Interviewed December 2010
Claudio Jose Sandoval is a Venezuelan human rights advocate. He was trained in social work and studied law at Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas. After the government of President Hugo Chávez closed down the country’s largest private television network, RCTV, in 2007, Sandoval became active in student organizations supporting freedom and democracy in Venezuela. He was active in the pro-democracy coalition Foro por la Vida (Forum for Life) and co-founded an organization called Generación de los Puentes (Generation of Bridges). His book “Beyond the Student Movement” discusses how Venezuela might achieve national reconciliation.
The government tries to stigmatize international cooperation, particularly international cooperation that comes from the United States. They accuse, in Marxist terms, “the Empire” of contributing to the destabilization of the political regime in Venezuela, which is false, because the United States, through their policy of international cooperation, is trying to spread the vision of democracy in Venezuela. And international cooperation is transparent. That has been recorded in several reports published not only in the United States but in the European Union. Venezuelan organizations also publish their reports, and they specify the way they redistribute their funds to carry out their mission and vision.
On the other hand, Venezuela's government has also maintained an aggressive and somewhat violent attitude in the political discourse with different nations, as in the case of the United States, for example, precisely because of its Marxist vision. So they are accusing the government of the United States, the United States, of being a corrupted and immoral capitalist model. However, today, Venezuelan civil society is very concerned because we see how President Chávez is developing a circle of very dangerous friends. Who are Chávez's current friends? North Korea, Iran -- with which he is trying to strengthen relations in regard to nuclear cooperation. With Fidel Castro, Cuba, a totalitarian Marxist state.
I am basically talking about three fundamental issues: terrorism, nuclear cooperation, and drug trafficking. Chávez maintains close relations with the FARC, which is a guerrilla terrorist group in Colombia. He maintains relations with Iran, with whom every day the relations are becoming closer for strengthening of nuclear programs. We all know that Iran is trying to carry out nuclear programs not only for peaceful purposes but also for armament purposes. He also has a very tight relationship with Cuba. Today in Venezuela, we talk about VeneCuba, because something very serious happened, that could be classified as a crime of treason.
Cuban espionage, the Cuban G-2, can be found within the situation rooms of the government. It is even present within the armed forces, making decisions on intelligence. Today, Chávez's government has been involved, with proof, in cases of drug trafficking. They publically recognized that one of their members, who was Governor of Carabobo, was supported by a drug trafficker, who was arrested in Colombia and is going to be extradited to Venezuela, Walid Makled.
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.