Carmona, who had eliminated the Supreme Court, the National Assembly and the Constitution.

Would a network that aided and abetted a coup against the government be allowed to operate in the United States? The U.S. government probably would have shut down RCTV within five minutes after a failed coup attempt — and thrown its owners in jail. Chavez's government allowed it to continue operating for five years, and then declined to renew its 20-year license to use the public airwaves. It can still broadcast on cable or via satellite dish.

Granier and others should not be seen as free-speech martyrs. Radio, TV and newspapers remain uncensored, unfettered and unthreatened by the government. Most Venezuelan media are still controlled by the old oligarchy and are staunchly anti-Chavez.

If Granier had not decided to try to oust the country's president, Venezuelans might still be able to look forward to more broadcasts of "Radio Rochela."

Bart Jones, BART JONES spent eight years in Venezuela, mainly as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, and is the author of the forthcoming book "Hugo! The Hugo Chavez Story, From Mud Hut to Perpetual

katie said...

Hey D -- Your old bocce pal Katie here. I actually didn't know anything about what's going on there until last night, when I climbed out of the prospectus hole I've been in and went over to a friend's house where someone had apparently turned on Fox News and left the room. Rather unsurprisingly, Fox was pitching this whole thing as the catastrophe every right-thinking American knew was going to happen if we sat idly by and let a two-bit would-be dictator like Chavez get his hands on a whole country. They honestly made it sound like he had simultaneously shut down all non-government-controlled media. So, for the fair and balanced report, I come to your blog -- this is a great, really helpful rundown of the situation, especially for someone who's been living under a rock for the past week.

--d said...

hola mi amor!
the truth of the matter, to be fair and balanced and whatever, is that there is an emerging 'hegemony' of chavista influence over the media. IF by that you mean that the private media, which has been acting as the footsoldiers of the opposition for the post 8 years or so, is finally being de fanged. some are still quite anti-chavista, but there is a major difference between the justifications of antichavista violence, lying, and coupmongering of the past and being critical of the government, no?
i mean, even aside from whether or not one belives the Bolivarian project is worth fighting for or not, most folks in the US don't realize the extent to which the private media here really and truly has been THE antigovernment force here for the past while. WITH US funding, WITH little grasp on the truth, WITH all the things that make many of us hate television in the US...
thing is, Venezuela really makes you chose sides rather quickly. what was it howie zinn used to say? you can't stay neutral on a moving train?
yeah. that sort of thing.

so, it all too often comes down to which side you want to be on at the end of the day: a revolutionary process, with all its pitfalls and imperfections, or the overtly racist and classist folks who want to bring things back to the old order.

crazy thing is that i am normally against such dichotomies...but the divisions are so stark here, the situation so polarized and polarizing, that it is hard not to...more on this in a few moments...