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Venezuela July 11, 2006
H.E. Hugo Chavez
Office of the President
Palacio de Miraflores
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2) 21-162
We are dismayed to be obliged, for the third time in only two months, to write to you about your government’s increasing persecution of journalists and their freedom of expression.
As you know, the Overseas Press Club of America, an organization of journalists concerned with international affairs, is deeply committed to freedom of media reporting. It is disappointing, Mr. President, that Venezuela appears to disregard those rights. The most recent examples:
1. Julio Balza , a journalist for El Pais Nuevo, was accused of defamation and slander by your minister of infrastructure, Ramon Carrizalas, for reporting in-depth on the potential perils posed by the viaduct that connects the state of Vargas with Caracas , after one of the bridges collapsed. He has been called to trial several times but was in poor health and had not been able to appear.
It is a fact that he made disparaging remarks about the minister, but the minister had the right to reply in the same newspaper, an ideal way to offset what may be considered an excess of free speech. A trial is excessive, and threatening to the international treaties on human rights.
2. Henry Crespo, a journalist for Las Verdades de Mlguel, was convicted in May of criminal defamation after reporting on government corruption and violations of human rights in Guarico. The suit was brought against him by the governor of Guarico, Eduardo Manuitt. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Henry Crespo was handed an 18-month suspended jail term.
3. The Inter-American Press Association reports that in a “ridiculous action” aimed at silencing the press, the Bolivar State Legislature of Venezuela decreed that administrative proceedings go forward for the eviction and demolition of the plant of the Correro del Caroni newspaper. A complaint was launched against the company for illegally occupying community lands, for the past twenty-eight years, in fact. But this appears to be a red herring designed to punish the newspaper for freedom of expression. The newspaper was accused earlier by the state governor, Francisco Rangel Gomez, of waging state terrorism” by publishing reports critical of the local government.
4. Now, Mr. President, we note with dismay that in June, you ordered a review of licenses for broadcast outlets that supported the 2002 coup against you. Such stations, you said, might be denied licenses in 2007. William Lara, your Minister of Communications and Information, added that the government was legally entitled to do so, for those stations whose behavior it deemed to be “in violation of the law.” Whose law, Sir?
President Chavez, we ask you, as we have done previously, to review your own words and the practices of your government that give the lie to your language of respect and support for the democratic global covenant concerning human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media. These instances of persecution of journalists are becoming notorious, contradicting the nobility of your rhetoric. You owe yourself the occasion to prove your intentions and clear your own good name.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Hon. Isaias Rodriguez Diaz
Edificio seda del Ministerio Publico
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2) 509-8080
Minister of Communications and Information
Avenue Universitad, Esq, “El Chorro” (MCT piso10)
Republic of Venezuela
Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
Ambassador of Venezuela to the USA
Embasssy of the Republic of Venezuela
1099 Thirtieth Street NW
Washington DC 20007
Fax: (202) 342-6820
Ambassador Fermin Toro Jimenez
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations
335 East 46 th Street
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 557-3528 or 335-3528
William R. Brownsfeld
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela
Embassy of the United States of America
Fax: (011.58.2) 975-6710
(OR: US Embassy – Venezuela
Inter-American Press Association
1891 S.W. Third Avenue
Miami, FL 33129
Fax: (305) 635-2272