VENEZUELA Venezuela is one of only two countries in the Caribbean Basin - the other is Cuba - with legislation providing for imprisonment of journalists for practicing their profession without a license. The Venezuelan Supreme Court has been asked by the National Press Bloc, in a plea filed on November 5, 1995, to overturn the Law for the Practice of Journalism, which stipulates licensing of journalists. The lawsuit by the National Press Bloc did not attempt to weaken the fundamental rights of journalists to unionize or become members of a colegio when seeking better collective contracts and working conditions. The law was passed by Congress on December 6, 1994, and signed by the president on December 22 that year. Under the law, all journalists are required to belong to the government-funded National Journalists Colegio or face imprisonment. Venezuela has had a law requiring the licensing of journalists since 1972, but the previous legislation did not make non-compliance subject to imprisonment. Also under the new law, only editors can work in a newspaper without having to belong to the Colegio. Since its passage, the law has severely restricted operations for specialist publications. A business newspaper with a staff of former economists rather than journalism school graduates got around the stipulation by promoting all the staff to editor status. The government, in fixing a unitary foreign exchange rate, ended the preferential rate certain newspapers had been receiving. Some newspapers, including El Impulso of Barquisimeto, had complained they were discriminated against in the grant of foreign exchange to pay their external debts. Their plight was mentioned in an IAPA resolution which denounced "discrimination in the evaluation and authorization of the payment of publishers' foreign financial obligations" and demanded "immediate fair treatment for all publishers". The daily's editor also denounced that a government minister accused newspaper publishers of distorting the reporting of national events to discredit the government. The attempt to create a ethics code is apparently tied to an official strategy that would disqualify before the public the National Press Bloc's plea before the Supreme Court. Another threat to press freedom are the recurring confrontations between the judiciary and the press. Judges have been prohibited newspapers from publishing stories on certain individuals or subjects. On July 2, a Caracas judge ordered El Universal not to identify two individuals involved in a civil court case. The newspaper ignored the order. Similarly, El Periódico , an Aragua dally, contested a libel suit filed by the Aragua state government.