Muzzling the freedom and independence of the press and restricting information flows are the tools of 21st century tyrannies, as well as of Cold War holdovers like Cuba. Whether in Tehran, Caracas, Havana, or Quito, silencing the independent press is essential for consolidating and holding power. Blaming domestic unrest on foreign demons, particularly the international media or the U.S., is another tired-and-true demagogic technique.
Latin American leaders of the Castro-Chávez school recognize that today’s outpouring of popular unrest in the streets of Tehran might soon repeat on their turf. Furthermore, they have a vested interest in preserving ties with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and advancing the budding Iran-Latin America axis of anti-Americanism.
On June 12, Chavez telephoned his Iranian friend to congratulate the embattled Iranian on his electoral victory and underscore Venezuela’s continued commitment to working with Iran for “a better world.”
The Venezuela Foreign Ministry officially praised the results of the disputed elections and roundly rejected what it labeled a “ferocious and unfounded campaign from abroad to discredit the elections … for the purposes of disturbing the political climate in a sister nation.” Echoing the official Iranian line, the Venezuelans claimed that any troubles in Iran were the result of externally-guided intimidation and destabilization efforts.
As Iran moved to curb foreign reporting, Chávez and company continue their assaults on press freedom, preferring Havana-style press rules to those practiced elsewhere.
Worries Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer, reflecting on recent attacks on media freedom, “Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, a disciple of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, said that when he takes over as president of the 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in July he will propose creation of a regional body to defend governments against critics in the media.”
In Venezuela, Chávez is moving to shut down one of the last bastions of independent media, Globovision.
The threat to press freedom caused the Department of State on June 12 to speak out in defense of Hemispheric press freedom, calling “on all governments in the region to reaffirm and abide by their commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter to take steps to uphold the human right of freedom of expression, and to protect the press from intimidation and violence. As President Obama made clear in Cairo, democratic governments must maintain their power through consent, not coercion, must respect the rights of minorities, and must govern with a spirit of tolerance and compromise.”
One hopes the Obama Administration is learning that while standing up for freedom and liberty in the Americas (or Iran) tends to irritate our foes, it remains the only defensible and principled stance to take.