In Venezuela, some very interesting things have been happening since President Chavez won the 1998 election. At that time, the political parties were very discredited. In the 1998 presidential election, the two largest political parties that were used to getting over 80 percent of the national vote got less than three percent of the national vote.
So people were very scared to what would happen to democracy. The economy and the politics of the country had been coming down for the last 20 years, I would say. And people loved the freedom and the opportunities that democracy brought to them. But they were very dissatisfied with the performance of the political parties in power.
And that´s one of the reasons why Lieutenant Colonel Chavez got elected by a substantial majority. He won 56 percent of the votes at that time. So in society it started to develop, groups to protect the vote, that´s one very important movement, to explain to people what voting means and how voting takes place, and how you can use your vote to express your opinion, and how you have and how you can protect your vote from all tricks that the that the government was developing.
There also I mean all other NGOs started promoting the idea of transparency in public accounts. One of the worst things that has happened to Venezuela with the decadence of democracy and the disappearance of democracy in the last few years, is that the government never explains to the population what it is doing with their money. They just take the money and use it as they please.
It is amazing if you watch any of the several hours a week that the President spends on radio and television, how he appropriates money without going to Congress, without explaining why he is doing that, and for what purpose, or what sort of studies have been done to justify it.
For example, right now, he he´s selling oil refineries that Venezuela owns in Germany. And he´s selling them to Russia, of all people. Well, he´s never explained to Venezuelans why he is doing that, and what he´s doing with the money. Now because there is very little opportunity for doing independent journalism. But we´ve learned now that that money that he´s been getting from the oil refineries he´s paying back to the Russians in order to buy weapons, weapons nobody understands what for.
And little by little, new political parties have emerged. And nowadays, according to the latest election, the two largest parties are two new parties. That´s another interesting development in favor of democracy. And the last one, and perhaps the most important one, is the youth movement.
After the shutting down of R.C.T.V., the first protest came from the youth. These young people who were going to college or some of them to school, immediately after their shutting down of the closing down of R.C.T.V., took to the street to protest. Because they thought that the right to be informed was being endangered, and that the opportunity of people to look for information wherever they feel comfortable with was also threatened.
So that´s another very important movement in defense of the principles of democracy and justice, information, freedom of expression. So we see a reemergence of democracy in in Venezuela. For after ´58, Venezuela was able to establish a very successful democracy.
That democracy was used as a model in other countries in Central America and South America and Spain and Portugal, as a model for countries who were getting over dictatorship, how to establish a democracy how to strengthen political parties, how to have free and clean elections.
And after being an example for so many countries, Venezuelan democracy started to decline. And we´ve gotten to this terrible situation we live in now. So the way to restore democracy has been through developing NGOs, protecting human rights, and protecting and promoting democracy, transparency as I mentioned before.
Well, one of the problems Venezuela has had in order to restore democracy has been coordination. Unfortunately, there has been very little coordination about among the democratic forces. It it´s very interesting to see how the vote of the pro-democracy parties has been growing up ever since the election in 1998.
And no matter the threats that Chavez has made to people who oppose them, the lists he´s prepared in order to discriminate against any citizen who dares express himself against him. Despite all that, the number of people growing voting for democracy has been growing. And despite all the cheating that goes on in in the electoral process in in Venezuela.
But unfortunately, we have had very little coordination. The political parties have not been cooperative with the non-governmental organizations. We call ONGs, I guess you call them NGOs. Where those NGOs in Venezuela have suffered a lot to coordinate their action.
I guess sometimes that I mean the political parties have so been have been so demonized by so many people that they feel threatened when whenever a social group emerges and they feel that they may be stealing their turf. So it´s not been easy to coordinate things.
In 2006, for the first time, we were able to coordinate well, in 2004 the pro-referendum, I mean there was a referendum against President Chavez. And there was a lot of cheating and pressures in that case. But the democratic forces were well coordinated.
After we lost that referendum, and I think the government cheated. But the fact is that the opposition accepted that they had lost. But nobody assumed that responsibility. So everything all coordination was lost. Until 2006, we were able to support one candidate, all democratic forces joined in that effort. Unfortunately, the candidate didn´t defend his votes, and didn´t assume the role people were expecting from him. Eventually, he left the country because he felt threatened by the government.
Last I mean this year, we had an election. And all democratic forces joined to together. And they are acting more coordinated nowadays than ever before. We still have some problems. I´ve…people have not realized the magnitude of the threat to democracy, to freedom, and to justice, that Chavez represents.
Marcel Granier is the chief executive officer of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Trained as a lawyer, he began working at RCTV in the 1970s and worked his way up through the ranks to Director General of the station. The station’s editorial policies supported democratic governance and criticized efforts by President Hugo Chavez to consolidate power and eliminate governmental checks and balances.
In 2007, the Chavez government imposed a requirement that RCTV reapply for its broadcast license then denied the application. RCTV operated successfully as a cable station until the government frightened away its advertisers. Granier continues to live in Venezuela and to speak out for democracy and human rights.
Venezuela is a South American country of 28.5 million people with a history of multiparty constitutional democracy. President Nicolas Maduro took office after Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer in 2013.
During the 1998-2013 presidency of Colonel Hugo Chavez, a series of constitutional and legal changes were implemented that make it far more difficult for citizens to change their government. The Chavez government systematically used public resources to secure its power, closed down independent news media, and used legal and extralegal means to harass and intimidate its critics.
Soon after his first election, Chavez called for a new constitution that would give expanded powers to the president and replace Venezuela’s bicameral Congress with a unicameral national assembly. The new constitution was approved by referendum in 1999. Chavez acquired substantial control of the military, the judiciary, the electoral commission, and the news media. The government closed Radio Caracas Television Internacional (RCTV Internacional), the country’s largest television network, and forced into exile the president of Globovision, the other major opposition-aligned network.
The Chavez government’s increasingly repressive methods generated strong public opposition, including a series of public protests by students, workers, and others who were not previously aligned with the political opposition. In the 2010 National Assembly elections, opposition parties received the majority of the votes, but under the new electoral rules the government took a substantial majority of the seats in the Assembly.
Venezuela’s vast oil resources allowed Chavez to implement policies that steered the country towards a socialist economy. The country’s oil wealth funded a major expansion of government social programs, much to the approval of government supporters in the lower class. Oil became the foundation of Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba, which has strengthened substantially over the last few decades due to shared ideology and financial and security interdependence. Venezuela has replaced the Soviet Union as Cuba’s major benefactor, financially supporting the Castro regime. Cuba in turn has supported the transformation and strengthening of the Venezuelan military. In 2004, the two nations founded the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a group of socialist and social democratic nations working toward economic integration. ALBA and its member nations often champion anti-American policies and sentiments. This alliance has led to close ties between Venezuela and nations such as Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.
Immediately after Chavez’s passing, Vice President Maduro assumed the role of interim President. He then went on to narrowly defeat an opposition candidate by a 1.5 percent margin in the April 2013 presidential elections. Maduro has pledged to complete Chavez’s socialist transformation of Venezuela.
Recently, Venezuela has struggled with a rising crime and homicide rate, blamed by some on a recent economic downturn, the availability of arms, and the weak judicial system. However, Chavez and Maduro both have linked this increase in crime to the media’s portrayal of both fictional and real violence and have continued to influence what programming and content is available. Both leaders have expanded the security forces within the country, calling on police, militias, and the military to fight crime.
In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Venezuela earned “partly free” status, with an overall rating of 5. A rating of 1 represents the most free and 7 represents the least free.See all Venezuela videos