Venezuela

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The program that President Hugo Chávez has been advancing for 10 years sharpened when he decreed 26 new laws that impose almost the same regulations that were overturned in the referendum last December 2. Among them is one that permits the expropriation of private property without first declaring that it is needed for public use and another concerning the armed forces that authorizes the establishment of a militia commanded directly, making the military a political instrument. The government action, against the will of the people, has triggered widespread opposition from civil society, expressed in public demonstrations and through the media outlets that are not controlled by the government. The work of independent journalists and media outlets is becoming more and more difficult and dangerous. The responsibility to inform makes it necessary to report on the unprecedented corruption in the handling of public money that has caused Venezuela to be rated internationally as the second most corrupt country in Latin America. During this administration, the domestic public debt increased more than 1,200% and the foreign debt increased three times to more than $67 billion. The current government has received the highest petroleum revenues in history, but more than 2 million Venezuelans are hungry. Unprecedented violence, lack of safety and impunity have made Caracas the capital with the highest murder rate in Latin America and turned the country into one of unpunished crimes, with no one guilty. Those in power try to hide and deny the facts. They threaten, pursue, close off access to official sources of information and suppress statistics. The following attacks on journalists and media outlets were reported: In April: The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern in its 2007 report about “the hostile environment toward political dissent, the increasing litigiousness of social protest, the harassment of nongovernmental organizations and human rights defenders, the existence of direct and indirect obstacles to freedom of expression, the serious conditions in which prisoners are held, criticism of the justice system and an increase in the index of insecurity for citizens.” The residence of Marieta Santana of Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional was raided by the Caracas Metropolitan Police. In May: In its 2007 report, Amnesty International said that violence and impunity persist in Venezuela. It stressed the climate of political violence between citizens and the police because of the failure to renew the license of RCTV and how demonstrators were violently suppressed during protests. Journalists Ana Karina Villalba and Gabriela Perozo of news channel Globovisión reported to the IACHR that they had been attacked by government agents and supporters. In Bejuma, Carabobo state, the office of the weekly Dicho y Hecho was attacked by unidentified people. The lawyer Herman Escarrá reported that the journalist Leocenis García, who was detained in Valencia, is being tortured psychologically and fears for his life. SENIAT, the tax collection agency, sanctioned the newspapers El Nacional of Caracas, Diario Católico of Táchira state and television channels Globovisión and La Tele. The government decided to impose a prohibitive charge for retransmission of each second of the signal of the state channel, Venezolana de Televisión. Independent channels take news of President Chávez’s activities and those of official agencies from that station, because non-government journalists are not allowed to cover them. The charge was suspended after strong protests. In June: The lawyer for Giovanny Vásquez, the main witness in the case of the murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, said his client was given “a script” by then national prosecutor Isaías Rodríguez. Journalist Patricia Poleo was accused on the basis of this false testimony of planning the crime and is demanding justice from exile in the United States. The Venezuela Chamber of Broadcasting expressed concern about the proliferation of more than 300 illegal stations and demanded that the government close them. Nelson Belfort, president of the chamber, questioned the selective closure of stations by the government and criticized the fact that only 40% of the 156 AM stations that requested license renewals on time have had them renewed. The Intelligence and Counterintelligence Law presented by the government to control citizens’ activities restrict information and the work of journalists, in a blatant violation of constitutional principles, triggered widespread protests. The nationwide repudiation caused its suspension. The police briefly detained Jason Calderón, correspondent for RCN Colombia, and tried to seize a videotape on which he had recorded images of a house owned by the defense minister. The vice president of the daily Reporte de la Economía (Report on the Economy) was killed, apparently taken for his brother, the newspaper’s editor, who had been threatened. Globovisión said it had been pressured by tax collection agencies. TELEVEN television channel was sanctioned by CONATEL, the official telecommunications agency, for broadcasting “The Simpsons” in the time slot called “all users.” The well-known journalist of RCTV international, Javier García, was killed at his residence. In July: The president of the National Assembly called Cecilia Calone of the daily El Nacional and Pedro Pablo Peñalosa of El Universal ¨mercenaries¨ for publishing reports by legislator Pastora Medina pointing out that many relatives of the president have administrative jobs in the legislature. The political police detained Luis Dimas, correspondent of El Nacional, and photographer Johnny Camacho for seven hours in Barinas. The journalists were investigating news related to a robbery in the residence of a niece of President Chávez. The journalist said that DISIP took away a police report with details about the robbery of $10,000. Dayana Fernández and Luis Torres of the daily La Verdad of Zulia state said they had been attacked by officials connected to the Environmental Foundation of Maracaibo. The Supreme Court rejected for the third