Interviewed November 2010
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.
The church means a lot to Venezuelans. And people respect the church. And the church has been always, always, no matter what government, a great defender of human rights. That´s been -- Since they don´t have much money to do charities, even though they do a lot, in terms of human rights they have been very consistent.
So the relationship between the regime and the church has been very bad. The government has been putting obstacles to the work of the church, invading some of the few properties they have. And with the other Christian churches that are perhaps – have been developing their creeds in a more modern and more active way, and they have new churches -- what the government has been doing is they´ve been expropriating some of those churches and making it difficult for foreign pastors to come to Venezuela. Not giving them the visas or expelling them from Venezuela.
So there is obviously, as with any communist regime, the relationship with the with the church is bad, no matter whether it´s Catholic, which is the one he hates the most because he was brought up as a Catholic, or with the other Christian denominations.
Other religions have all suffered the persecution of the regime. The Jewish community in Venezuela has had a very hard time. Publicly, Chavez has said that he hates Israel. Publicly, on national television and radio. And he´s proven that. He´s invaded their schools. He´s persecuted them. And so they feel so threatened that more than 50 percent of the Jewish community in Venezuela has emigrated to other countries.
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.