Will the Freedom of the Press Return to Venezuela?
Earlier this year, we discussed the Venezuelan government’s ban of CNN en Español after the network reported on the Venezuelan Embassy of Iraq illegally selling Venezuelan passports and visas. Retroactively, a link can be made between this story and one covered by a previous blog post, which assessed how Brazilian President Michel Temer and US President Donald Trump both tried to downplay accusations against them by either eliminating the source or disputing the claims.
Fast-forward six months, and the Venezuelan government’s control over the media has tightened. Most recently, Venezuela’s communications regulator, Conatel, expelled Colombian television stations Caracol and RCN due to the channels’ "terrible campaigns" against Maduro’s government, criticizing his controversial and unprecedented amendments to Venezuela’s Constitution.
It is believed that a large driver for the expulsion was the networks’ coverage of Luisa Ortega’s arrival in Colombia. Ms. Ortega was a former Prosecutor General in Venezuela and one of the most outspoken critics of the Maduro government. Ms. Ortega’s criticism eventually led to her being removed from her post and her subsequent move to Colombia seeking asylum.
A society without free press is one without the ability to formulate independent opinions and make informed decisions. Although these actions may be restrictive, they do not appear effective, judging by the vast protests from citizens throughout the country. Externally, this regulation over the media has created a sense of resentment and distrust amongst the international community.
The consequences associated with the suppression of the freedom of the press have been evident in the reputational damage and success of a country, which was once an example to the rest of Latin America. In 1970, Venezuela was the richest country in Latin America, and one of the 20 richest countries in the world, with a per capita higher that Spain, Greece and Israel. Although the situation dramatically changed when oil prices collapsed during the 1980s, which removed the country from its glorified economic status (since almost half the population was below the country's poverty line), the country was still affluent and government finances were in tolerably good shape.
Fast-forward to 2016, and figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reveal that the country had a negative growth rate of minus 8 percent, an inflation rate of 481 percent and an unemployment rate of 17 percent that is expected to climb to 20 percent this year. Simultaneously, Maduro's hostility to foreign business has created a corporate exodus and companies such as Pepsi (PEP), General Motors (GM) and United (UAL) have cut back or left the country entirely.
The lack of transparency afforded by an open media has destabilized the financial community’s trust in the Venezuelan economy since it has inhibited businesses making unbiased judgment calls. Unfortunately, the severity of Venezuela’s unfolding crisis is hard to convey, but one can wonder if the freedom of the press and economic stability of this country will return.