Kept in the dark

AMONG SUPPORTERS: When Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro visited Panama last month, a crowd of several hundred chanted in Spanish, “Maduro, stick it to the Yankee!”
AMONG SUPPORTERS: When Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro visited Panama last month, a crowd of several hundred chanted in Spanish, “Maduro, stick it to the Yankee!” AP

Although Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro often boasts about the transparency of his government, daily reality in his country reveals his claims to be far-fetched.

A recent article in the Miami Herald by correspondent Jim Wyss highlights the difficulties — and often the impossibility — of obtaining public records in Venezuela.

And this despite the fact that its current constitution guarantees citizens public access to “timely and accurate” government information. But this is far from the reality.

One notable example detailed in the article is the ongoing concealment of any news that paints Mr. Maduro’s chavista government in an unfavorable light.

Years ago, during the regime of the late Hugo Chávez, the government closed the public information office linked to law enforcement, an office that used to release figures for murders and other crimes committed in the country. It’s no coincidence that the closure occurred precisely the year that the crime rates began to rise in the South American country.

Now President Maduro, too, apparently wants to suppress those tragically telling police figures, but he can’t hide Venezuela’s rampant crime, which too often makes chilling headlines. The oil-rich country has some of the highest murder and kidnapping rates in the world.

A recent study suggests that organized crime is widespread and threatens Venezuela’s democratic stability by undermining its institutions.

The country has the second-highest murder rate in the world after Honduras with 54 homicides per 100,000 population, according to World Bank figures. It also has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate in the hemisphere.

Why doesn’t the government accept reality and take serious steps to address the country’s crime problem, partly caused by its failing economy? Wouldn’t that be the responsible thing to do?

And it's not just crime figures that are being hidden. Getting information that is readily available to reporters or any citizen in other countries proves a daunting task, if not an impossible one, in Venezuela.

The secrecy goes hand-in-hand with President Maduro’s deteriorating relations with the United States, which in March painted Venezuela as a security threat and imposed sanctions on seven top officials, accusing them of violence and human-rights abuses.

To fight back, President Maduro recently requested and was granted new decree-making powers by the National Assembly. More secrecy is likely to come.

Needless to say, these information barriers primarily affect the work of the country’s independent media. Reporters have to perform a difficult high-wire act to determine if any information released by the government — as elementary as the number of people killed each day or the magnitude of the inflation rate — is accurate.

The lack of transparency is part of the Maduro regime’s attack on the country’s independent press, which is constantly under siege.

The objective is to kill off these pesky media outlets, leaving only the official government-run media serving up state-controlled information.

President Maduro's regime increasingly tightens the clamp on the media and denies citizens their right to know what is really happening in their country.

His claims of a transparent and accountable government are laughable. In fact, Venezuelans themselves can see right through the lie.