time the request to return the frequency of Radio Caracas Televisión whose transmission equipment throughout the country is still held by the government. Unidentified persons attacked the office of the radio station Color 99.5 FM in Maracay. In August: A proposed Telecommunications Law prepared by the government was made public and was seriously criticized because it sets more sanctions for the media. It would and give Chávez the absolute authority to take them over, as well as the content of cell phone and Internet messages. The telecommunications minister said on the official channel that it was ¨just one of the drafts¨ prepared by the executive branch in accordance with the Ley Habilitante, which gives the president the right to issue laws by decree. In the light of the overwhelming rejection by citizens, the government denied that the bill existed. Vicente Díaz, the only member of the National Electoral Council considered independent, accused Chávez of using public resources to promote his candidates in elections for mayors and governors on the state channel and other official media, including the network Radio Nacional de Venezuela. A confidential government document obtained by El Nacional revealed a plan to interfere in the next elections for mayors and governors throughout the country, using the national telephone company (CANTV), the biggest provider of land line and cell telephones, data and Internet services, which was nationalized two years ago by President Chávez. The plan would allow the ¨political activation of CANTV sites on a national level, to strengthen regional and municipal leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) before next November’s elections. Leaders of the opposition reported that ¨in the basements of CANTV the government is making recordings and montages of conversations¨ with advisers from Russia and the Cuban G2. It was reported that CONATEL, with military assistance, suspended two radio stations in Guarico state on orders of the national government. The reports said the reason was that these media outlets did not support the president’s candidate for governor. In September The state government in Monagas was accused of seizing an edition of the daily El Sol that had reports the governor did not like. The governor of Miranda state attacked the media, saying there was a conspiracy against Chávez. He accused and threatened Globovisión and its news director Alberto Federico Ravell The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch issued a report on September 19 in Caracas called ¨A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.” Shortly after the report was presented, the government expelled José Miguel Vivanco, the organization’s director, and Daniel Wilkinson, another official of the group, from the country. Early in the morning of September 23, supporters of President Chávez threw tear gas bombs at the office of news channel Globovisión. The attackers were riding motorcycles and SUVs that looked like military vehicles. The leaders of the group said on television the next morning that they considered Globovisión and its news director Alberto Federico Ravell ¨military targets.¨ Eliécer Calzadilla, a columnist of the daily Correo of Caroni, a consistent critic of corruption and the deterioration of institutions in the region, was attacked by unidentified gunmen who, without wasting words, shot at him, seriously wounding him in the head. The results of the official investigation are not known. Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of the daily El Nacional, said the government is planning an imminent court action against him for alleged treason and changes of assassination of the president and a coup d’état that high-level government spokesmen have made. Otero has been working, along with other democratic people, on a robust campaign to defend the opinion of the Venezuelan people as expressed in the December 2, 2007 referendum. A group of 25 intellectuals said, “the government wants to get rid of democratic spaces,” in a statement September 28, rejecting reprisals for defending citizens´ rights and defending Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of El Nacional. They said, ¨The president wants to suffocate democracy.¨ Journalists criticized harassment by authorities in the international airport at Maiquetía which serves Caracas. Officials held their passports and apparently used them for purposes of political control. Marcel Granier, president of IBC company and Radio Caracas Televisión, said the government’s accusations of attempt to stage a coup and kill the president “are unfounded and are repeated at times the government is weak.” The Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, speaking at the United Nations on Sept. 29, said media outlets were plotting a coup and said they were affiliated to the “neo-liberal dictatorship” that ‘uses the private media to hide its crimes.” Chávez’s representatives listed as “servants of the international ultra-right” the Fox chain in the United States and Diarios de América group which includes important Lain American newspapers, such as El Nacional of Caracas. He also named the Inter American Press Association, the PRISA group, the daily El País, the radio chain COPE of Spain, El Mercurio of Chile, El Universal of Mexico City and finally what he called the “coup-plotting Venezuelan television station Globovisión. In July of this year, at the 7th Conference of Ministers of Information of the Non-Aligned Movement on Margarita Island, Chávez proposed the establishment of “a powerful ‘communications international’ that broadcasts our voice to the world, that is, a true world network.” Two years ago the Chávez government announced that it would consolidate “communications hegemony.” Currently the government has used public money to control most media outlets, imposing ideological, propagandistic and proselytizing content on them. With the unconstitutional issuance by decree of 26 laws that contradict the results of the December 2 referendum, President Chávez has the authority to expropriate any company, including private media outlets that he cannot crush. Among them is one that permits the expropriation of private property