Propaganda broadcasts into Venezuela are one of the only ways to ensure a free and fair election to replace the deceased Hugo Chavez, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Sunday.
"The problem in Venezuela is when you run against the president, he has seized all the means of communications," said California Republican Rep. Ed Royce on Bloomberg TV.
Royce referenced the most recent election in January where a member of the opposition party, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles Radonski, narrowly lost to Chavez in his fourth successful bid for president.
Chavez was able to secure his roughly 12-point victory in part because of his control of Venezuelan broadcast companies, Royce says.
"If other countries or broadcasting stations can broadcast in the message of the opposition to sort of balance this,this time that popular governor who just won reelection might win the election," he told Bloomberg's Al Hunt. "The prior regime has so collapsed the economy – hyper inflation, devaluation of the currency, just absolutely tanked the standard of living – that there is now an opportunity if they can hear another viewpoint, especially with the last election being so close."
The United States should be much more active in programs like those under the now defunct U.S. Information Agency, he says, tasked with broadcasting public diplomacy propaganda throughout the world.
Venezuela watchers believe Vice President Nicolas Maduro, currently the acting president, will likely succeed Chavez if the election system remains unchanged. Maduro is closely aligned with Chavez' socialist politics and will receive many Venezuelans' "sympathy vote," experts say.
Capriles will likely run against Maduro. The election is set for April 14.
But Royce says it is going to be hard for Maduro to replicate the "charismatic strongman" persona Chavez cultivated. Venezuelans will become dissatisfied with the state of their country if they are allowed to learn more about neighboring Colombia, the congressman adds, home to significantly lower inflation rates and a stronger economy.