The reports of the past five years, ever since the Constitution of the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was approved in 1999 to establish truth in reporting and the right of reply, have spoken eloquently on the systematic violations of freedom of speech and freedom of the press to the detriment of private media outlets, their managers, and their journalists. These violations have included attacks on the right to life, to personal safety, and to work. Under the agreements signed on May 29, 2003 between the government and the opposition group known as Coordinadora Democrática — which were facilitated by OAS General Secretary César Gaviria, former U.S. President James Carter, and the United Nations — Venezuela agreed to find a constitutional, democratic, and electoral solution to the country’s severe governability crisis and sharp social polarization. This solution is on the verge of being thwarted by the authorities’ attempt to ignore the will of the people as expressed in the signatures in support of a presidential recall referendum and by the repressive, indiscriminate actions taken by the Armed Forces and the political police. This has led in the past two weeks to the jailing of nearly 400 people, along with others who are missing. These cases include 14 journalists who have been attacked and three arrested, in addition to Carlos Colmenares, an RCTV cameraman who was shot and is now protected by a preventive order issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after he was assaulted again last August. According to statistics of the International Federation of Journalists, the National Colegio of Journalists, and the National Union of Media Workers, the following journalists were assaulted: Carlos Montenegro (Televen), Vladimir Gallardo (El Impulso), Berenice Gómez (Últimas Noticias), Felipe Izquierdo (Univisión), Johnny Figarella (Globovisión), Henry Delgado (El Nacional), Edgar López (El Nacional), Janeth Carrasquilla (Globovisión), Billy Castro (Diario Impacto), Bernabé Ruiz (El Tiempo), Willimar Rodríguez (El Impacto), Reyna Díaz (El Tiempo), María Gómez (Telecaribe), and Omar González (Telecaribe). Alirio Rodríguez and Dainu Acosta, professors of journalism in Maracaibo, and Roberto Rasquin were arrested. Electoral authorities passed a set of restrictive regulations — which are at odds with international standards — for Venezuelans to sign petitions for referenda to recall public officials as provided in Article 72 of the Constitution. These restrictions included limiting the locations for signature collection, placing these locations under supervision by election officials and the Armed Forces, accepting the people’s signatures only on secure forms printed, numbered, and distributed by the government, imposing limited dates and times for signature collection, and, as if that were not enough, publicly threatening to dismiss government employees or suspend the government benefits of anyone signing the recall petition. Nevertheless, the opposition collected nearly 3.5 million signatures, one million more than the number required by the Constitution. While the signatures were being collected, the Venezuelan president announced that a colossal fraud was being committed against him, even though the OAS and the Carter Center acknowledged the peaceful, exemplary, and transparent character of the process. It is within this context of severe legal and political uncertainty, then, that the most recent developments in violation of freedom of speech and the press must be understood. In October of last year, President Chávez again insulted the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling them fools and “protectors of criminals” for having issued a preventive order to protect the Globovisión television station, whose transmission equipment had been seized by government officials. The Inter-American Human Rights Court, located in San José, Costa Rica, and the Commission have also reiterated their complaint that the government of President Chávez has failed to obey the preventive orders and provisional measures passed to protect journalists’ freedom of speech and their right to life and personal safety. In December, a number of Catholic churches were targeted in attacks and arson attempts, and images of the Virgin Mary in Caracas and the states of Miranda and Falcón were vandalized by government supporters. The authorities remained silent in the face of these incidents. On December 18, the Constitutional Division of the Venezuelan Supreme Court issued Ruling No. 1942, upholding the validity of what are known as the contempt laws, which establish criminal penalties for journalists whose writings are insulting to government officials or employees. Under constitutional regulations, this ruling is binding on all divisions of the Supreme Court as well as on other courts in the country, and by the way it is worded, it renews one of the most flagrant policies of official intolerance. This ruling reinforces the tendency of the judiciary to restrict freedom of speech and the press. This tendency began with a previous ruling, No. 1013 — then denounced by the Venezuelan Press Bloc before the Inter-American System — which places the above-mentioned