Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Press Freedom In Venezuela

spite the many advances we have witnessed among countries in our region, democracy is still threatened in the Western Hemisphere.

Authorities cannot let political concerns undermine the freedom of expression.
Despite the many advances we have witnessed among countries in our region, democracy is still threatened in the Western Hemisphere. The rights of free speech, a free press and individual expression are essential to the functioning of our institutional democracies. Nevertheless, authorities in Venezuela have recently taken actions against press critics and others who engage in peaceful dissent.

The arrest of the owner of a local television channel for allegedly making offensive remarks toward the Venezuelan government sends a strong message that citizens there are not free to express their opinions and engage in an open dialogue. Without that freedom, all other rights are in jeopardy. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press must be respected for all individuals and media organizations, regardless of their political philosophies.

It is easy to look at anyone who criticizes you as being out of bounds, but authorities cannot let political concerns undermine the freedom of expression. In the end, whoever is elected needs constructive criticism.

It also is the responsibility of democratic countries to expose attacks on democratic principles wherever they may occur. In so doing, they ensure that future generations will enjoy the same rights that we demand for ourselves. Along with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the United States has expressed its concerns about the willingness of the Venezuelan government to honor its commitment under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to uphold this principle.

In this regard, it is also hoped that the Organization of American States will enforce the charter within the hemisphere to protect democratic principles and individual liberties.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Latin America and the New Age of Mediocrity

A recent travesty in Latin American history was the failure of the Organization of American States to address Venezuela's media crisis when it assembled in Panama.
If, as an Afghan saying goes, a river is muddy from its source, it is clear that a lack of leadership, both at the OAS and in its member countries, contributed to this oversight, leaving Venezuela, if not the region, vulnerable to a further erosion of press freedoms.
Condoning the closure of a major television network in Venezuela, the OAS sent two signals: one, that Chavez will get away with illegal and unconstitutional measures; and two, that member nations will not punish each other for violating the democratic principles which purportedly underlie the OAS Charter.
For instance, Article 17 in Chapter IV of the Charter states that
"Each State has the right to develop its cultural, political, and economic life freely and naturally. In this free development, the State shall respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality."
By failing to provide any legal procedure or justification for its refusal to renew RCTV's broadcast license, the Venezuelan government clearly violated the rights of Venezuelans to access information. The government's decision was purely political, and not "administrative" as claimed by Insulza. During an interview with Dow Jones that took place on May 31, Venezuela's special envoy Roy Chaderton said that the reason the government had renewed the licenses of other private networks was that they had amended their editorial stances to suit the government. "With (other stations) we took a political decision. They have rectified and the government considered it positive for democracy." His claim was corroborated in New York by Consul General Leonor Osorio during an interview with NY1Noticias en Espanol, during which she repeated Chaderton's stance in Madrid: "The renter has behaved badly, so we didn't renew his contract." To claim that the decision was administrative is a misguided attempt to cover the important fact that the Venezuelan government violated "the principles of universal morality", for which it must be investigated.
By failing to take any action regarding Venezuela, the Organization of American States has lost its mandate to ensure that nations in the Western Hemisphere adhere to democratic principles. The OAS, for all intents and purposes, has plenty of intent but no purpose.
Perhaps the leaders of member countries took this decision out of self preservation. Chavez, after all, has proven he has the political will and financial might to fight his woes, and he finds allies everywhere: Joe Kennedy helped him poke his finger in Bush's eye by facilitating cheap heating oil to poor communities in the US, Rafael Correa poked two fingers in Alvaro Noboa's eyes in Ecuador, Ollanta Humala made a mockery of Peru's sovereignty, and in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador missed Felipe Calderon's eyes by one or two inches.
Chavez's candidates have won or nearly won everywhere. In fact, Chavez today sways more power over Latin nations than any other president.
His sole opponent, the US, is still scraping the egg off its face, as Condoleeza Rice's plea for an investigation of Venezuela's government blew through Panama like a breeze.
The mediocrity of the OAS leadership was well demonstrated in a recent interview conducted by El Pais, a leading Spanish newspaper, with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, who said the OAS wouldn't take measures against Venezuela for removing the most popular television network from a prominent VHF placement, exiling RCTV to satellite and cable, where opposition voices will never be heard again.
In the interview, it becomes eerily apparent that Insulza and other member nations disagreed with the measure against RCTV, but plan to do nothing to investigate it.
Meanwhile, Insulza, trying to save face or whatever reputation he can salvage among the civilized, has been pedaling like a storm-caught duck trying to justify the unjustifiable. Not only has he said in private meetings in Washington that he disagrees with the measure "in his heart", but he has expressed his observations in the media. In the disturbing interview with El Pais, titled "Latin America Avoids Confronting Chavez," he claims he was "displeased" by the government's decision, but could do nothing about it because Chavez's hadn't invited the OAS to Venezuela.
He ends by saying, "I hope Venezuela continues to be a democratic country." Clearly, a country with no dissenting voices on any VHF (Very High Frequency) channel - and where the only UHF channel courageous enough to question the government is under threat - can no longer be labeled "democratic".
Perhaps defining "democratic" is where Secretary General Insulza's ignorance lies.
Please review the article below, and draw your own conclusions. Ask yourself what greater men, such as Churchill would do. It seems the age of courage, wisdom, and might may have come to an end, at least in Latin America.

