Venezuela’s Communications and Information Minister Andres Izarra, dismissed accusations made in The Washington Post newspaper, about the persecution of journalists and censorship of the press by the Venezuelan government.
In an article titled “Chavez’s Censorship, Where ‘Disrespect’ Can Land You in Jail,” published on March 28, Post columnist Jackson Diehl asserted that “beginning this month journalists or other independent activists accused by the government of the sort of offenses alleged by Izarra can be jailed without due process and sentenced to up to 30 years.”
Izarra responded to the Diehl article in a letter sent to The Washington Post, accusing the columnist of lying, and The Post of being badly informed. “You are lying to your readers, Mister Diehl… because you are confusing the law that protects children from obscenity in the broadcast media with the laws on national security and the President’s security, which are stricter in the United States,” Izarra said.
“The press is freer in Venezuela than in the United States,” the minister added.
As evidence of Chavez’s alleged campaign to destroy “what was once the most stable and prosperous democracy in Latin America,” Jackson Diehl cited in his article a new media content law (Law of Responsibility on Radio and Television), which “subjects broadcast media to heavy fines or the loss of their licenses for disseminating information deemed ‘contrary to national security’.”
Izarra noted that the United States has laws on national security and the President’s security, which are stricter than Venezuela’s. The Minister cited the US Code, Title 18, Section 871, which covers “threats against the President and presidential successors,” and prohibits any offense or threat made against the President of the United States.
“…The [US] Patriot Act together with an Executive Order gives President Bush the power to determine when a person represents a threat to the United States. If the person is a U.S. citizen, he or she can be detained for an indefinite length of time without rights, be declared an enemy of the state, and even lose his citizenship. If the person is not a U.S. citizen, he or she can be detained without any rights and be brought before a secret military tribunal without anyone, not even his family members, finding out,” Izarra said.
Venezuela’s media has been criticized for openly supporting undemocratic methods to oust President Chavez, including a coup d’etat in 2002, in which commercial TV stations taped and broadcasted calls to overthrow the government made by military officers and civilian leaders opposed to President Chavez. The day of the coup, the El Nacional newspaper ran an extra edition with the prominent headline “The final battle will be at Miraflores,” calling people to confront the government at the Miraflores presidential palace.
Former journalist Izarra mentioned that while being news director at RCTV, Venezuela’s second most watched TV network, he had to resign when RCTV and other networks decided to censor the civil uprising aimed at restoring democratically elected Chavez after the coup d’etat.
The media also heavily supported and promoted a lock-out and strike of the oil industry aimed at ousting Chavez, which caused an estimated 14 billion dollars in loses to the Venezuelan economy. “More than 13,000 political propaganda advertisements were broadcast in a two month period in order to animate an economically devastating and socially destabilizing general strike directed at overthrowing Chavez,” noted Izarra.
In his article, Diehl justifies the Venezuelan media “aggressive opposition” to the government by noting that “Chavez is moving to eliminate critical journalists and create in Venezuela the kind of state-controlled media environment in which a minister of information such as Izarra is all-powerful.”
Izarra also suggested a lack of independence by the Post, citing among other things, declassified documents from the U.S. State Department “concerning the US Office of Public Diplomacy, managed by Otto Reich during the 1970′s, which demonstrate that the Washington Post was one of the newspapers used by the US government to spread its black propaganda against the Sandinista government.” Izarra went on to say that the Bush administration cannot “control the globalized world with the same methods and the same men as in the 1970s.”
Negative media coverage of Venezuela increases
Articles criticizing the Venezuelan government have become more numerous in recent months. Negative media coverage, along with almost daily negative comments about Venezuela by U.S. officials, have prompted Venezuelan officials, as well as several journalists and activists, to alert about a “media campaign” similar to those used in the past against governments opposed by the U.S., as preamble for bigger attacks or an armed U.S. invasion.
