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Venezuela October 27, 2005
H.E. Hugo Chávez
Office of the President
Palacio de Miraflores
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2) 21162
The members of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) have watched with dismay as your government destroys, bit by bit, freedom of the press in Venezuela .
Your government is following the classic pattern of dictatorships, whether of the right or left, of arguing that the media should be regulated for the good of society. Inevitably, that means protection of those in power and suppression of criticism.
You have not yet reached the severity of your colleague in Cuba , President Fidel Castro, who throws difficult journalists into jail and lets them rot there. But you seem headed in that direction. In the last year, your government aimed amendments to the criminal law at journalists, required TV and radio stations to devote many of their broadcast hours to government-designated programming, and raided the offices of publications and the homes of journalists critical of your government.
Only this month, police raided the weekly, La Razón, on orders of a judge who felt a columnist for the paper had attacked him unduly. It was only the latest in a number of police and criminal actions against publications and broadcasters deemed by Venezuelan officials to have insulted them. The law of libel exists for the use of any citizen who believes he has been harmed by the press. The use of criminal laws is totally inappropriate.
Amendments to the criminal code making it a crime to “insult” government officials is the classic ploy of a dictator who wishes to suppress criticism. The proper role of the press — and the reason functioning democracies value free expression — is precisely to enable criticism of those in power so that the people have a variety of sources of information and can make up their own minds.
As for prescribing jail sentences for anyone practicing journalism without a permit, that is a blatant invasion of the right of editors to decide who reports for their publications. Government officials may have the right to decide if they will talk to a journalist, but they don’t have the right to rule on who is a journalist.
Meanwhile, your government’s “Ley Resorte” regulating much of the daily programming of radio and TV stations has forced off the air many opinion programs. They are apparently being replaced by the predictable propaganda pap that drives away audiences (and weakens the financial base of the stations).
The OPC has been defending the right of journalists around the world, including those in the United States , for seven decades. We are in full agreement with the recent resolution of the Inter-American Press Association that Venezuelan journalists face “a tense and uncertain future.”
Freedom of the Press Committee
Isaías Rodríguez Díaz
Edificio sede del Ministerio Público
Republic of Venezuela
Fax: (011.58.2.12) 509-8080
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 , N.Y. 10017
Fax: (212) 557-3528
William R. Brownfield
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela
Embassy of the United States of America
P.O. Box 62291
Fax: (011.58.2) 975-6710
(OR: U.S. Embassy – Venezuela
APO AA 34037)
Ms. Melba Jimenez
Inter-American Press Association
1801 S.W. Third Avenue
Miami , FL 33129
Fax: (305) 635-2272