WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday decrying "challenges" to press freedom in the Americas and a department spokesman identified Venezuela's leftist government as one of the offenders.
After announcing at the daily press briefing that the statement on freedom of expression in the hemisphere would be forthcoming, spokesman Philip Crowley was asked by a reporter if recent events in Venezuela had motivated the department to speak out.
"I think there are a number of countries recently that have taken aggressive actions to intimidate, threaten, attack press," Crowley replied. "Venezuela is one of them, but is certainly not the only one."
His comments came hours after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned opposition network Globovision that it would lose its broadcasting license if it did not abandon what he described as an editorial line promoting violence.
He accused the network of "poisoning the minds" of its audience.
"We call on all governments in the region to reaffirm and abide by their commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to take steps to uphold the human right of freedom of expression, and to protect the press from intimidation and violence," the State Department said in its communique.
The statement expressed concern "about recent steps by some in the region to challenge freedoms of speech and independent press."
"Many of these challenges come from governments that are reluctant to accept the criticisms posed by independent media. Others come from drug trafficking organizations, cartels, and other non-state actors trying to stop the press from highlighting their illegal activities," the department said.
Two years ago, the Chavez administration declined to renew the broadcasting license of another anti-government television station, RCTV, which now operates via cable and satellite.
Chavez accused RCTV of supporting a short-lived coup that briefly removed him from office in April 2002 and of carrying out subsequent "brutal campaigns" against his government.
The removal of RCTV from the airwaves sparked a wave of demonstrations in Venezuela both for and against the move. Lawmakers in Latin America, Europe and the United States voiced disapproval while press freedom and human rights organizations likewise condemned the measure.
Two other large private television networks in Venezuela - Venevision, owned by magnate Gustavo Cisneros, and Televen - chose to tone down their criticism of the government after Chavez handily defeated a move to recall him in an August 2004 referendum.
The fiery socialist, who took office in 1999, won re-election in 2006 and plans to run again in 2012, thanks to a constitutional amendment eliminating term limits for elected officials.