January 21, 2006

Out and Out Censorship

Regular readers know I've long resisted calling Chavez's government a dictatorship, and have criticized those who do. For all of the government's evident, growing authoritarianism, three basic elements of a dictatorship seemed to be missing:

  • Censorship

  • Systematic (rather than selective) repression of dissidents

  • Systematic (rather than selective) repression of opposition organizations

  • Well, you can strike the first one off that list, now that Prosecutor General Isaias Rodriguez has asked the National Telecommunications Council (Conatel) to investigate six TV stations and four newspapers for publishing leaks relating to the Danilo Anderson murder investigation and, much worse, instructed five of his own prosecutors to investigate those news organizations for "obstruction of justice." (In my book, what they're guilty of is more like "obstruction of obstruction of justice"!)

    How alarming are these developments? Very. Very, very. Note:

  • Once again Isaias investigates the leakers, not the leak. On the substance of the latest revelation - documentary evidence that his key witness was in jail in Colombia at the time he claimed to be hatching the Anderson conspiracy in Panama - not a word.

  • Three of the five prosecutors Isaias has asked to launch this farcical "obstruction of justice" investigation (Yoraco Bauza, Gilberto Landaeta, and Turcy Simancas) are publicly implicated for taking part in Anderson's extortion racket. The same three, lest we forget, who are still heading the Anderson murder investigation.

  • Conatel - a TELECOMMUNICATIONS regulatory agency - is being asked to investigate four NEWSPAPERS. But newspapers are not telecoms!! They do not use the public airwaves: by definition they are outside Conatel's realm of competence.

  • The Prosecutor General is seeking an injunction to prevent publication of future leaks of trial materials as well as "any information concerning statements, the identity, or any other information about witness Geovanny Vasquez de Armas." The wording really couldn't be any broader. Isaias is seeking a sweeping prior restraint order - a court action to ban publication of embarrassing information before the fact.

  • There are no two ways about it, this is the first clear cut instance of out-and-out, no-more-mister-nice-guy censorship in the Chavez era. We're no longer talking about intimidation, harrassment, measures to encourage self-censorship...none of that. These guys are seeking a sweeping prior restraint order. By any definition, that's censorship, pure and simple.

    We've seen this coming for a long time. Now it's here...