Freedom of the press and of expression continue in full deterioration. In this period the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) a month ago published a report in which it pointed out “serious restrictions on the full enjoyment of human rights in Venezuela.” The OAS noted the level of violence (140 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants in the city of Caracas in 2009, while in Bogotá there were only 18) and also the repression in the country, as well as “the absence of independence of the branches of government and the use of the government’s punitive power to intimidate or sanction people for their political opinions.” The widespread demands of the people arising from the socio-political reality is denounced and is made known thanks to the independent journalists and news media, whose elimination the government has made a vital priority. Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) has just been taken completely off the screen by the Hugo Chávez government in a series of outrages that began in May 2007 when the government appropriated its broadcast facilities throughout the country by military force and shut down its on-air signal. In light of the public outrage at the action RCTV was then able, as an international channel, to take refuge in its programming by cable and satellite. However, on January 24 the government ordered the elimination of the RCTV International signal. Unlawful actions, changed technical standards and delaying tactics have denied RCTV any possibility of being able to broadcast. Globovisión is facing more than 40 legal and administrative charges brought by the government, as well as an official strategy aimed at seeking to undermine its credibility. “Globovisión will not stop reporting the truth,” the channel’s president Guillermo Zuloaga said on November 19, 2009 in response to personal judicial threats. Last months Zuloaga confirmed that his media outlet “will neither be bought nor is it for sale” and is maintaining its critical program content. The Chávez government has made private advertising disappear by illegal expropriations and nationalization of major companies, it imposes censorship on advertising, devalues the so-called strong bolívar and uses the official foreign exchange that was established several years ago to limit the provision of dollars needed for newsprint and other supplies for newspapers that are not produced in Venezuela and whose price now is double as a result of the devaluation. Venezuela’s independent press is facing imminent danger of collapsing and disappearing under the economic sabotage of the Chávez government. Independent newspapers are showing huge losses in their operations. The Caracas weekly newspaper Correo del Avila and others in the interior have ceased publishing. Meanwhile, the government is providing multi-million budgets to promote and sustain numerous publications, television channels, radios, paid-for writers and political opinion makers, both national and international. In contrast, the latest Basic Law on Electoral Processes, which will govern parliamentary elections next September 26, indicates in its article 84 that “The National Electoral Board will have available at no cost a period of up to five minutes daily from the providers of radio and television services, both over-the-air and on cable, as well as a daily page in the print media with national, regional, or local circulation, for the purpose of disseminating messages about the electoral process. The very low tuning in to the government media appears also to give rise to the official decision to do away with independent voices and impose its announced Communist “communication hegemony.” “Chávez wants silence and self-censorship, while the people defend the right to information and freedom of expression,” the Venezuelan Press Bloc said in a press release. Major developments in this period: On November 18 Chávez ordered the arrest “under any pretext” of the president of Globovisión, Guillermo Zuloaga, who denounced this and more than 40 legal and administrative actions that the government is taking against this news channel in a bid “to silence Globovisión.” On November 19 a press release from the Venezuelan Press Bloc protested action against editor and publisher Rafael Poleo and supported Globovisión President Zuloaga. That day the offices of El Nuevo País were shut down, while Zuloaga for the 18th time complied with the requirement that he present himself ordered by the Control Trubunal and Globovisión director Alberto Federico Ravell reported to the Inter-American Human Rights Court about threats made against the television channel. On November 24 Globovisión paid, ”under protest,” a fine of 3,423,158.96 bolívars and announced it would appeal in court. On December 7 Globovisión equipment was stolen as journalist Delvalle Canelón was working. On December 8 an order was upheld to hold journalist Leocenis García in jail, where he had been since May 4, 2008. On December 9 the Táchira State Scientific Investigative Corps in San Cristóbal ordered the RCTV Internacional correspondent to hand over a video which shows gunmen attacking a Táchira student demonstration in which Jesús Ramírez Bello died. On December 10 the IACHR ruled against Venezuela in the case of General Francisco Usón for having violated his human rights and freedom of expression. On December 10 a Venezuelan journalist confirmed that he had sought asylum in Peru because his life was in danger, and left the country on being convicted of libel. On