Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

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Creation of Intelligence Unit Renews Concerns about Venezuela’s Freedom of Information

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

On September 30, at a military commemoration for a battle for the war of independence, President Maduro used a presidential decree to create the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Fatherland (CESPPA), which will be headed by Major General Gustavo González López, the former Secretary of the Intelligence and Security Unit of the Electric System. Maduro explained that the new intelligence agency will “coordinate, organize, and elevate our capacity to recognize and overcome, before it happens, any plan against the country.”

At this stage, very little is known about the functions and reach of the CESPPA.  What is known however is that it will centralize intelligence information, respond directly to the Presidency, and replace the Centro de Estudio Situacional de la Nación (CESNA) created by Chávez.

Local organization and analysts have reacted critically to the creation of CESPPA. In the weekly online edition of SIC, a magazine published by the Jesuit Centro Gumilla, Laura Weffer wrote that several aspects of the promulgation decree were particularly troublesome. Article 3 of the decree states that CESPPA will answer to the requirements of the “Political-Military Direction of the Bolivarian Revolution,” a political organ that does not figure in the Venezuelan Constitution. Furthermore, Weffer points to the fact that the same article speaks of “internal and external” enemies, without defining who they might be, and that Article 9 states that the President of CESPPA has the right to censure any information provided by the agency.

Media commentator Marcelino Bisbal also expressed worry over articles 3 and 9 of the decree and emphasized that “the decree says that any destabilizing information, coming from the public or private sector, that they [CESPPA] deem dangerous to the security and sovereignty of the fatherland, and generates chaos, will be limited and censured. The big concern has to do with the discretion of the people that will head CESPPA: What criteria will they use to limit the flow of information?”

The Alliance for Freedom of Expression, an umbrella organization that groups several journalist unions, the Human Rights Center of UCAB, and several NGOs such as Espacio Público and Expresión Libre, published a press release in which they criticize the creation of the CESPPA and ask the Venezuelan government to derogate the presidential decree. Instead they argued that the National Assembly should be the organ in charge of “promulgating a law that regulates issues related to classification of secret or confidential documents, according to international standards of human rights and following an open debate with the participation of diverse sectors of society.” 

Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “shares the concerns voiced by local organizations that represent journalist and media” about CESPPA. Specifically RSF is concerned about mentions in the promulgation decree of an “internal and external enemy” and the prerogative given to the President to classify and restrict information provided by CESPPA. RSF argues that “Venezuela’s state agencies are much criticized for their lack of transparency. Getting access to crime statistics, for example, continues to be impossible. This decree will make concealment even easier at a time when the government is confronting major economic difficulties which, to be resolved, ought to be the subject of informed debate. Once again, the government prefers to blame supposed ‘enemy activity’ to which this decree refers without describing it. What can one discuss publicly in Venezuela today without being accused yet again of ‘destabilizing the country’ or ‘endangering national security’?”

The Interamerican Press Society, an organization that represents media owners from across the Americas, also expressed concern over the creation of CESPPA. According to Claudio Paulillo, President of the organization’s Commission for Freedom of Press “we are witnessing a case of unlimited arrogance, the government assumes the power of establishing what can be informed, criticized, or what individuals can express opinions about, holding in its hand an agency created by itself, with which it can control, censure, and punish as it wills. It’s something like being president, legislator, and judge at the same time.”

The presidential decree promulgating the creation of CESPPA comes at a time of an increase in government rhetoric against private media. Maduro has accused the local press of being part of the “economic war” he claims the country is facing. He has also claimed that private media is minimizing his accomplishments or even censuring government events.

On September 28, Maduro publicly asked the Fiscalia General to open an investigation in order to punish “the psychological war that the press, television and radio are waging against the security of the people and the economic life of the nation.” On September 30, a day before the creation of CESPPA, the government media control agency CONATEL announced it would be carrying out an investigation into the content of “Caso de Investigación,” a program aired by Globovisión that had been monitoring shortages of certain specific products in the country. According to Conatel General Director Pedro Maldonado, “this program could be spreading elements that might generate chaos among the citizenry, by giving coverage to a supposed shortage of vehicles and food products at a national level.”

More recently, on October 13, Maduro accused the local daily 2001, a newspaper owned by the media group Bloque de Armas, of criminal behavior because of its headline: “Fuel is being sold drop by drop.” The 2001 article claimed that drivers had been complaining about scarcity of 91 octane fuel in some stations. “What 2001 is doing is a crime, (…) and those that have responsibilities in the Venezuelan State cannot allow this. (…) We have to defend society from these criminals that attack us from their media outlets,” declared Maduro.

Filed under Venezuela freedom of information cesspa