Thursday, July 11, 2013

Repressors for Liberty!

Edward Snowden -
on his way to Caracas?
NSA leaker Edward Snowden is apparently looking for asylum in Venezuela - if he can get there (this Washpost article details the geographical challenges). But if and when he arrives in Caracas, Snowden will find that Venezuela's chavista government contradicts many of the civil libertarian and press freedom values Snowden holds dear.

I hope Snowden makes it to some safe harbor. He's a courageous guy, who's done us a service by exposing the U.S. government's pervasive and virtually unsupervised snooping apparatus. Government espionage is useful and invevitable.
A Venezulan newspaper protests government censorship.

But, collect everybody's information all the time - just in case it's useful someday? Administer the secret system with a secret court whose judges give the spyers almost everything they ask for? That's the formula for trampling dissent whenever a Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover gets his paws on that data.

'Media Being Asphixiated' in Venezuela.
A protest by the
 Institute of Press and Society.
I'd hate to see Snowden, who did society an important service at great personal risk, thrown into a cell, humiliated and put on trial like Bradley Manning. But I also dread the prospect of him being trotted out in chavista propaganda pieces, enabling one of the planet's more repressive governments to claim to be a defender of freedom.

Under President Chavez and his succesor Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan government has systematically intimdated, economically strangled and straight-out shut down opposition media. The two most recent to go have been the opposition TV channel Globovision and the independent Cadena Capriles media group, both recently sold to owners who are apparently close to the government. Previously, the government had forced the vehemently hostile RCTV off of the air. The chavistas have eliminated nearly all checks and balances, enabling them to trample on civil rights.

Venezuelans protest the closing of RCTV,
Venezuela's oldest television station and a harsh government critic.
It's no surprise, therefore, that Freedom House rated Venezuela's media 'Not free' and called its media environment "repressive."

"While freedoms of speech and the press are constitutionally guaranteed, the legal environment is characterized by standing threats of arbitrary detention, charges, fines, and sentences, as well as license manipulation and other administrative harassment aimed at opposition media, primarily broadcast stations and daily newspapers," Freedom House wrote.

For its part, the Inter American Press Association condemned "the progressive elimination of independent media" in Venezuela.

'Snowden's Latin American Defenders Don't Lead by
Example,' says the Wall Street Journal.
Combine Venezuela's muzzled press with its court system which has lost all pretense of independence from government, and you've got the ingredients for a police state - making the US's espionage system appear free and open. In fact, the Venezuelan government has made a habit of recording, editing and broadcasting private conversations between opposition leaders.

As for Ecaudor, another possible Snowden destination, Freedome House wrote: "Ecuador declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to government-sponsored regulations that severely restricted media coverage of electoral campaigns, President Rafael Correa’s directive to withdraw government advertising from privately owned media that are critical of the government, and a general reduction in political and investigative reporting due to an increasingly hostile environment for the press created by the Correa government."

And Freedom House published that condemnation even before this year's Ecuadorean press law, which turned newspapers into 'public service utilities', enabling the government to control their content.

As badly as the U.S.'s espionage has played overseas, Washington compounded this p.r. disaster with its heavyhanded efforts to stop and search Bolivian Pres. Evo Morales' plane on its way home from Russia. And the latest revelations of U.S. spying in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico will only mean more regional sympathy for Venezuela and the chavistas.

An ambitious reporter with El Tiempo
changed Snowden's ex-employer to the CIA.
Terrorism is horrific, but the number of terrorism victims in the United States is miniscule compared to scourges which much of society seems to have accepted, such as highway deaths and gun fatalities. Rather than establishing a massive, astronomically expensive surveillance system to hunt down a principled young man, the U.S. (and Colombia) could save many more lives by making guns and cars safer, not to mention providing better infant and child nutrition.

Needless to say, and as many have pointed out, by creating a huge, potentially repressive state security apparatus, we're doing the terrorists' work for them. I suspect that Venezuela would not be Snowden's first choice. But it's understandable that he'd prefer even an authoritarian state to prison in the United States.

I just hope that snowden, who seems principled and courageous, will have the backbone to denounce the repressive acts of his new hosts.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Excellent post Mike, I couldn't agree with you more. I just hope to find more and more americans with the courage and principles of Snowden, he is in my opinion a real hero, as much as Bradley Manning is also a big hero too. I think that Snowden prefers Venezuela as bad as it is, to see himself in an american prison or even worse, an airport in Moscow for the rest of his life, he is just desperate and, who could blame him. It would be wonderful if Snowden could jump from Venezuela to Colombia, I think he can have a better life and somehow more freedom in Bogota, but knowing how much of a brown nose My country is with the Withe House I doubt this will happen.

Miguel said...

Hi Mauricio,

You're right.

I'm afraid that if Snowden stepped onto Colombian soil he'd find himself on the plane to a US prison forthwith.


Miguel said...

I just wish Colombian media would get things straight and quit calling Snowden an 'ex-CIA contractor.' The guy never worked for the CIA.

However, since neither journalists nor the public here has heard of the NSA, 'the CIA' makes a convenient synonym for government surveillance.


Stuart Oswald said...

Snowden and Assange should return to the countries where they stand accused. Seeking out escape from justice in such countries as they have done, does zero for their cause.