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Hugo Chavez flexes his muzzle

Editorial

His latest anti-media move, against RCTV, continues Venezuela's slide into authoritarianism.

January 26, 2010

Hugo Chavez is nothing if not a man of his word. The Venezuelan president promised to remove obstacles to his Bolivarian socialist revolution, be they judicial, electoral or constitutional, and that's exactly what he has done. He has successfully squeezed out his opponents in Congress -- his allies control all 167 seats -- and the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council, which supervises elections, are stacked with his loyalists. Last year Chavez pushed through a referendum eliminating presidential term limits, and his next order of business was muzzling the press.

To that end, Venezuela continued its slide into authoritarianism Sunday when the administration ordered cable television operators to stop broadcasting Radio Caracas Television, a vocal critic of the president. Its crime? Violating regulations that require stations to televise governmental messages, including, by most accounts, Chavez's interminable weekly speeches.

RCTV has been under attack by the government since its enthusiastic support of anti-Chavez leaders and organizations in the days leading up to an attempted coup that briefly toppled the government in 2002. In 2007, the administration refused to renew the station's license to broadcast on public airwaves, which forced it to move to cable, slash personnel by half and lose $200 million in revenue. Now the station is one of a handful allegedly being punished for breaking the Law of Social Responsibility. The law requires airing not just the national anthem and government messages but the "Hello President" speeches, which can last five to seven hours.

Sunday's move is part of a pattern of regulatory attacks on the media. Last year the government began harassing another critic, Globovision, and this month it shut down more than 150 radio stations over alleged paperwork irregularities. The Organization of American States has voiced its concern, as has the Obama administration. In Venezuela, students demonstrated in Caracas' streets Monday, and Marcel Granier, director of RCTV, protested to news outlets that the government was itself in violation of Venezuelan law, as the decree was made without a judge's order or administrative hearing.

Perhaps he is correct. But if the country's laws were subverted in this case, not to worry; Chavez can simply have them rewritten in the name of the socialist revolution. After all, that's what he has promised to do.

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