El Pais
Latin America Avoids Confronting Chavez
June 10, 2007
Despite the street protests in Caracas and political pressure emerging from the United States, the Organization of American States (OAS) is not going to take measures against Venezuela for the closure of the opposition channel Radio Caracas TV ( RCTV), according to an announcement by the secretary general of that multinational organization, José Miguel Insulza.
This decision, which means a victory for the Hugo Chávez government, reflects the will of the regional group of countries to avoid any conflict with the controversial Venezuelan president.
"The suspension of the Radio Caracas TV's concession is a measure not liked by member countries, but nobody has asked for a condemnation of something that constitutes an administrative decision by a government in whose governance we cannot interfere," thus affirms Insulza at an interview granted to EL PAÍS at his Washington office.
None of the OAS members requested measures against the Venezuelan government at the organization's General Assembly, held at the beginning of this week in Panama. Most of the countries, according to Latin American diplomatic sources, consider the closing down of RCTV to be an abusive measure by Hugo Chávez, but is not reason enough for provoking a confrontation with Venezuela, at the moment one of the most economically active counties on the continent thanks to the oil boom.
The leading Latin American governments fear, furthermore, that action by the OAS in answer to a decision they all make routinely-the concession and suspension of television licenses-would have set a very dangerous precedent.
Up until now the United States Executive Branch has not taken sides in the conflict with Chávez despite his continuous provocations. Nevertheless, its representative arrived at the OAS Assembly under pressure from a resolution by the US Senate approved unanimously a few days prior which condemned the closure of RCTV as an act "against freedom of expression" and petitioned the OAS for action.
Consequently, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at the Panama meeting petitioned the secretary general of the OAS to use his good offices to study the conditions under which RCTV was closed.
Insulza nevertheless explains in the interview that an action of this nature requires, according to the OAS Charter, the approval of the rest of the countries and the acceptance of the country being affected, none of which conditions were present.
On the one hand, at the Assembly none of the countries called out to condemn Venezuela. On the other hand, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro had already warned in Panama that he would not give his consent to any kind of investigation by Insulza.
The Secretary General of the OAS is therefore disempowered from taking personal action in the matter. "I stand among those who were displeased by the RCTV decision, but nobody believes that this is reason for provoking a break-up within the institution," thus affirms Insulza.
Although he shares in the criterion that the closure of Radio Caracas TV constitutes "an administrative action," he believes that this measure "turned into a political sanction the moment the Venezuelan government adduced political reasons for taking such action."
Insulza recalls that the withdrawal of RCTV's license-officially was not renewed upon expiration of its term of issuance-took place after Chávez himself accused the channel of having supported the attempted coup d'état of 2002 and of habitually maintaining "fascist" points of view.
The Secretary General of the OAS expects, despite everything, to maintain contact with the member nations in order to study what other measures can be taken with respect to Venezuela. Nor does he discard the possibility of sometime traveling to that country in order to analyze the situation more closely, although he points out that that will not be soon.
"I hope Venezuela continues to be a democratic country. My mission is not going to be that of exacerbating the process of a break-up, because what this continent needs is unity," thus assured Insulza .
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