RCTV Control Room

Por Venezuela Real - 8 de Junio, 2007, 19:22, Categoría: Testimonios

Gustavo Coronel
June 8, 2007

I know that names do not make the person but I have always felt pretty good about carrying the name Gustavo. I think of Gustave Flaubert, the novelist, or Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, the poet and I feel good. I think of King Gustave of Sweden or of Gustave Eiffel and I feel good. I think of Gustavo Dudamel, the young Venezuelan orchestra conductor and of Gustavo Cisneros, the businessman, and I used to feel pretty good about both, although now I have some doubts. The case of Dudamel is minor but worrying. He conducted the orchestra that played the Venezuelan National Anthem in the opening of the government controlled TV station that replaced the independent station RCTV, illegally closed down by Hugo Chavez. In so doing  young Dudamel showed, at best, poor judgment and, at worst, lack of moral fortitude.

The case of Gustavo Cisneros is more complicated. This is a man who has done much to put Venezuela on the map in many ways: as a successful businessman, as a philanthropist, as a celebrity. He has had the Dalai Lama living at his home for one whole week, has gone fishing with George Bush [Sr.], has dined with the Clintons, drank tea with Mandela, has had lunch with Warren Buffet and cocktails with the King of Jordan. He received Spanish citizenship from the King himself, without even asking for it. Contrary to the sons of many millionaires, who happily spend the money made by their fathers, Gustavo Cisneros converted the domestic business of his father Diego into an international conglomerate and became, in the process, one of the richest men in Latin America, a wealth estimated at some US$6 billion.

What is more important, Gustavo has always refused to leave Venezuela, although his Venezuelan ventures probably represent at this moment a minority portion of his interests. Back in 1994, in the middle of an acute Venezuelan financial crisis, Gustavo Cisneros said: "I will always bet on Venezuela… There is much to be done and we are doing it. We will continue investing in Venezuela." Following on the example of his father Diego, who was a close friend of democratic leader Romulo Betancourt, Gustavo Cisneros always defended Venezuelan democracy. In 1992, when renegade army officer Hugo Chavez staged a coup against democratic president Carlos Andres Perez, Cisneros's TV station Venevision was put at the service of Perez to talk to the nation and this allowed him to regain control of the country from the rebels. After Chavez became president, in 1998, Cisneros' television station became openly critical of the increasingly authoritarian attitudes exhibited by Chavez. In the May 2003 issue of the magazine Poder, a lengthy interview with Cisneros described his "fight with Chavez." During the political crisis of April 2002 that ousted Hugo Chavez from the presidency for hours, before he was put back in power by the military, Cisneros was in Venevision and his TV station had a role to play in reinforcing the popular protest that unseated Chavez. Months later Chavez established a rigid exchange control in the country that lasts up to this day. In the interview with Poder, Cisneros was openly critical of "the damage Chavez is causing the country and to Venezuelans [with these exchange controls]…." However, he added, "I will not close the TV station. I have a compromise with Venezuela."

By 2004 Chavez was openly harassing Venevision and accusing Cisneros of being involved, together with the U.S., in a coup against his government. Arms were presumably found by the Chavez police in an empty office of Venevision. This situation led to a meeting between Chavez and Cisneros, using former President Carter as facilitator. Nobody knows much about what went on in this meeting but the results were soon in evidence. Venevision became less militant in its position against the government, introduced self-censorship and started being perceived by Venezuelans as a neutral station or, even, as leaning in favor of the government. This realignment of Venevision as a more friendly station to Chavez probably allowed Cisneros's Venezuelan companies to receive foreign exchange quotas from the government in a more fluid manner than those companies that were not equally docile.

This was already bad enough, as it showed that Gustavo Cisneros was not a man for whom democratic principles mattered that much and suggested that he would buckle to pressure in order to protect his businesses.

But it would get worse. When Chavez announced in December 2006 that he would not renew RCTV's broadcast license, he served notice to all Venezuelan media that he would close all TV stations and/or newspapers that kept challenging his increasingly dictatorial regime. There is no doubt that Televen (TV station owned by Mr. Omar Camero) and Venevision, owned by Gustavo Cisneros, surrendered completely. Several recent articles leave no doubt about this capitulation by Cisneros.

Cisneros's role in this tragic aggression against freedom of expression in Venezuela represents more than a simple case of business caution. It is a case in business and personal ethics since Gustavo Cisneros had a name and a family tradition of respect for democracy to defend. He had made explicit commitments in the past to defend Venezuelan democracy at all costs. William Phelps, the grandfather of Patricia Phelps, Gustavo's wife, had founded RCTV, the television station being illegally closed down by Chavez. This surely should count when taking a stand. Fair play in business dictates that a company should not profit from the damages inflicted to a competitor by illegal means.

As a Venezuelan citizen I would have expected Gustavo Cisneros to stand up for RCTV, just as Globovision, the other independent station still alive is doing. My name being Gustavo I also would have felt better. I wish that Gustavo Cisneros would have a good explanation for his actions but, as days go by, his silence is deafening.

Oh well, I guess I still have the other Gustavo's to feel good about.

de la dirección del
Nuevo Portal Principal


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