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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Marcel Granier

Interviewed February 11, 2010

The relationship between Lieutenant Colonel Chavez and public opinion is a very particular one. And that makes the Venezuelan case rather unique. Hugo Chavez got elected in an open, clean election. That was perhaps the last clean proper election we had in the country in 1998.

And his desire would be to impose a government similar to the Castros´ regime in in Cuba. And I think he envies the Castros for being able to do it in under a year. I mean that they were able to establish a dictatorship and people who didn´t like that were either shot down or they had to get along or had to leave the country and go to places like the U.S. or Venezuela or Spain.

Chavez had not been able to do that because public opinion in in Venezuela is strong. People after 150 years of caudillismo (a Spanish term meaning rule by a strongman) the Venezuelans got in love with democracy. With the first truly democratic experience we had from 1958 onwards.

And that getting in love with democracy meant I mean practicing freedom of speech, practicing openness, practicing pluralism, Venezuela had to pay very dearly the excesses of of the dictators in terms of their being very excluyentes, excluding others. Being very sectarians in their group. Ruling always with a very small clique. Venezuela had to pay very dearly for that.

One of the nice things democracy brought about was the fact that with a more plural society where people could express themselves, could discuss matters, would try to to get a consensus on difficult decisions, people having had that experience valued it very much.

So whenever Chavez goes against those principles of openness and pluralism and respect for the other person, he gets into trouble. So what he´s been doing is he tries to get as far as he can and he stops and gets back if he sees it´s not working well.

For example, he tried to reform education. People didn´t like that at all. They people realized that what he wanted was to impose a system similar to the Cubans. To separate children from their parents and to indoctrinate children. So people took to the streets and protested and he had to back down.

In the case of RCTV he tried he reali that the measure was going to be very unpopular. Actually over 80 percent of the population rejected it. Why didn´t he go back? Because for him no matter how angry people were, how dissatisfied they were, it was more important to shut down the largest information network in the in the country, because that meant that the others the others would follow suit and would impose self censorship upon them.

And that meant that society had lost the possibility of expressing itself to the country as a whole. Nowadays when you protest, you´re limited to the street you´re protesting in or your are limited to the readership that newspaper has or you are limited the audience that local radio station has. With RCTV it was different. It was a television station that covered the whole country and had a very substantial audience. Shutting it down not only meant that the 41% of the population that was following RCTV didn´t have that opportunity to inform themselves openly.

It also meant that the other network, which has a fairly similar viewership at the time I mean they they they were in in the high 30´s also was shut down because they were so scared. It´s very significant that the government said they were cancelling our license on May 27, but on May 28 the first thing the government did was to renew the other channels´ the the competition´s license.

And they renewed it not for 20 years, as the law says, but for five years. So just before the next election in 2012 comes. So they will be at a very difficult situation.Their license will be expiring in May 2012 and there is an election in December 2012. So he was able to enforce that silence all over the country.

What it was a high price to pay. He lost the election in 2007 when he wanted to change the constitution. But he found other ways to to to keep violating the constitution and imposing his personal wishes upon people, because there is no media with national coverage that can denounce that. So people will never be aware at the same time of what´s going on. So now we the democratic forces have had to find ways to express themselves in in an atomic fashion. An atom here. An atom there. And try to see if all those atoms converge into something really big.