Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is Free Speech Really at Stake? Venezuela and RCTV?

This is from a balanced pro-Chavez site. There is confusion about this issue, because the American media is not telling the full story.

This article tells of the behavior of RCTV during the 2002 illegal coup attempt against President Chavez. RCTV didn't report in a biased manner, it played a participant role. The president of RCTV was in the palace, with the plotters. RCTV called on people to go into the streets, to overthrow Chavez. After the coup failed, RCTV stopped broadcasting news, and turned into a format showing cartoons.

The world learned about the pro-RCTV demonstrations this weekend, not the demos supporting Chavez.

Most Venezuelans who oppose the taking away of licensure, don't do it on free speech grounds. according to a recent poll. They like the "Who Wants To Be A Venezuelan Millionaire?" show, but have no sympathy for the news department. They want the diversity of the programs according to recent polling.

You don't hear about how RCTV, fired all pro-Chavez workers and talent from the station. Even Fox News has some liberals as Allen Coombs, Kiran Chetry, Geraldo Rivera etc. Some fired were with the station for as long as 30 years.

BY Patrick McElwee (

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has been the subject of many controversies. His critics often accuse him of laying the groundwork for dictatorship, despite the democratic credentials of his government. Chávez was democratically elected in 1998 and again in 2000 under a new constitution. He then won a recall election in 2004, which was certified by observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Chávez was re-elected last December by 63 percent of voters, a result again certified by international observers including the OAS and the European Union. Chávez has pledged to accelerate policies that have given poor Venezuelans vastly increased access to health care, education, and subsidized food, and in the last three and a half years of political stability, a remarkable 40 percent increase in the economy.

Throughout this process of increasing voter and citizen participation and electoral democracy, the Venezuelan opposition and their allies in the U.S. press have told us that authoritarianism was just around the corner. They now say it has arrived. The immediate focus of their concern is the president’s decision not to renew the broadcast license of a major television network that is openly opposed to the Chávez government. Their free speech concerns have been echoed by Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. On the other hand, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Freedom Commission, ruling out a resolution on the issue, has said the non-renewal has nothing to do with human rights.

Here are the basic facts. Rádio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) is one of the biggest television networks in Venezuela. It airs news and entertainment programs. It is also openly opposed to the government, including by supporting a military coup that briefly ousted Chávez in 2002. During the oil strike of 2002-2003, the station repeatedly called upon its viewers to come out into the street and help topple the government. As part of its continuing political campaign against the government, the station has also used false allegations, sometimes with gruesome and violent imagery, to convince its viewers that the government was responsible for such crimes as murders where there was no evidence of government involvement.

According to a law enacted in 1987, the licenses given to RCTV and other stations to use the public airwaves expire on May 27. President Chávez has publicly declared that RCTV’s license will not be renewed, citing its involvement in the coup. Although it will not be able to continue to use the public broadcast frequencies, the station will still be able to send its signal out over cable, satellite, and the Internet.

The U.S. media, much of which has been unsuccessfully predicting dictatorship under Chávez for years, has used this case to make accusations of censorship and the end of press freedom in Venezuela.

To understand the issue better, I decided to talk to the human rights and press freedom groups who have criticized the action.

José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch clarified for me that “broadcasting companies in any country in the world, especially in democratic countries, are not entitled to renewal of their licenses. The lack of renewal of the contract, per se, is not a free speech issue. Just per se.” A free speech issue arises if the non-renewal is to punish a certain editorial line.

Still, Benoît Hervieu of Reporters Without Borders in Paris said that, while he could not be certain, he thought US and European governments would stop short of non-renewal despite RCTV’s “support for the coup.”

“I think that there would be pressure to make a replacement at the head of the channel. But I don’t think that they would not renew the concession. There is a risk in that story. There are 3000 employees at RCTV. So I don’t think that even in a country like [the United States or France], a government would risk putting 3000 people in the streets,” he said.

Could it be that governments like Venezuela have the theoretical right not to renew a broadcast license, but that no responsible government would ever do it? In the United States, this may seem plausible, since broadcast licenses here seem to be forever. (Who could imagine life without ABC, CBS, or NBC?) Still, the government sometimes takes actions in other parts of the economy that result in a company going out of business.

Actually, in other democratic countries, broadcast companies sometimes do not get their licenses renewed. For example, in Britain in 1992, in a process based in part on a subjective assessment of “quality of service,” Thames Television lost its license after 24 years of service. Several British commentators speculated that the Thatcher government had influenced the result.

