Interviewed April 2010
Rodrigo Diamanti of Venezuela is president of "Un Mundo Sin Mordaza” (A World Without Censorship), a network that promotes freedom of speech in the Americas and around the world.
In 2007, Diamanti obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Andres Bello Catholic University of Caracas. Two years later he received a master’s degree in political studies from Complutense University in Madrid. He is a founding member of the Venezuela Student Movement of 2007, which works for free and fair elections, transparent governance, freedom of expression and association, and reconciliation in Venezuela.
Diamanti is a senior fellow of the Alliance of Youth Movements (Movements.org) and has lectured in Turkey, Spain, Mexico and the United States.
I think that civil society and the people who work in the political parties are separating themselves from the defeat and they are trying to overcome this difficult situation. But I think that analysis is not as important as our motivation. The only fight that one loses is the one that we abandon. However, we know that we need other variables to be in our favor. Because while the government continues to receive financial funds from petroleum, assets from the economy, and gives money so that the people can live and receive benefits from the government, it is difficult for the opposition to convince (the people) with better options, or at least that is how I see it.
So I think that what we have learned is that petroleum nations have very high possibilities of turning into autocracies and that these autocracies will be maintained. By keeping only 51 percent of the population happy, it is not necessary to keep the others happy. And if you begin to talk about the other half, there is a possibility that financial funding will be halted and with your means of communication being censored, you are never going to win an election. And I think that this is what is happening in Venezuela - that the dictators are populists and that the dictators have always been popular.
One begins to see how dictatorships function and the people who also see them from a different angle do not have the means to oppose them. Sometimes these dictators have won because they have given people the basic benefits to develop. And this is something that we all have to understand. That just because the government is democratic - that there are people who are going to reject them. And that just because they win the election, that they are democratic. All of these myths and all of these hypotheses, we need to demolish them because there can be very popular dictatorships that win the elections and that violate human rights of a percentage of the population because they keep the other half of the people happy with resources from petroleum.
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.