Available in Spanish. Kindly translated by Daniel Urbina
Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, his passing of a package of 49 laws meant to implement a process of fundamental social and political transition and, especially, since a failed coup attempt in 2002, the Bolivarian Revolution has carried on. It has faced both foreign and domestic enemies, and it has not been free of internal problem such as mismanagement, opportunism and corruption. Yet, by launching both land- and oil industry reform, it has also driven forward policies of economic support for workers, the poor, and indigenous people; and it has established new mechanisms for popular participation. Challenging neoliberalism, the Bolivarian Revolution has produced some real gains for the Venezuelan majority.
Communications have been unusually important in this wider program of transformation. Emboldened somewhat by Chavez’s 2007 call for an “explosion of communal power,” local community media have possessed an uncomfortable status: at once reliant on the central state and needfully independent of it. These media reform efforts have also occurred within the context of a media political economy that was structured predominantly around the interests of capital. Venevision is a commercial broadcast service with a 67% share of the audience and is owned by Gustavo Cisneros, whose net worth in 2013 was estimated at $4.4 billion. Similarly, meanwhile, “The New Television Station of the South” Telesur – a pan-Latin American network headquartered in Caracas but a collaborative effort between Venezuela (51%), Argentina (20%), Cuba (14%), Uruguay (10%), and Bolivia (5%) – had to square off against the well-funded CNN and other largely hostile international media. Many participants in the Bolivarian Revolution understood that, by mobilizing in this strategic field, they were mounting a challenge to an inequitable and deeply rooted existing order in communications.
President Chavez in fact broke sharply with the neoliberalism that, during the 1990s, succeeded in privatizing national telecommunications operators in dozens of less-developed countries; opening the companies that resulted to foreign investment; laying off many of their workers and outsourcing work to still other private companies. With the price of oil high and oil revenue pumping dollars into the state, and with the Right still momentarily off-balance following the failed 2002 coup attempt, Chavez renationalized CANTV – Venezuela’s major telecommunications company, and the second largest enterprise in the country after the state oil company, PDVSA. Fifteen years after CANTV had been privatized, in order to complete the process of taking back control of national telecommunications, the Bolivarian Revolution had to find $572 million to pay the US telecom giant Verizon for the 28.5% stake it had acquired in CANTV.