without first declaring that it is needed for public use and another concerning the armed forces that authorizes the establishment of a militia commanded directly, making the military a political instrument. The government action, against the will of the people, has triggered widespread opposition from civil society, expressed in public demonstrations and through the media outlets that are not controlled by the government. The work of independent journalists and media outlets is becoming more and more difficult and dangerous. The responsibility to inform makes it necessary to report on the unprecedented corruption in the handling of public money that has caused Venezuela to be rated internationally as the second most corrupt country in Latin America. During this administration, the domestic public debt increased more than 1,200% and the foreign debt increased three times to more than $67 billion. The current government has received the highest petroleum revenues in history, but more than 2 million Venezuelans are hungry. Unprecedented violence, lack of safety and impunity have made Caracas the capital with the highest murder rate in Latin America and turned the country into one of unpunished crimes, with no one guilty. Those in power try to hide and deny the facts. They threaten, pursue, close off access to official sources of information and suppress statistics. The following attacks on journalists and media outlets were reported: In April: The OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern in its 2007 report about “the hostile environment toward political dissent, the increasing litigiousness of social protest, the harassment of nongovernmental organizations and human rights defenders, the existence of direct and indirect obstacles to freedom of expression, the serious conditions in which prisoners are held, criticism of the justice system and an increase in the index of insecurity for citizens.” The residence of Marieta Santana of Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional was raided by the Caracas Metropolitan Police. In May: In its 2007 report, Amnesty International said that violence and impunity persist in Venezuela. It stressed the climate of political violence between citizens and the police because of the failure to renew the license of RCTV and how demonstrators were violently suppressed during protests. Journalists Ana Karina Villalba and Gabriela Perozo of news channel Globovisión reported to the IACHR that they had been attacked by government agents and supporters. In Bejuma, Carabobo state, the office of the weekly Dicho y Hecho was attacked by unidentified people. The lawyer Herman Escarrá reported that the journalist Leocenis García, who was detained in Valencia, is being tortured psychologically and fears for his life. SENIAT, the tax collection agency, sanctioned the newspapers El Nacional of Caracas, Diario Católico of Táchira state and television channels Globovisión and La Tele. The government decided to impose a prohibitive charge for retransmission of each second of the signal of the state channel, Venezolana de Televisión. Independent channels take news of President Chávez’s activities and those of official agencies from that station, because non-government journalists are not allowed to cover them. The charge was suspended after strong protests. In June: The lawyer for Giovanny Vásquez, the main witness in the case of the murder of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, said his client was given “a script” by then national prosecutor Isaías Rodríguez. Journalist Patricia Poleo was accused on the basis of this false testimony of planning the crime and is demanding justice from exile in the United States. The Venezuela Chamber of Broadcasting expressed concern about the proliferation of more than 300 illegal stations and demanded that the government close them. Nelson Belfort, president of the chamber, questioned the selective closure of stations by the government and criticized the fact that only 40% of the 156 AM stations that requested license renewals on time have had them renewed. The Intelligence and Counterintelligence Law presented by the government to control citizens’ activities restrict information and the work of journalists, in a blatant violation of constitutional principles, triggered widespread protests. The nationwide repudiation caused its suspension. The police briefly detained Jason Calderón, correspondent for RCN Colombia, and tried to seize a videotape on which he had recorded images of a house owned by the defense minister. The vice president of the daily Reporte de la Economía (Report on the Economy) was killed, apparently taken for his brother, the newspaper’s editor, who had been threatened. Globovisión said it had been pressured by tax collection agencies. TELEVEN television channel was sanctioned by CONATEL, the official telecommunications agency, for broadcasting “The Simpsons” in the time slot called “all users.” The well-known journalist of RCTV international, Javier García, was killed at his residence. In July: The president of the National Assembly called Cecilia Calone of the daily El Nacional and Pedro Pablo Peñalosa of El Universal ¨mercenaries¨ for publishing reports by legislator Pastora Medina pointing out that many relatives of the president have administrative jobs in the legislature. The political police detained Luis Dimas, correspondent of El Nacional, and photographer Johnny Camacho for seven hours in Barinas. The journalists were investigating news related to a robbery in the residence of a niece of President Chávez. The journalist said that DISIP took away a police report with details about the robbery of $10,000. Dayana Fernández and Luis Torres of the daily La Verdad of Zulia state said they had been attacked by officials connected to the Environmental Foundation of Maracaibo. The Supreme Court rejected for the third time the request to return the frequency of Radio Caracas Televisión whose transmission equipment throughout the country is still held by the government. Unidentified persons attacked the office of the radio station Color 99.5 FM in Maracay. In August: A proposed Telecommunications Law prepared by the government was made public