Venezuela

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The government of President Hugo Chávez proclaims that the state-owned media and their huge budget have as their mission “to contribute to the building of a new communication model, framed in a socialist vision of the use of the media.” The independent media defend the Constitution, freedom of expression and the people’s right to unfettered information, without censorship, and are classified by the government as “private media.” Chávez intends to control ideas and impose silence. More than three years ago he shut down Radio Caracas Televisión and unlawfully using the military took over its transmitters, which are now used by the government. He then shut down 22 radio station and now his regime is also limiting, threatening and harassing radios. The regime is unlawfully expropriating numerous privately-owned companies, industries, factories, productive farms, a whole chain of food production centers, and all kinds of properties and services. It is expropriation as a strategy of social control. It is so that the people depend on the government to get employment and access to food. In order to try to carry out this process Chávez needs the silence of the media and journalists. The most important violations of freedom of expression during this period have been: The IAPA Midyear Meeting this year was the scene of a debate on freedom of expression in Venezuela. Concerning the remarks by the president of Globovisión, Guillermo Zuloaga, the Chávez regime falsified the interpretation of the content, describing it as “showing contempt of the President of the Republic,” for which Zuloaga was arrested and ordered to be put on trial The Globovisión president has faced systematic police and court harassment ordered by Chávez, who has made him appear at trials, respond to summonses and allegations, and put up with arrests and illegal raids on his home. In all cases he faced the consequences until he saw himself stripped of his right as a true Venezuelan citizen to justice and, on the last order for his arrest, went into exile in order to protect his physical well-being. On August 29 the National Journalists Guild and the National Union of Press Workers, among other organizations, formally complained to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of 113 attacks upon journalists this year. Sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison was journalist Gustavo Azocar, who was then released on parole. Francisco “Pancho” Pérez, a columnist with the newspaper El Carabobeño, was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison and ordered not to engage in politics or journalism on a charge of having libeled a public official. He was accused by the mayor of Valencia, who also unleashed a harsh publicity campaign against El Carabobeño in ads published in some other newspapers. The Attorney General’s Office began an investigation into the newspaper El Nacional’s having published on August 13 a photo that shows serous violations of human rights in a Caracas morgue. A judge ordered the paper not to publish images of violent events, a ban that remains current and which amounts to prior censorship. This action was also taken against the newspaper Tal Cual, which had reproduced the El Nacional photo. Editors and publishers belonging to the Venezuelan Press Bloc agreed to publish on their front pages the message “No to Censorship” and continue confronting the actions of the government. Miguel Henrique Otero declared that the action against El Nacional was a political trial, as the Attorney General’s Office was basing its action on the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, which does not apply to the print media. President Chavez’ party last week asked the Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation against Tal Cual publisher Teodo Petkoff concerning his opinions about the attack on the night of October 27 on the president and directors of the Venezuelan business organization FEDECAMARAS, in which the vehicle they were traveling in was machine-gunned and the former president of the organization, Albys Muñoz, was shot three times and wounded. In September it was one month since the publisher of the El Nuevo País newspaper and Zeta magazine, Rafael Poleo, had gone into exile after being charged by the Attorney General’s Office in connection with an opinion he voiced in a television program, comparing Chávez to Mussolini. Similarly, journalist Patricia Poleo, who had been charged by the regime five years ago, also remains in exile. The lack of safety and the impunity, the violations of the rule of law, the government policies of persecution, discrimination, exclusion and harassment, along with the serious deterioration in the social ambience and in the opportunities for work in general have resulted in thousands of Venezuelans abandoning the country during the regime of President Chávez. Other relevant developments, in chronological order, were: On March 23 the United States embassy issued a statement about the arrest of Guillermo Zuloaga, saying “It seems to be part of a pattern of harassment of the station, its employees and guests,” and calling on the government to honor its commitment to the Democratic Charter. On March 25 Zuloaga was arrested in Paraguanás and taken to Caracas, where a judge released him but prohibited him from leaving the country. On April 10 the Venezuelan correspondents of the Caracol broadcast network of Colombia were arrested by the National Guard. On April 12 the government created what it called the “communication guerrilla movement” with school students, who were sworn in by the Communication Minister. On April 14 parents associations voiced opposition to this new movement and teachers said they would not allow any proselytizing on school grounds. On May 5 a formal appeal was filed against the “communication guerrilla movement” by the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Civil Rights. On May 12 the Supreme Court upheld actions taken against RCTV. On May 23 the military for several hours held news photographer Simón Clemente from the newspaper 2001 in custody after he photographed a public protest outside the La Casona presidential residence. On June 11 journalist Francisco Pérez was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison, ordered not to engage in politics or journalism and fined on a charge of having libeled a public official. On June 18 the Chávez government ordered the international arrest of Guillermo Zuloaga. On July 6 journalist Leocenis García was freed on parole after spending two years in custody. On July 9 Zuloaga appeared before the IACHR and declared, “We have come to seek the justice that we have not found in Venezuela.” On July 30 officials in Cojedes state expropriated land belonging to the local newspaper Las Noticias de Cojedes. On August 3 Molotov cocktails were hurled at the building of Las Noticias de Cojedes. On September 23 foreign media raised questions of last-minute obstacles on their being required to obtain visas to go and cover congressional elections. On September 28 the National Journalists Guild and the National Press Workers Union came out against Chávez’ attitude towards journalist Andreína Flores, a correspondent of Radio France, during a press conference held after the congressional elections. On October 1 the Guild complained of attacks on reporters Beatriz Adrián and Johnny Ficarella the previous day as they were seeking information at a camp for disabled people in Carapita. On October 10 a self-styled “revolutionary collective” took over the 107.7 radio station in Mérida. On October 14 news media were ordered under the law to publish a military recruiting campaign, with the Ministry of Defense being authorized to levy fines for non-compliance.

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