Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez taken more than a few a steps toward the establishment of a totalitarian state in Venezuela. We have all heard of the systematic repression of the freedom of the press, the confiscation of broadcasting companies that oppose the government plan and of the mandatory broadcasts of all his speeches. Now President Chavez’s grip on freedom of expression has taken the form of a decree, that establishes the “Centro de Estudio Situacional de la Nacion” (CESNA) or the “Center for Situational Study of the Nation”. This new institution has the power to declare “confidential, classified or restricted the disclosure of any information, fact or circumstance considered to be of national interest.”
In other words, newspapers, radio stations, blogs and instant messages are forbidden to disclose what the government classifies as sensitive to national interest. The government may prosecute transgressors for crimes against national security or for the practice of terrorism, and may end up in jail for 5 to 10 years.
The CESNA mission is nothing more than censorship and intelligence gathering. One can read it clearly in its mandate when it states that part of its job is to, “collect, process and analyze all information from state institutions as well as the society on any aspect deemed of national interest to provide the government with analytical information support.”
Mr. Chávez wants to use fear to exert absolute control over the vast majority of Venezuelans. With this strategy, the Venezuelan government is instilling fear, knowing full well that the basic equation of political science is defined as the relationship between the severity of punishments and the ability to create voluntary compliance. With greater capacity to punish, the government hopes to generate greater obedience. The question for the Venezuelan people is how long defiant forces will persist under the new law as well as any physical or psychological violence related to it.
The method of punishment against disobedience will be elemental to the survival of the Chavez government. To get into the mind of people to instill fear or respect is a sophisticated process; it requires more work than a set of established penalties. This process has proven effective for other repressive governments. The Venezuelan government has made the calculation that the establishment of fear in the long run is politically less costly than the imposition of punishments.
The creation of CESNA in Venezuela is a well-timed strategy to limit the freedoms of its citizens and to further restrict the constitutional right to information just when elections are approaching. The criminalization of certain criticism or information sets the tone of a clear vocation that aims to further suppress freedom and democracy in a country where both are slowly fading away.
To read more about issues related to freedom of expression, I advise you to visit the 22nd edition of the CIPE-sponsored Perspectiva Spanish language magazine.