and was seriously criticized because it sets more sanctions for the media. It would and give Chávez the absolute authority to take them over, as well as the content of cell phone and Internet messages. The telecommunications minister said on the official channel that it was ¨just one of the drafts¨ prepared by the executive branch in accordance with the Ley Habilitante, which gives the president the right to issue laws by decree. In the light of the overwhelming rejection by citizens, the government denied that the bill existed. Vicente Díaz, the only member of the National Electoral Council considered independent, accused Chávez of using public resources to promote his candidates in elections for mayors and governors on the state channel and other official media, including the network Radio Nacional de Venezuela. A confidential government document obtained by El Nacional revealed a plan to interfere in the next elections for mayors and governors throughout the country, using the national telephone company (CANTV), the biggest provider of land line and cell telephones, data and Internet services, which was nationalized two years ago by President Chávez. The plan would allow the ¨political activation of CANTV sites on a national level, to strengthen regional and municipal leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) before next November’s elections. Leaders of the opposition reported that ¨in the basements of CANTV the government is making recordings and montages of conversations¨ with advisers from Russia and the Cuban G2. It was reported that CONATEL, with military assistance, suspended two radio stations in Guarico state on orders of the national government. The reports said the reason was that these media outlets did not support the president’s candidate for governor. In September The state government in Monagas was accused of seizing an edition of the daily El Sol that had reports the governor did not like. The governor of Miranda state attacked the media, saying there was a conspiracy against Chávez. He accused and threatened Globovisión and its news director Alberto Federico Ravell The nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch issued a report on September 19 in Caracas called ¨A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.” Shortly after the report was presented, the government expelled José Miguel Vivanco, the organization’s director, and Daniel Wilkinson, another official of the group, from the country. Early in the morning of September 23, supporters of President Chávez threw tear gas bombs at the office of news channel Globovisión. The attackers were riding motorcycles and SUVs that looked like military vehicles. The leaders of the group said on television the next morning that they considered Globovisión and its news director Alberto Federico Ravell ¨military targets.¨ Eliécer Calzadilla, a columnist of the daily Correo of Caroni, a consistent critic of corruption and the deterioration of institutions in the region, was attacked by unidentified gunmen who, without wasting words, shot at him, seriously wounding him in the head. The results of the official investigation are not known. Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of the daily El Nacional, said the government is planning an imminent court action against him for alleged treason and changes of assassination of the president and a coup d’état that high-level government spokesmen have made. Otero has been working, along with other democratic people, on a robust campaign to defend the opinion of the Venezuelan people as expressed in the December 2, 2007 referendum. A group of 25 intellectuals said, “the government wants to get rid of democratic spaces,” in a statement September 28, rejecting reprisals for defending citizens´ rights and defending Miguel Henrique Otero, publisher of El Nacional. They said, ¨The president wants to suffocate democracy.¨ Journalists criticized harassment by authorities in the international airport at Maiquetía which serves Caracas. Officials held their passports and apparently used them for purposes of political control. Marcel Granier, president of IBC company and Radio Caracas Televisión, said the government’s accusations of attempt to stage a coup and kill the president “are unfounded and are repeated at times the government is weak.” The Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, speaking at the United Nations on Sept. 29, said media outlets were plotting a coup and said they were affiliated to the “neo-liberal dictatorship” that ‘uses the private media to hide its crimes.” Chávez’s representatives listed as “servants of the international ultra-right” the Fox chain in the United States and Diarios de América group which includes important Lain American newspapers, such as El Nacional of Caracas. He also named the Inter American Press Association, the PRISA group, the daily El País, the radio chain COPE of Spain, El Mercurio of Chile, El Universal of Mexico City and finally what he called the “coup-plotting Venezuelan television station Globovisión. In July of this year, at the 7th Conference of Ministers of Information of the Non-Aligned Movement on Margarita Island, Chávez proposed the establishment of “a powerful ‘communications international’ that broadcasts our voice to the world, that is, a true world network.” Two years ago the Chávez government announced that it would consolidate “communications hegemony.” Currently the government has used public money to control most media outlets, imposing ideological, propagandistic and proselytizing content on them. With the unconstitutional issuance by decree of 26 laws that contradict the results of the December 2 referendum, President Chávez has the authority to expropriate any company, including private media outlets that he cannot crush. On Thursday, September 25, at night, men in camouflage uniforms and a group of people supported by the chief of the Cotiza command of the National Guard invaded the transmitting station of Radio Stereo 103.5 FM. They took control of the equipment and transmitters and took over the frequency illegally. The signal being transmitted now was produced by the invaders.

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