So democracies do occasionally find reasons not to renew a license. So what about this case in particular: Would RCTV have had its license renewed in the United States or Europe?

While the two US-based human rights advocates I spoke with declined to answer that question directly, they acknowledged that non-renewal would not be out of the question here.

Vivanco said, “I don’t know. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could decide that they’re not going to renew, for instance, Fox News or MSNBC because they’re in violation of the contract, according to the conditions of the contract. Normally you settle those things in court.”

Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke similarly: “I don’t think you can translate what’s going on there [in Venezuela] to the United States. That’s a very difficult question. I mean, if RCTV had violated the law, I assume they wouldn’t get the concession renewed.”

For Lauría, non-renewal itself is not the problem. His concern is the process by which the decision was reached. “I assume in the US there would be a process. The FCC would follow protocol. This is what hasn’t happened in Venezuela. We’re not arguing that the concession should be renewed, should be given to RCTV. We’re just saying that there’s no process to evaluate if it should be.”

Vivanco also complained about the process, saying that if the government argues there is a violation of the contract, “that would be settled normally in court. Second, if there’s some crimes committed, the individuals who were involved in those crimes should be prosecuted in a court of law.”

On process, they have a legitimate point. The government seems to have made the decision without any administrative or judicial hearings. Unfortunately, this is what the law, first enacted in 1987, long before Chávez entered the political scene, allows. It charges the executive branch with decisions about license renewal, but does not seem to require any administrative hearing. The law should be changed, but at the current moment when broadcast licenses are up for renewal, it is the prevailing law and thus lays out the framework in which decisions are made.

However, Vivanco’s critique goes beyond process to the government’s justification for non-renewal. “You have the president saying, forget it, the license is not going to be renewed, it’s a bunch of golpistas [coup-mongers] or fascists or whatever – which is clearly some sort of censorship. That sounds like an arbitrary decision made by the president on political grounds. And that is not acceptable.”

Lauría also told me that RCTV was “selectively chosen because of opposition views.”

But is support for the violent overthrow of an elected government really protected political speech? Vivanco acknowledges that RCTV “obviously probably sympathized with the coup.” But, he says, “it is a matter of free speech.”

Vivanco understates RCTV’s connection to the coup. RCTV encouraged viewers to attend a rally that was part of the coup strategy, invited coup leaders to address the country on their channel, and reported the false information that the president had resigned. After Pedro Carmona declared himself president and dissolved the National Assembly, Supreme Court, and other democratic institutions, the head of RCTV Marcel Granier met with him in the Presidential Palace. The following day, when mass protests and loyal army units brought back President Chávez, RCTV and other stations blacked out the news, showing movies and cartoons instead.

Such actions clearly go beyond protected free speech, at least in the United States. Imagine the consequences if NBC took such actions during a coup against Bush.

In fact, RCTV’s participation in the oil strike of 2002-2003, and even their joining in legal political campaigns would be grounds for revoking their broadcast license in the United States.

Consider this episode in the US. Two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, it was reported that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates the largest number of local TV stations in the United States, planned to order its affiliates to replace prime-time programming with a documentary critical of John Kerry.

Democrats were outraged. The Democratic National Committee filed a case with the FCC arguing that such “partisan propaganda” was inappropriate. And, yes, at least one powerful Democratic politician swore that if the documentary was aired, there would be no Sinclair Broadcast Group by the 2008 election. A Kerry spokesman said, “You don't expect your local TV station to be pushing a political agenda two weeks before an election. It's un-American.” Couldn’t it be un-Venezuelan too? (The political pressures above led Sinclair to cancel the anti-Kerry broadcast).

If RCTV were the only major source of opposition to the government, the loss of its voice would be troubling. It would also be disturbing if the RCTV case forced others to tone down legitimate opposition. But Greg Wilpert, a sociologist living in Venezuela, declares, “It is the height of absurdity to say that there’s a lack of freedom of press in Venezuela.”

Of the top four private TV stations, three air mostly entertainment and one, Globovisión, is a 24-hours news channel. On Globovisión, Wilpert says, “the opposition is very present. They pretty much dominate it. And in the others, they certainly are very present in the news segments.”

Regarding the print media, Wilpert told me, “There are three main newspapers. Of those three, two are definitely very opposition. The other one is pretty neutral. I would say, [the opposition] certainly dominates the print media by far. There’s no doubt about that.”

“I think some of the TV stations have slightly moderated [their opposition to the government] not because of intimidation, but because they were losing audience share. Over half of the population is supportive of Chávez . They’ve reduced the number of anti-Chávez programs that they used to have. But those that continue to exist are just as anti-Chávez as they were before.”