Two of Diehl’s first seven columns published in The Washington Post in 2005, have criticized the Venezuelan government. The Washington Post has also published several editorials in recent months, criticizing the Venezuelan leader, and urging the U.S. government to act against him.
The Wall Street Journal also frequently features negative news and opinions of Venezuela, while ignoring the country’s unprecedented economic growth that reached 17% in 2004, the highest in the world.
The April 11 2005 issue of the U.S. based National Review magazine, features a cover story by former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, titled “Latin Americaâ€™s Terrible Two: Fidel Castro and Hugo ChÃ¡vez constitute an axis of evil”, which alerts against an “emerging axis of subversion forming between Cuba and Venezuela.”
Earlier this year, CIA director Porter Goss classified Venezuela as the top “potentially unstable country” in Latin America, while Chavez alerted the world to Washington’s alleged intentions to assassinate him.
A few weeks ago, a group of almost 400 Venezuelan journalists issued a statement denouncing a “campaign” from the United States against Venezuela. The journalists argued that negative and frequent media coverage of Venezuela in the U.S., as well as the frequent comments by high ranking officials at the State Department, the CIA, and The White House, amount to a “campaign” similar to those applied against countries which were later invaded by the U.S.
At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in February, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, alerted the governments of the Americas that U.S. “interventionism” in Venezuela is a “prelude to aggression.”
Last February, Minister Izarra presented a report detailing an alleged “anti-Chavez bias” in recent media coverage of Venezuela in the United States. Izarra asserted that “in light of the large influx of erroneous and de-contextualized information, it is evident that the U.S. private media has joined forces with the U.S. Department of State and spokespeople of the Bush administration in an effort to launch a ‘smear campaign’ against the Venezuelan government.” Izarra recalled how Otto Reich had headed a “dirty war” in the 1980′s to plant news articles and journalists so as to discredit progressive movements in Latin America.
A non official translation of the letter sent by Izarra to Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post is presented below.
Minister Izarra responds to The Washington Post: In Venezuela there is no persecution of journalists or censorship of the press
Translated from Spanish by Philip Stinard of Vheadline.com.
Mr. Jackson Diehl The Washington Post Washington DC, USA
It’s impossible to believe that a journalist at a newspaper as important as the Washington Post is so badly informed as you appear to be in your article “Chavez’s Censorship: Where Disrespect Can Land You in Jail,” published March 28.
You can believe, if you wish, that Venezuela used to be “the most prosperous and stable democracy in Latin America” (with 80% of the population in extreme poverty, civil strife, and military uprisings), but you can’t write, without lying, that in Venezuela, journalists are persecuted and the press is censored, because there isn’t a single case that supports what you say.
You say the truth when you affirm that “some newspapers and television stations openly sided with attempts to oust the president via coup, strike or a national referendum.” Before being Minister of Information and Communication, I worked as news director for RCTV, an important private TV station in Venezuela. Immediately after the coup of April 2002 against President Hugo Chavez, when hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets demanding the return of their elected president, RCTV and other private channels decided not to report on this civil uprising, preferring to broadcast cartoons and old movies. Since I couldn’t bring myself to participate in this censorship, I resigned.
As journalist Duncan Campbell reported for the (London) Guardian, “The five principal TV channels gave publicity spots to those who convened the demonstrations that supported the coup.” Moreover, the principal media owners in Venezuela assured Dictator Carmona, “We can’t guarantee the army’s loyalty, but we can promise the media’s support” (see “Coup and Counter-Coup,” The Economist Global Agenda, April 16, 2002).
The private media promoted all of the campaigns to discredit President Chavez and his policies. For example, during the oil industry sabotage of Christmas 2002-2003, more than 13,000 political propaganda advertisements were broadcast in a two month period in order to “animate an economically devastating and socially destabilizing general strike directed at overthrowing Chavez. (These ads) energetically promoted opposition leaders, while at the same time defaming the President and ignoring news that favored him” (see COHA Investigation Memorandum. The Venezuelan Media: More Than Words in Play,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Press Memorandum 03.18, April 30, 2003). However, despite all this, the openly conspiratorial media were not persecuted, neither then, nor now.
