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Venezuela March 29, 2006
Sr. William Lara
Ministro de Comunicaciones e Informacion
Avenue Universidad, Esq. “El Chorro” (Torre MCT, piso 10)
Republic of Venezuela
Dear Mr. Minister:
The Overseas Press Club of America, an association of many of the world’s leading journalists, would like to take the occasion of your appointment as minister of Communications and Information to urge you to review your government’s policies and laws with regard to freedom of the press.
While the Venezuelan press enjoys more freedom than the Cuban press, and Venezuelan journalists are not risking their lives as they are in Mexico, many actions taken by your government have put your country well on the road to total control of the media.
In recent months, the Inter-American Press Association, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all issued formal declarations of concern over the plight of the media in Venezuela. At its recent meeting in Quito, the Inter-American Press Association issued a statement saying that your government “has been increasingly effective in harassing and punishing the independent news media through the use of arbitrary taxation, mob intimidation, and implementation” under the new law of social responsibility.
To argue, as you have, that these organizations are interfering in Venezuela ‘s internal affairs under the orders of the U.S. government or the CIA is ludicrous. These are all, like the Overseas Press Club of America, impartial organizations monitoring press freedom all over the world. They condemn violations wherever they occur. You know better than us the policies and actions that we are referring to, but to summarize briefly, here are some examples:
• Under the new Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, the government sanctioned 22 radio stations and one television station for refusing to turn over tapes of broadcasts so that the government might verify whether they were broadcasting the required amount of national music.
• Ibéyise Pacheco of El Nacional , a critic of the government, was sentenced to nine months in prison when she was sued for libel by Colonel Angel Bellorín. She has since been released after admitting she made a mistake but still faces prosecution on a charge of making “false statements” about the government. However erroneous her reporting may have been, her statements should not be subject to criminal penalties.
• TV presenter, Gustavo Azócar Alcalá, was jailed on the basis of six-year-old charges of fraud and embezzlement. He too has been released but apparently the investigation continues.
• Your predecessor applied to all the media a ban on publishing news of the investigation into the murder of Judge Danilo Anderson in 2004, killed when he was investigating the abortive coup against President Chávez in 2002. Ten media organizations are being investigated for “obstruction of justice” for reporting on the investigation of the Anderson case.
• After President Chávez made a humorous reference to his daughter’s pre-occupation with the horse that appears on the national coat of arms, a columnist wrote a light-hearted editorial on the subject. The columnist was subsequently banned from ever writing about or alluding to the president’s daughter. If this was not so serious, it would be funny.
Venezuela professes to be a democracy today. The surest evidence of a healthy democracy is a willingness to tolerate criticism. The suppression of critics is equally sure evidence of a despotism.
Freedom of the Press Committee
President Hugo Chávez
Office of the President
Palacio de Miraflores
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2) 21-162
Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
Ambassador of Venezuela to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Venezuela
1099 30th 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 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 557-3528
Hon. Isaías Rodríguez Díaz
Edificio sede del Ministerio Público
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2) 12-509-8080
William R. Brownfield Ms. Melba Jimenez
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Inter-American Press Association
Embassy of the United States of America 1801 S.W. 3 rd Avenue
P.O. Box 62291 Miami, FL 33129
Caracas 1060-A Fax: (305) 635-2272
Fax: (011.58.2) 975-6710
(OR: U.S. Embassy – Venezuela
APO AA 34037)