The RCTV case is not about censorship of political opinion. It is about the government, through a flawed process, declining to renew a broadcast license to a company that would not get a license in other democracies, including the United States. In fact, it is frankly amazing that this company has been allowed to broadcast for 5 years after the coup, and that the Chávez government waited until its license expired to end its use of the public airwaves.

Once again, it seems, the warnings of a move from democracy to dictatorship in Venezuela have been loud but lacking in evidence.

Patrick McElwee is a policy analyst with Just Foreign Policy ( He can be reached at


Saturday, May 19, 2007

News from Argentina

This past month in Argentina has been anything but dull. Here’s a run through of recent events and personal reflections on where things are going. Check out videos on these news events at Also, feel free to visit my blog for further updates:

Train Riot breaks out

Enraged train commuters rioted in a major rail station in Buenos Aires on May 16. Delays in railway services sparked violent riots in Buenos Aires, when commuters set fire to parts of a train station during rush hour.

Angry passengers lobbed rocks at ticket booths, and set fire to automated ticket dispensers and police offices inside the Constitucion train station, the largest station in Buenos Aires with more than 300,000 users daily. About an hour after the violence erupted, riot police clashed with protesting passengers; shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and arresting 16 people.

Overcrowding has plagued the railway, leading from Constitucion station in downtown Buenos Aires to the capital's poor southern suburbs, since services were privatized in the 1990's.

Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Commemorate 30th Anniversary

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo commemorated the 30th anniversary of their movement on April 30 in Argentina with a celebration of art and music. Thousands joined the mothers in the Plaza in the heart of Buenos Aires to thank them for their three decade long struggle for human rights and justice. After thirty years of fighting, they continue to face legal roadblocks preventing courts from putting ex-military behind bars for their human rights crimes while a key witness in these trials was disappeared in 2006.

In 1977, out of desperation and love for their children, a group of mothers began a protest to demand information about the whereabouts of their children. These youth were among the 30,000 people who were forcefully disappeared during the so-called dirty war carried out by Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Juana Pargament, now 92-years-old, said that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have always gathered the strength to fight from their children. “30 years of struggle! Of course we are older now, we started out when we were younger. When they took our children away, it was painful, we suffered. But we had a strength that I can't put into words. It was also a difficult lesson, because we mothers had to learn to defend our children.”

Impunity and escrache popular

Following the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo’s example the group H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity Justice and Against Forget and Silence) formed in 1996 using the escrache as a tool for popular justice for their parents and against impunity.

H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity Justice and Against Forget and Silence) held an “escrache” protest outside the home of Alfredo Bisordi, the Magistrate Council president who is accused of deliberately obstructing the cases to convict ex-military leaders for state supported terrorism. Alvaro Piedra, a son of a disappeared, human rights lawyer and member of HIJOS says that after 30 years victims still await justice. “The escrache is a method to send a message and bring light to the situation that Bisordi supports impunity, throughout his career as a magistrate he has supported the military.”

Bisordi first incorporated into the judicial system during the military dictatorship and was the secretary for Judge Norberto Giletta, who became infamous for rejecting the missing persons reports that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and other parents presented to the courts. Bisordi has openly supported the dictatorship and has even gone so far as to pardon skin heads accused of racist physical attacks and call torture survivors “subversive terrorists.”

Human rights groups want Bisordi and the other three council members to be removed from their positions and for the trials to make progress. Piedras said that if the trials are delayed military may escape prosecution. “We’re trying the criminals 30 years after their crimes were committed, so the presentation of evidence is more difficult.”

Marie Trigona

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Barack, Blair and Argentine Tango

This post is in the style of Thoughtstreaming and Sonia-Belle, of throwing out a few topics, and see what sticks.

Rush Limbaugh the American radio talk show host, has for a few months been playing a racist tune at the expense of Barack Obama. The tune has got notoriety when another talk show host asked for comments. The concept of the magic negro is based on the role of early Afro-American actors, who were heroes and not threatening to white people. Rush's racist tune is based on a comment made in the LA Times calling Obama the magic negro.

Obama was asked about the song on another talk show. He expressed he thought it was good humor, Rush is an entertainer, and being made fun of goes with the job. He was complimented by Rush for his mature response.

I'm opposed to Obama's reaction. The song is as racist as anything Don Imus ever did. What stinking pollster told Obama to give Rush a pass?

There are rumblings from afro-American employees, of radio stations that carry his show. The story is not over.

