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Venezuela: The recall remains the solution

Andrés Mata in the 95th anniversary of El Universal, interviewed by Roberto Giusti

Exactly five years before the first century of its foundation, El Universal has become a solid reference of democracy in the middle of an already too long conflict and a search that sometimes looks impossible: A consensus built on a rational debate, a civilized exchange of ideas and the agreement on a shared agenda for the two parties that compete for power.

That is at least the thesis defended by the paper's editor, Andrés Mata Osorio, who ratified El Universal's support to a constitutional, peaceful and democratic solution, namely the presidential recall election, and the participation of the Organization of American States (OAS), in the purpose of rebuilding the country materially, morally and institutionally.

Q.: How do you conceive journalism, as a social apostolate, as a search for truth, as a business or as all of these together, which is already a contradiction?

A.: Journalism is a daily plebiscite. It is a product that you offer the readers everyday. I must cause an impact on the readers and be useful to them. I call that a manual of basic survival. Although they are accused of publishing only negative news, the newspapers are obliged to disseminate facts like, for instance, in Venezuela one person is killed every hour, and critical poverty is destroying the healthy social tissue still surviving in the country. In the former Yugoslavia, the papers resisted in the worst moments and became essential tools to the survival of a war-ridden society.

Q.: Beyond the basic journalistic responsibility - saying the truth -, in the conflictive situations that Venezuela is going through, are not the media obliged to serve as bridges to achieve co-existence?

A.: The Venezuelan journalism has an enormous responsibility, but, just like the rest of the society, it is unfortunately suffering a polarization process and mutual deafness. There is a need for a forum guaranteeing the plural dissemination of all the voices and allowing the citizens to choose between various political and ideological options. Unhappily, as the political parties are so weakened and the polarization process is so intense, in many cases journalism has become a form of litigation that tries to convince an already convinced public about certain positions. Because of this extreme polarization, the role of the press as facilitator of ideas has gotten stuck.

Q.: Are those words of self-criticism?

A.: I would say they are, to a certain extent. But the problem is also a government that is not interested in responding to the message of the media and the civil society. That is where the polarization and political instability come from, and they castrate institutions completely.

Q.: Is not the government that castrates the institutions?

Sometimes, it is not that the institutions are dominated by the government, but that polarization paralyzes them.

Q.: The media seem to exacerbate tensions, instead of reducing them.

A.: In the case of El Universal, we made a very specific, personal attempt. Some friends came up to me and proposed the creation of a 'Boston Group,' an idea of Senator Kennedy to gather Venezuelan legislators, both from the government and the opposition to promote a conciliatory culture. We traveled twice to the United States, and during the trips we stimulated monthly encounters between frontally opposed lawmakers like Calixto Ortega and Pastor Heydra. They were not nice exercises, and the dialogue sometimes got too furious. But this communication allowed us to publish the Boston Group column in the paper, aiming at coming up with a legislative agenda including the two political visions in conflict, basing it on a contrast of ideas and rational debate. Our intention was to go beyond an oversimplification or becoming the voice of one single trend.

Q.: Was it worth it?

A.: Only time can say if the Boston Group was a failure or it meant the beginning of reconciliation in the Legislative Power.

Q.: What is Andrés Mata's opinion?

To me, it was a great opportunity that became a great disappointment. I want to thank Pedro Elías Blum and even Calixto Ortega, in whom we saw good faith and the will to change the image of the National Assembly. He wants a legislative body whose members can hold relations without hitting each other or attend the sessions unarmed, that is, rational dialogue and the search for a consensus to fight poverty and violence.

Q.: In other words, the experience was a failure.

A.: Unfortunately, polarization has grown, but I will not lose the hope that the group comes up again and we can have meetings with the regularity we used to, because the failure of the Boston Group is the failure of the country.

Q.: Given this philosophy, how do you envision the crisis?

A.: The solution was clearly designed in the Resolution 883 of the OAS, which points the constitutional, electoral, democratic and non-violent route to the solution of the problems. We continue to promote the recall, as stated in the May 2003 accords, in which the government committed itself to support it under the observation of the OAS and the Carter Center. It is a solution designed by a multilateral instance, which is not quite frequent. There is also the support - which I find fundamental - of the Inter-American Democratic Charter approved on September 11, 2001. This attaches an even greater responsibility to the OAS in the case that a government ceases to be democratic. The Inter-American Charter was first tested with (Peru's President Alberto) Fujimori, whose reelection was declared a fraud. The second test was during the 2002 coup d'etat in Venezuela, when the "ministry of the colony" (OAS), says (Cuban President Fidel) Castro, helped Chávez to return to power. There are, then, three parties: the OAS, the government and the opposition. What is to be seen is whether multilateralism has sufficient grasp.

Q.: ...And if El Universal, now 95, makes it to the 100.

A.: I feel an incredible nostalgia for the Cold War. In those times, any little local problem could become a conflict between the free soul of man and the Marxist dialectic. With a bi-polar international system, there is no periphery, because the two empires mutually overview the areas of influence. When bi-polarity collapsed, vast regions became peripheral, lost areas. This happens now in Africa, in some regions of Asia and you need to see how it happens in Latin America, too. Capitalism, without the moral challenge of Communism, can become cruel and corrupt.

Q.: That thesis looks very much like Chávez'.

A.: Globalization is unfair, asymmetrical and ferocious. But worse than that is to isolate the country when we are so close to the only possible way to development. Not understanding that the world has changed may be worse than criticizing what you do not like. What is at stake is whether the multilateralism of the OAS can efficiently defend the democratic system in situations where poverty and misery may become destabilizing. This is happening in Bolivia and Venezuela at this moment.

Q.: With an active guerrilla in Colombia, indigenous movements in the Andean countries, the lack of law in Peru, Chávez in Venezuela and Castro in Cuba, is not it feasible that a pole appears to counterweight the supremacy of the United States?

A.: The sad thing of all these movements is that they are based on dreamy ideologies. Marxism has become an ideological pretext to narco-laundry, control of institutions and the pure and inflexible exercise of power. Translated by Edgardo Malaver

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