Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Powerful Failure, Live

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Powerful Failure, Live

Article excerpt

Watching this rare spectacle, if only for a while, Venezuelans got to see which kind of power is really failing in our country.

Venezuelans are used to the routine. A computer-generated Venezuelan flag flutters on the screen, followed by a ponderous announcement: "This is a broadcast from the Ministry of People's Power for Communication and Information of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and by the national network of radio and television." Forget about that baseball game. This is a cadena, or chain, meaning it's a chained broadcast and every single channel has to carry it. (And every radio station, too!)

As soon as the little flag and fanfare come on, wealthier Venezuelans immediately turn to cable TV or the Internet. But poorer Venezuelans are stuck. Their airwaves have been hijacked, and for who knows how long. A speech by President Hugo Chavez can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours.

The system was designed decades ago as a way to ensure the timely diffusion of information in case of natural disasters or to broadcast the rare state ceremony. But its use has exploded in the Chavez era. Now, several times a week we're hit with lengthy cadenas, always highly scripted affairs: torrents of propaganda usually in the form of a speech delivered to a handpicked audience of Chavez loyalists.

Which is what made the cadena broadcast from Venezuela's industrial heartland, Guayana, this past Monday so astonishing. Speaking to a crowd of carefully vetted union supporters, Chavez suddenly found himself on the receiving end of some heated demands from steelworkers. The audience had refused to play the role assigned to it by his handlers.

Having asked the crowd whether it approved of the sterling construction work his government had done on a new steel-tube factory nearby, Chavez was met with a chorus of "noes." The workers then informed him that progress on the plant had been at a standstill for some time. Someone had been lying to the big boss. …

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