CARACAS – Three Venezuelan press associations on Saturday declared the country a “disaster zone” for freedom of speech and for the practice of journalism, while denouncing what they termed “government persecution” of the media.
The National Journalists College, the National Press Workers Union and the Graphic Reporters Circle issued a communique in which they said that “this is no time for cowards” but a time “to exercise our citizenship with integrity and dignity.”
They also said that they neither promote nor foster violence because “we do not believe in conspiracy agendas nor do we believe that fratricidal clashes are necessary to make our dreams come true,” something for which the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has blamed two journalists in the past few hours.
The professional associations expressed “total solidarity and support” for Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Laureano Marquez, accused by the government of calling for violence through the TV channel and the newspaper for which the two work, respectively.
Though in their communique the three press associations ask the government to “reflect and rectify,” they accuse it of planning “to disappear or strangle any media expressing criticism (of the Chavez administration), to cut off possibilities of employment and to persecute colleagues and fellow-journalists through the courts with completely false arguments.”
It added that the country’s media “have served, with their journalists as witnesses and spokespersons for the citizenry, to denounce problems that affect living conditions for everyone...a duty that we are not going to relinquish.”
“Concerned about the democracy and compliance with the law, we energetically condemn the repression of students, autonomous universities, business owners, journalists and the media, as well as the systematic siege in Venezuela against all not dressed in red, through the institutionalization of selective violence promoted from the seat of power,” the communique said.
The president of the National Telecommunications Commision, or Conatel, Diosdado Cabello, said last Jan. 21 that he gave the Attorney General’s Office a video of a TV program of Rodriguez in which, together with the president of the Fedecamaras business federation, Noel Alvarez, they use “a play on words to say that the solution in Venezuela should be a military one.”
“So let the interviewer and interviewee answer for their actions – we do our duty by seeking a criminal investigation,” Cabello, who is also infrastructure and public works minister, said at the time.
Additionally, the state news agency ABN reported that the Communication and Information Ministry issued a communique announcing that it would request the AG’s office to sanction the opposition Caracas daily Tal Cual for the humorous article by columnist Laureano Marquez that appeared on Friday’s front page.
Using photos of street incidents, of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and others, Marquez presents an imaginary post-Chavez nation, which, according to the ministry, is a “classic fascist script.”
“The first picture shows what the country would be like in the first days after the longed-for coup d’etat. It justifies the use of social violence, of civil war, as a way to take power,” according to the interpretation of the article contained in the government communique.