The Venezuelan blogosphere portrays a fairly complex political spectrum rather than the bipolar one presented by mainstream media. The conversation is becoming more inclusive, allowing escualidos1, moderate opposition, neither-nor2, chavistas light3, and extreme Bolivarians to exchange arguments and build understanding about the country’s political situation.
Recently, Kira Kariakin depicted the current Venezuelan political climate in a thoughtful post. Kariakin concludes “there is a clear sense of lack of substantial changes regarding political maneuvers and corruption between the Fourth and the Fifth Republic4. However, given Chávez’s divine nature, he is not held accountable by his loyal followers …” Alex Lanz—who regards himself as one of those Chávez’s loyal followers—agrees with Kariakin on the subject of lack of real political changes in Venezuela, but he alleges that “Chávez generates an affective image (son, father, brother) that nobody else has generated in this country (…) He’s got faltering legs such as corruption that may wear his political effectiveness away, but he is committed to fight corruption, he just lacks tools to do so. Another faltering leg is his milieu (military and civil) in which there are all sorts of people. His administration lacks in planning. His biggest fault is being credulous regarding his squad. He appoints individuals for government positions who do not know what to do, and, lastly, he is a prisoner of the corrupting State bureaucracy”.
Threats to freedom of speech and right to the access of information is another prevalent issue in the Venezuelan blogosphere’s political debate. Recently, Luis Carlos Díaz—a young journalism student who leads a project called Periodismo para la Paz (Jounalism for Peace)—chronicled three cases of limitations to those important rights:
- internal censorship of a scheduled interview in the government youth radio station
- alteration of an article in a private newspaper
- suppression of an article about the gay movement in an alternative grassroots publication
These incidents are not new in Venezuela but they have become more noticeable and more controversial in recent years.
The case of internal censorship in the government youth radio station is even worse in the blogosphere. A host of the censored radio show happens to be a blogger. He wrote about the incident in his blog, and as a consequence the show was cancelled for good. It is fair to mention that the interviewee was the U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer; but it is also fair to say that the topic was a festival of US independent films organized by the Embassy and featuring Michael Moore documentaries.
The Venezuelan drama movie Secuestro Express (Kidnapping Express) also crosses borders from entertainment to politics. The lawyer of four persons that were prosecuted (and acquitted) for the killings in the April 11, 2003 opposition demonstration—the one that yielded Chávez’s alleged resignation and the subsequent coup of State—demanded the suspension of the film exhibition because it includes documentary images of his clients firing to invisible targets from Puente Llaguno. In the blogosphere the debate on the petition for taking the scenes out of the movie or stopping its exhibition re-opened the wounds of April 11, making bloggers to take sides in the confrontation. Luigino Bracci Roa commented, “It hurts a lot that the only successful Venezuelan movies are those talking bad about our country, showing it as a place of degradation and chaos. It speaks badly of ourselves, and it damages all of us; not only Chávez”.
There is also another bleeding political wound that reappeared in the Venezuelan blogosphere. A more recent entry in the blog of the host of the censored radio show tells of his search for a new job. He was applying for a job in a State government. The job interviewer asked for his national ID. He was shocked, not because such request is unusual but because he knew the reason for it. His ID number was going to be checked with the Tascón List, the database that contains the IDs of those who signed the petition for President Chávez’s recalling. During the last two years, the Tascón List has been used for denying jobs in the government, admission to public schools, housing, social welfare benefits, new ID cards, and passports to those who signed for the presidential recalling. As unbelievable as it may sound, the President Chávez himself declared publicly a few months ago that it was enough punishment for those who signed for his recalling, and asked public servants to stop using the list. Apparently, some of his government officers think it is not enough.
The Tascón List is the background information of many discussions in the Venezuelan blogosphere. Without such background may be difficult to understand the negative reaction of Venezuelan fiction authors regarding a government census for establishing the Red Nacional de Escritores (National Network of Writers).
Even more difficult to understand may be a statement like this one: “the State is the biggest procurer in this country, few, very few, can afford the luxury of turning their back to the State as a client. To this end, having arepas 5 on the dinning table every day is what counts”. There have been a couple of Venezuelan bloggers confessing that they or some of their relatives have given up opposition to Chávez because they cannot afford to continue losing business opportunities. Such confessions raise both criticisms and support. Very few can afford to throw the first stone.
Last week an emergent issue hit Venezuelan political debate: government threats of expropriation of private manufacturing plants. Revealingly, such big news items have only small repercussions in the Venezuela blogosphere. Very few feel touched by the issue, since most Venezuelan bloggers do not own nor aspire to own anything else but the car they drive to work, the apartment in which they rest at nights, and the computer from which they blog. The Venezuelan blogosphere is made of the professional middle class and the working middle class. No wealth to worry about.
What concerns most Venezuelan bloggers is growing poverty, and the social illnesses that may come from it. Current political debate in the Venezuelan blogosphere is moving towards what to expect from political leadership in the 2006 presidential elections. Are they going to present a program for progressive reformism that helps the country to overcome poverty? Are they going to allow greater private entrepreneurship and grassroots involvement in policymaking? Is this the time for a truly 21st century Socialism that warrants both social justice and democratic freedoms?
1Standard meaning of this word is “haggard”. However, Chávez coined the term in reference to opposition activists, implying that they are not as brave as chavistas are.
2These are the ones who are critical of both Chavismo and opposition leadership. They are arguably the largest group in Venezuelan blogosphere.
3Venezuelans actually use the English word “light” to call moderate chavistas, suggesting that those chavistas would be like low carb/low fat food not as harmful as the regular thing is.
4Chávez refers to his government as the Fifth Republic, and to the previous four decades as the Fourth Republic.
5A serving of food made of corn-flour that is typical of Venezuela.