December 22 the CONATEL chief said that application of a law on the matter, known as the Law of Resort, served to “control” and would be applied to national cable television channels that have less than 70% international programming. The ruling was published in the Official Gazette. It was also announced that the action would apply to 12% of Venezuelan channels, among them RCTV Internacional, and they would have to register as national producers with CONATEL. Under the new ruling RCTV Internacional must broadcast presidential hookups. On January 11, 2010 the National Journalists Guild called for Gustavo Azócar to be released from custody. The journalist had held for 160 days at the Occidente Penitentiary. The following day a court upheld Azócar’s detention. On January 15 President Chávez adopted Marxism as his ideology in a speech to the National Assembly. On the same day CONATEL resumed closures of radio stations, shutting down Tropical 88.5 FM in Miranda and Rivas 95.03 FM in Barinas. On January 18 the mayor of Valencia, Edgardo Parra, thwarted the freedom of expression of journalist Francisco Pérez of the newspaper El Carabobeño. On January 21 RCTVI issued a declaration denouncing the threats of closure. CONATEL ordered 58% of cable television stations to join national hookups and the following day it ordered the TVS channel in Maracay off the air. On January 23 the government demanded that cable television channels to pull RCTV Internacional programming, while the Press Workers Union protested the CONATEL order requiring 227 cable television channels to broadcast official hookups. On January 24 there were bangings of pots and pans, rallies and street protests in support of RCTV Internacional. On January 24 Chávez applauded the CONATEL action against RCTV Internacional and congratulated its chief, saying “If they do not go along with CONATEL they will have no other way out.” He added that there are “bourgeoisie” that give themselves the luxury of challenging the government. On January 25 three journalists were beaten up and arrested in Guacara, Carabobo state, by members of the local police. On January 26 the CONATEL chief said that RCTV Internacional did not broadcast hookups and violated seven other requirements. On January 28 the National Guard tore into students in a march in support of RCTV Internacional and the torture of eight students from Lara state arrested after the march was protested. On January 28 municipal police roughed up photographer Rafael Reyes of the newspaper Notitarde. That day RCTV Internacional asked the Supreme Court to rule on a plea for protection against CONATEL. On February 4 jurist Alberto Arteaga criticized the legal harassment of the newspaper El Nacional for having published a photo of National Guardsmen confronting students, saying, “A photograph does not amount to a vilification.” On February 10 the disappearance was reported of Wilmer Ferrer, chief correspondent in Caracas of the newspaper Panorama, who was later found dead in Guanare, Portuguesa state. The alleged murderer was arrested and taken to court. News reports said that according to his confession the killing had nothing to do with the victim’s work as a journalist. On February 22 arrested was the alleged killer of journalist Orel Zambrano of the newspaper Notitarde, who was found dead in Valencia city in January 2009. On February 25 the Public Prosecutor’s Office number 66 in Caracas closed legal proceedings that the Attorney General’s Office had begun against the Center for Dissemination of Economic Awareness for Freedom over its advertising campaigns launched last year in defense of private property ownership, thus leaving without effect a ban on placing such ads in print media. The IACHR had called the proceedings a clear case of prior censorship. On March 1 at night and in front of his family journalist Israel Márquez, editor of the Caracas newspaper 2001, was murdered. The alleged perpetrators have been arrested. Lawyer Omar Estacio, a columnist for the paper, wrote that “it is clear that the explosion of common crime in Venezuela has a component of political will on the part of the authorities. It does not bring the same condemnations by international entities to be knocked down in a neighborhood brawl as to be a direct victim of police or para-police bodies. However, both kinds of events create the same inhibition, the same fear, the same confinement. If you are afraid to go out or to send your children to the nearest shop to buy bread, it is difficult to dare raise your voice in repulsion to the way that government affairs are handled.” News media that look at the insecurity besetting the country reported on March 2 that “to take care of Hugo Chávez’ safekeeping in 2010 the government will use 44% of what is provided for under the National Budget Law for the security of citizens.” On March 12 the radio station Victoria 103 FM in Aragua state was ordered by CONATEL to reduce its broadcast level and coverage by 90%. On March 14 several non-governmental organizations rebutted statements by President Chávez in which he suggested restrictions on online content, while the now state-controlled communication company CANTV reported that it was working on adoption of a system of one sole access to the network to channel the country’s connections. The following day the Attorney General publicly asked the National Assembly to regulate on the use of the Internet, she having last year called for legislation on “media offenses,” which was not acted on by the Venezuelan Congress.