VENEZUELA In drawing up a new Constitution for Venezuela, the newly elected Constituent Assembly has proposed substantial changes to the right of freedom of expression. Its proposal was disconcerting because just recently Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ensured the Inter American Press Association during a meeting in Washington of his constant respect for the freedom of expression unfettered by censorship and any pressures - a sacred right above all others in the free world. The draft constitutional articles on freedom of expression state that, "Everyone has the right to timely, truthful and impartial information" and equally the right "of reply and rectification when people are affected by inexact or offensive information." Another proposed article stipulates "the creation of the position of a media ombudsman to guarantee a person's rights and attend to his or her complaints, protests or suggestions in regard to news content. The law will regulate its functions." Another stipulation states that "to guarantee the independence of media professionals in the practice of their work, the law will regulate the exercise of journalistic activity and recognize the right of the clause of conscience and of participating in the design and the application of news policy in the media. The content of the text speaks for itself, and clearly demonstrates the State's aim to absolutely control the dissemination of news and employ the licensing of journalists as instruments of its policy. This situation has been rejected by local and international news organizations, such as the IAPA and OAS' special rapporteur on press freedom, Santiago Canton, Reporters Without Borders, the Venezuelan Press Bloc and the International Radio Broadcasting Association. There have been, nevertheless, some signs of change in the government's attitude. Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said, "Whoever must process the news should be the citizen. Information has no surname." Constituent Assembly President Luis Miquilena wrote in a letter to the IAPA that for his body "freedom of expression is the cornerstone of the political system, and consequently, freedom of information should not be subject to any restriction of any kind." Other noteworthy incidents are: For two long years, the Exceso magazine has been hounded by a defamation lawsuit. The charges,brought in July 1997, are agalnst Exceso editor Ben Ami Fihmann and reporter Faitha Nahmen for publishing an article about the murder of businessman Casto Martinez, whose wife brought the suit through her lawyers. Via judicial maneuvers, the plaintiffs intend to commit a flagrant attack against freedom of expression. Like many other enemies of freedom, they aim to criminalize the practice of journalism. The defendants had no defamatory intentions. The most recent abuse in this long-running case is the extension of the statute of limitations under the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure. Finally, one must highlight the case of Jorge Castro, who writes columns in different news outlets. He has reported that presidential press chief Martin Pacheco repeatedly persecutes and threatens him.