El Aissami’s Twitter outburst against cartoonist Roberto Weil was disturbing not so much because of its crudeness, but because of what it says about El Aissami’s morally flawed understanding of what freedom of speech means in Venezuela.

That free speech is a fundamental human right and one that is necessary for democracy is a well-established principle. It is equally true that societies – even the most democratic ones – still place restrictions on free speech. To take a Canadian example, hate speech laws prohibit anyone from advocating or promoting genocide. Whether there should be restrictions, and what those restrictions might be, is another topic for another day.

It is clear that El Aissami was offended by the cartoon in question. I don’t believe it is too far a stretch to say that El Aissami probably saw the cartoon, thought it directly referenced the death of Robert Serra, and inferred that the cartoon was calling Serra and the PSUV “rats”. Had the governor not been offended, he would scarcely have reacted the way he did on Twitter.

The governor opened his attack against Weil by tweeting an image of the cartoon in question and indignantly stating, This is the “freedom of expression” that the miserable right wing defends! To El Aissami, the issue is clear: freedom of expression has boundaries, and this cartoon went over the boundary. By mocking the death of a person and calling his grieving supporters “rats”, El Aissami believes the right to freedom of expression was abused. In other words, what El Aissami said is that the freedom of expression cannot, should not, give anyone a platform to insult, offend or mock anyone else.

Had El Aissami stopped here, there would be no story, aside from perhaps a conversation about what the boundaries of free speech are. However, he immediately went on to call Weil “garbage” and a “son of a bitch”. He berates Weil for doing something wrong, then goes on to do the exact same thing without shame or restraint. Insulted and resentful towards the freedom of speech, he uses his freedom of speech to insult. It’s almost a logical palindrome.

With his vile, hypocritical rant, El Aissami proves that Venezuela is a country where freedom of speech only applies to the people in power, and where any threat – whether real, or as in this case, imagined – to that order results in vicious character attacks with no repercussions whatsoever.

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