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Venezuela May 12, 2010
H.E. Hugo Chávez
Office of the President
Palacio de Miraflores
Republic of Venezuela
The Overseas Press Club of America is extremely discouraged by your government’s recent implementation of an anti-defamation law, the intent of which is clearly the further muzzling of independent voices in Venezuela.
This past March, for example, international media-advocacy groups expressed outrage at the Venezuelan judicial system when it sought to prosecute Guillermo Zuloaga and his television network, Globovisión, for alleged “offensive and disrespectful” comments made about your government’s handling of press-freedom issues.
To put it plainly, your repeated efforts to shut down Globovisión, to find some offense with which to charge Zuloaga and to stifle the network’s journalism with a charge of defamation against the Venezuelan state is an insult to those who prize free expression across the globe.
Your government’s dangerous desire to establish complete ascendency over the media has been from the beginning among its most salient characteristics. You have pledged to eliminate all Internet offenses that, you allege, attack you and your colleagues. The targeting of Globovisión, of the independent network Radio Television Caracas which was forced to close operations two years ago, of 30 independent radio stations now shut down and of a further 200 stations currently under threat of closure is unacceptable in a country with a claim to democratic tradition like Venezuela.
Earlier this year, the International Center for Journalists reported that your war on the media is a “disaster for democracy” in Venezuela. ICJ cited physical attacks by Venezuelan police on reporters, the closures of media, regulation of the Internet and targeted court actions that are creating a precarious climate for journalists.
Only last month, for instance, the global press-freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), called on you to end the almost daily threats and harassment against Gustavo Azócar Alcalá, a journalist working with Televisora del Tachira in Táchira. Alcalá was detained last July and sentenced to two and a half years in prison in March on a charge of “administrative corruption”. We understand Alcala has now been granted a conditional release and acquitted on charges of fraud and embezzling public funds. And yet he continues to have to report to a judge on a weekly basis and is forbidden from running for office until 2012—well after the national elections in September.
It is widely expected that our Venezuelan colleagues will be under further pressures in the run-up to the elections. A taste of what’s to come was the arrest on March 22nd of former Zulia state governor Oswaldo Álvarez Paz after his appearance on a Globovisión interview program two weeks earlier. Paz said during his interview that “Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking hub” and for that assertion he has been charged with “conspiracy against the state”. He is now facing two to 16 years in prison on charges of inciting crime, conspiracy and spreading false information.
We have no point of view on the substance of Paz’s remarks, Your Excellency. But we agree categorically with RWB, which described his arrest as further evidence that your government “is using political score-settling as grounds for tightening its grip on the media at time when it is in difficulty and facing discontent.”
A President has a right to start his own blog, Your Excellency, just as you did this year. But no president has the right to clamp down on media he doesn’t like nor to muzzle opposition voices interviewed in that media.
Since your election in 1999 we have urged you over and over again to respect your own promise to uphold Venezuelan democracy and guarantee civil peace. The work of journalists in Venezuela and indeed around the world is the pivot on which civil society turns. That you appear to understand the work of our colleagues only in terms of who’s with you and who’s against you portends ominously for Venezuela.
Kevin McDermott Tala Dowlatshahi
Freedom of the Press Committee
4380 N.W. 128 Street
Miami, Fl 33054
Fax: (305) 685.5697
Sr. Tannous F. Gerges
Reporte de la Economa
Sr. Guillermo Zuloaga
av. Los Pinos
cruce con Calle Alameda Qta. Globovisión
Urb. Alta Florida
Fax: 011 (0212)730.3606/1968
Sr. Marcel Garnier
Dolores a Puente Soublette
Edificio RCTV, Quinta Crespo
Hon. Isaías Rodríguez Díaz
Edificio sede del Ministerio Público
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.212) 509.8080
Sr. William Lara
Ministro de Comunicaciones e Informacion
Av. Universidad, Esq. “El Chorro”
Torre MCT, piso 10
Republic of Venezuela
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
Embassy of the Republic of Venezuela
1099 Thirtieth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: (202) 342.6820
Ambassador William Brownfield
Embassy of the United States of America
Fax: (011.58.2) 975.6710
Ambassador Jorge Valero
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations
335 East 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 557.3528
Ms. Melba Jimenez
Inter-American Press Association
1801 S.W. Third Avenue
Miami, FL 33129
Fax: (305) 635.2272
Mr. Sean Penn
Creative Artists Agency
2000 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Fax: (424) 288.2900
12233 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Fax: (424) 288.2900