While Hugo Chavez is often presented in the West as the second coming of Fidel Castro, the reality is far more complex. For example, critics who chastise Chavez for silencing a critical television station often fail to mention that the same media outlet promoted and participated in a military coup against the democratically elected Venezuelan president.
At first blush, this would certainly seem to be reason for alarm—a government shutting down a television station because it doesn’t like its editorial bent. But RCTV is not exactly your average television station. In April 2002, it promoted and participated in a coup against Chavez in which a democratically elected president was overthrown by military rebels and disappeared for two days until large street protests and a counter-coup returned him to power.
For two days prior to the coup, RCTV suspended all regular programming and commercials and ran blanket coverage of a general strike aimed at ousting Chavez. Then it ran nonstop ads encouraging people to attend a massive anti-Chavez march on April 11, 2002, and provided wall-to-wall coverage of the event itself with nary a pro-Chavez voice in sight.
When the protest ended in violence and military rebels overthrew the president, RCTV, along with other networks, imposed a news blackout banning all coverage of pro-Chavez demonstrators in the streets demanding his return. Andres Izarra, a news director at RCTV, was given the order by superiors: zero chavismo en pantalla, no Chavistas on the screen. He quit in disgust and later joined the Chavez government.
On April 13, 2002, after the coup-installed President Pedro Carmona eliminated the Supreme Court and the National Assembly and nullified the Constitution, media barons, including RCTV’s main owner, Marcel Granier, met with Carmona in the presidential palace and, according to reports, pledged their support to his regime. While the streets of Caracas literally burned with rage over Chavez’s ouster, the television networks ran Hollywood movies like Pretty Woman.