(sung by an Al Sharpton impersonator, I assume)

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times they called him that
cause he's not authentic like me.

Yeah the guy from the L.A. paper
said he made guilty whites feel good
they'll vote for him and not for me
cause hes not from da hood.

See, real black men like snoop dogg
or me or Farrakhan
have talked the talk and walked the walk
not come and laid and won (not sure about this line).

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times they called him that
cause he's not authentic like me
cause hes black but not authentically.

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times they called him that
cause he's not authentic like me
cause hes black but not authentically.

Some say Barack's articulate
and bright and new and clean
the media sure love this guy
a white interloper's dream.

But when you vote for president
watch out and don't be fooled
don't vote the magic negro in

(background singing the first 3 lines, while the singer is saying)

Cause I wont have nothing after all these years of sacrifice and I wont get justice this is about justice this is about justice, buffet, I don't have no buffet there wont be any church contributions there'll be no cash in the collection plate, no cash money, no walkin' around money...


Tony Blair is leaving, so he can now cash in on the speakers circuit, making tons of $$$, like Bill Clinton.


This is the walking dance of Argentine tango danced by Fabian Salas & Cecilia Gonzalez, to the music Suite Lumiere by Astor Piazzolla. American tango is a marching dance invented for movies and expensive dance schools.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Condemn the brutal stoning to death of Doa - a young girl whose only crime was to fall in love

To sign this petition, Click here.

Doa was stoned to death in the centre of the town of Bashiqa, Iraqi Kurdistan, in front of hundreds of people and the authorities did not prevent this crime from happening. On the contrary, they were present and paving the way for this horrific crime to be carried out.

Doa was a 17 year old girl from a family of Yazidi faith; she was snatched from her house by some Yazidi men who discovered that she was in love with a Muslim Arab man and had visited him. They stoned her to death in public on 7th April 2007 in the town of Bashiqa.

It is known that women in Kurdistan and Iraq are oppressed. The few rights they do have are very limited and in most cases they are treated as sub-humans.

Killings, suicide, and violence against women are an every day occurrence in this region. Although a crime of this nature is very new to Kurdistan, this is an indication that such crimes against women are now tolerated. Doa’s killers are still free.

The government’s failure to protect women, and enforce laws against criminals, has created a situation where thousands of women become victims of so called “honour killings”. Violence has risen as result of patriarchal and religious traditions.

We strongly condemn this barbaric act, and call upon all human rights and women’s rights organisations, political parties, and activists in Kurdistan and globally to condemn this crime.

In the 21st century, for such crimes to be carried out in broad daylight is not only a shame on society as whole, but most of all, it is a shame on a government that is unable to protect women from such inhumane and backward practices. The stoning of Doa sets a dangerous precedent for more women to become victims of stoning.

We hold the Kurdistan Regional Government responsible for the lives and protection of women in this region, and we believe that the brutalisation and victimisation of women must come to an end.

We the undersigned therefore demand:

That the Kurdistan Regional Government brings the killers to justice and punishes them.

The Kurdistan regional Government should set laws against terror, killings and oppression of women, and punish criminals.

To avoid this barbaric crime from becoming a norm and a practice in Kurdish society, the Kurdistan Regional Government should criminalise stoning to death.

The initiators of this campaign are:

Houzan Mahmoud: Representative abroad of Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and campaign coordinator

Raga Rauf: Writer and women’s rights activist and campaign coordinator

Samera Mohammed: Editor of Rasan women’s newspaper in Kurdistan

Yanar Mohammed: President Of Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

Aram Ali: Coordinator of the Kurdish website

Baker Ahmad: Writer and poet

Dler Colnadar: member of executive board of CHAK organisation

Omar Faris: coordinator of a Kurdish website

Dina Nammi: International Campaign against Honour Killings

Amal Almas: (Iraqi Women’s League) Gothenburg -Sweden

Federation of Workers councils and unions in Iraq/ Kurdistan representative

Chro Sabir: Director of Rasan women’s organisation in Kurdistan

Hana Shwan: Journalist and women’s rights activist in Kurdistan

Hamza Abd: The Iraqi Cultural House in Gothenburg-Sweden

To join this campaign or to show your support pleases contact: Campaign Coordinators: Houzan Mahmoud and Rega Rauf.

Maryam Namazie

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Rule of Law or The Power of The President?

Noted conservative professor at harvard Univercity Harvey C. Mansfield, wrote an Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Case for the Strong Executive, which lays the foundation for modern mainstream conservatism. The article was an honest account of the theory behind the Bush presidency and the larger conservative movement.