freedoms under restrictions that are unacceptable according to the Declaration of Chapultepec and the OAS Declaration on Freedom of Expression, as it forces publishers to practice self-censorship in their reporting and sets regulations on content and editing of news published in the media, among other features. In addition to holding that the Constitutional Division of the Venezuelan Supreme Court is the only body authorized to decide which human rights are to be recognized and respected in Venezuela and within what limits, Ruling No. 1942 states the following: “If an international organization, legally accepted by the Republic, decides to protect someone who is violating the human rights of groups or individuals in the country, this decision shall be rejected even if it comes from an international human rights organization.” The Plenum of the Supreme Court, expressing its full support of the ruling handed down by the Constitutional Division, subsequently issued the following statement in open defiance of international human rights treaties: “Any decision by bodies of supranational, transnational, or international jurisdiction that violates the Constitution, or that has not been through the full process established under national law, is not applicable in Venezuela.” “Recommendations from international organizations, especially from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights … are not binding...” “Freedom of speech is not an absolute right of human beings…” Basing himself on Ruling No. 1013, a government prosecutor — who is currently relieved of his duties for allegedly committing a punishable act — filed a civil suit for damages against the newspaper El Carabobeño, accusing it of liability in the publication of an article by one of its journalists that reported on a well-known incident that was similarly reported in other media outlets. The story told of the arrest of the prosecutor by judicial police authorities when he was caught in possession of a stolen vehicle. The court case is currently in the testimony phase. In January, the organization Reporters Without Borders described 2003 as a “dark year,” as it condemned assaults against 93 Venezuelan journalists, most of them victimized by supporters of President Chávez. On February 15, Vladimir Villegas, president of the government-owned television station Venezolana de Televisión, made statements to journalist Milagros Socorro that aptly illustrate how, in the past five years, the state-controlled media have turned into unprecedented laboratories of disinformation against those who disagree with government policies: “Don’t ask me for balanced reporting when we are in a battle, and in this battle I am not impartial…. I am at this station as a politician, not a journalist…. You accuse the channel of airing propaganda; well, we do air propaganda…. We cannot be impartial. You’re asking me to act as a journalist. You are mistaken; I am the president of a political institution.” On February 18, some heavily armed individuals wearing ski masks burst into the site of the transmission antennas of Globovisión Channel 33 and threatened the employees there. This came after President Chávez, speaking on his Sunday radio program “Aló Presidente” on February 15, said the following: “We are ready, 24 hours a day. You all can tell the world whatever you want, but I am not going to allow you to destabilize the country because I am the head of state... You all are going to be taken over militarily, by storm, regardless of the consequences, because here the Constitution and the law must be enforced.” That same day, the government of the state of Lara sent a police agent to check on people and visitors at the newspaper El Impulso, driving their police vehicles into the newspaper’s private parking areas. Police officers in the state of Carabobo, meanwhile, stopped a reporter for the newspaper NotiTarde and pointed their guns at him while he was taking photos to back up his reports on alleged police corruption. The attacks by the courts and military against those the government deems as part of the opposition know no bounds. Under an order issued by the Ministry of Defense, which is headed by Gen. José Luis García Carneiro, the Military Attorney General was instructed to put five journalists — Marta Colomina, César Miguel Rondón, Marianella Salazar, Ibéyise Pacheco, and Patricia Poleo — on trial in military tribunals. Various outlets of the print media are being subjected to undue pressures and investigations over tax matters, as a way of intimidating their publishers and curtailing the news they report on the severe political, social, and institutional crisis. The fine of 582 million bolivars assessed to Channel 33 by the state telecommunications agency CONATEL, for alleged violations in the use of radio frequencies, is an example of the government’s use of economic instruments to exert pressure. The most recent attacks by President Chávez on the representatives of the OAS, the Carter Center, and the United Nations, as well as on the governments of the “friendly countries” designated by the OAS to help resolve the situation in Venezuela, clearly signal the beginning of a period of confrontation and international isolation.