You are lying to your readers, Mister Diehl, when you say, “Beginning this month journalists or other independent activists accused by the government of the sort of offenses alleged by Izarra can be jailed without due process and sentenced to up to 30 years,” because you are confusing the law that protects children from obscenity in the broadcast media with the laws on national security and the President’s security, which are more strict in the United States.
US Code, Title 18, Section 871, “Threats against the President and presidential successors,” prohibits any offense or threat made against the President of the United States. Examples include July 2, 1996, when two people were arrested by the secret service for shouting insults at President Clinton (“You suck and those boys died…”) on the occasion of an attack against a military installation in Saudi Arabia in which 19 US soldiers died; or a minister who was arrested for saying “God will hold you to account” to President Clinton, concerning his decision not to prohibit a certain kind of abortion.
US Code, Title 18, Section 1752(a)(1)(ii) declares that it is a crime to intentionally enter a restricted zone during a presidential visit, and it has been used to arrest more than 1,800 demonstrators during the Republican Convention in August of 2004, despite the fact that the demonstrators were several blocks from President Bush’s location; it was also used to arrest a gentleman for carrying a sign against war on October 24, 2002, during Bush’s visit to Ohio; also arrested was a dead soldier’s mother for wearing an anti-war t-shirt during a speech by First Lady Laura Bush in New Jersey; and a couple in West Virginia was arrested for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts during a rally.
You know, Mister Diehl, that the Patriot Act together with an Executive Order gives President Bush the power to determine when a person represents a threat to the United States. If the person is a US citizen, he can be detained for an indefinite length of time without rights, be declared an enemy of the state, and even lose his citizenship. If the person is not a US citizen, he can be detained without any rights and be brought before a secret military tribunal without anyone, not even his family members, finding out. If a foreigner in the US says that “Bush is the Devil,” he can be imprisoned and end up in Guantanamo.
Your interest in having people believe that in Venezuela, journalists are threatened like foreign agents is understandable due to the number of agents that act as journalists, in both Venezuela and the US, to diffuse opinions concocted by the US State Department:
Declassified documents from the State Department (from the NGO National Security Archives) concerning the US Office of Public Diplomacy, managed by Otto Reich during the 1970′s, demonstrate that the Washington Post was one of the newspapers used by the US government to spread its black propaganda against the Sandinista government. Washington Post journalist Marcela Sanchez publicly stated that in the months before the August 2004 presidential referendum, in which President Chavez was reaffirmed, (Roger) Noriega and others in the State Department visited the Washington Post’s editorial board in order to influence its reporting on that topic.
Or have you forgotten, Mister Diehl, that journalist Maggie Gallagher, who collaborated with the Washington Post, was accused of accepting money in exchange for supporting one of President Bush’s proposed Constitutional Amendments?
I can’t imagine, Mister Diehl, how you came up with the terms “without due process” and “summarily,” which you repeat in order to give the false impression of a dictatorial Venezuela that only exists in your imagination and in that crazy quilt of scraps that is your article. Surely, it will sound “ridiculous” to you, but now and for the first time in history, the press is freer in Venezuela than in the United States. Is that what bothers you, Mister Diehl?
It is not President Chavez’ fault that the Bush administration can control the globalized world with the same methods and the same men as in the 1970s. It’s not my fault if the Washington Post of Katherine Graham … which was an example for the world in the Watergate case … now acts as if it had been bought by the Nixon Family.
Instead of your incomplete, cartoonish, and malicious portrait of Venezuelan media and laws, I would have preferred to see, from a respectable “independent newspaper,” a balanced analysis of our informative landscape. But I think that it’s more likely that we’ll find out, in the not-so-distant future, that you too, Mister Diehl, receive money from the State Department.
Andres Izarra Minister of Communication and Information