The Nixon Doctrine. "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal."

Glenn Greenwald at summarized Mansfield's article: [R]eading Mansfield has real value for understanding the dominant right-wing movement in this country. Because he is an academic, and a quite intelligent one, he makes intellectually honest arguments, by which I mean that he does not disguise what he thinks in politically palatable slogans, but instead really describes the actual premises on which political beliefs are based.

And that is Mansfield's value; he is a clear and honest embodiment of what the Bush movement is. In particular, he makes crystal clear that the so-called devotion to a "strong executive" by the Bush administration and the movement which supports it is nothing more than a belief that the Leader has the power to disregard, violate, and remain above the rule of law. And that is clear because Mansfied explicitly says that. And that is not just Mansfield's idiosyncratic belief. He is simply stating -- honestly and clearly -- the necessary premises of the model of the Omnipotent Presidency which has taken root under the Bush presidency.

Could you imagine the furor that would occur, if this was written by Hugo Chavez?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The First May Day

I celebrated May Day in Minneapolis. The theme was for immigrant's rights, and the march was mostly composed of Latinos. With presidential elections coming next year, at this time in the election cycle, reformists try not to embarass candidates, and tone down politics. I will at another time, discuss the reformist and Maoist demand for legalization of immigrants, versus amnesty.

Be sure to read at Marie's blog for a report about May Day in Argentina, in addition read Marxist from Lebanon's interesting May Day post, and Maryam Namazie's account of May Day in Iran.

This history of May Day is reprinted from In Defense of Marxism.

by Terry McPartlan
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

May Day, international workers' day. On every continent the advanced layers of workers and youth celebrate interna tionalist ideas and the struggle of the Labour movement. No surprise that the Tories in Britain tried to eradicate the holiday. No surprise either that workers' demonstrations are the focus of state repression around the world.

But where does the modern May Day come from, who started it and why?

May Day sprang from the struggle of the American working class. In 1884 the American Federation of Labor adopted the following demand:

"Resolved by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, that eight hours shall con stitute a legal day's labor from May 1st, 1886, and that we recom mend to labor organizations throughout their jurisdiction that they so direct their laws as to con form to this resolution by the time named."

This slogan became the focus of a whole series of movements around the eight- hour day.

On May 1st 1886, Albert Parsons of the Chicago Knights of Labor led 80,000 workers on a demonstration through Chicago in support of the campaign for an 8-hour day. They weren't alone. Within a few days 350,000 workers took strike action across the country involv ing 1200 factories. 70,000 struck in Chicago alone.

August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter workers on May 3rd. Following the meeting many of the participants moved down the street to harass scabs entering the McCormick plant. The police arrived, opened fire, and killed four people, wounding many more.

On May 4 Spies, Parsons, and Samuel Fielden were speaking at a rally of 2,500 people held to protest the police massacre when 180 police officers arrived, led by the Chicago police chief. While he was calling for the meeting to disperse, a bomb exploded, killing one policeman. The police retaliated, killing seven of their own in the crossfire, plus four others; almost two hundred were wounded. The identity of the bomb thrower remains unknown.

On June 21, 1886, on the back of a huge red scare campaign eight labor leaders, including Spies, Fielden, and Parsons went on trial, charged with responsibility for the bombing. The trial was rife with lies and contradictions, and the state prosecutor appealed to the jury: "convict these men, make an example of them, hang them, and you save our institutions."

Each of the eight accused men spoke in court. Here is an excerpt from the address of August Spies:

"The wage-workers of this city began to object to being fleeced too much - they began to say some very true things, but they were highly disagreeable to our patrician class; they put forth well, some very modest demands. They thought eight hours hard toil a day for scarcely two hours' pay was enough.

"This lawless rabble had to be silenced!

"The only way to silence them was to frighten them, and murder those whom they looked up to as their 'leaders.' Yes, these foreign dogs had to be taught a lesson, so that they might never again inter fere with the high-handed exploitation of their benevolent and Christian masters."

Seven of the accused were sentenced to die and one to 15 years imprison ment. The trial was condemned by the Chicago bar and some years later all were pardoned by the Governor, not before four had been hanged and one had committed suicide.

Two hundred thousand took part in the funeral either walking behind the coffin or lining the streets.

May Day was born of the struggle of the working class and it celebrates that struggle, across the world today.

Today, Latin America is at the forefront of the international movement of the working class. But that struggle involves us all and will spread across the globe again.

Workers of all Countries unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains!