Venezuela responds to US State Department’s concerns about seizing of TV station equipment

The Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S. responded comments by Richard Boucher about threats to freedom of expression by the Chavez administration.

Washington DC, Oct 7.- The Venezuelan Embassy in the United States, through an official statement, responded some concerns by U.S. State Department’s spokesperson Richard Boucher with regard to the confiscation by the government’s Telecommunications Commission Conatel of some microwave transmission equipment used without authorization by Venezuelan TV station Globovision.

According to Boucher, the U.S. State Department is very worried about President Chavez’s attempts to silence news channel Globovision. “Freedom of expression is an essential feature of democracy,” he said.

Last Friday, Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission, Conatel, confiscated some microwave equipment used without permission by TV station Globovision to make transmissions through the 7 and 11 GHz bands. The action does not impair the station’s ability to broadcast, and it hasn’t gone off the air. Conatel has invited Globovision to fill the paperwork to request legal authorization to use the microwave transmission bands.

Yesterday, José Zalaqquet, the president of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said that the commission is gathering more information and studying the case after it issued a temporary injunction immediately after Conatel’s action, ordering the return of the confiscated equipment to Globovision. According to Zalaqquet, injunctions such as the one in favor of Globovision are issued as a preventive measure whenever a possible violation of human rights may occur.

Just a few hours after the seizing of Globovision’s illegal microwave equipment, OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria issued an statement declaring that “We hope that this situation can be cleared up as soon as possible, so that these actions can in no way be interpreted as obstructing or diminishing freedom of expression.”

Statements by US and OAS offcials on the Globovision case sharply contrast with their lack of action when last July, Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Alfredo Peña, an opponent of President Chavez’s government, ordered the confiscation of all of community TV station Catia TVe’s broadcast and prduction equipment. Catia TVe serves the working-class western area of Caracas where more than a million people live. At the time, there were no official statements from Mr. Gaviria, the OAS, or U.S. officials, regarding the Mayor’s actions against the popular TV channel, which has a pro-Chavez orientation.

The frequency of negative comments by U.S. officials about the Venezuelan government seems to have increased in the last months. Last year the U.S. was quick to support dictator Pedro Carmona after a failed coup d’etat against Venezuela’s progressive President Hugo Chavez. U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, paid a visit to Mr. Carmona at the Presidential Palace, the day after the coup. Carmona had issued a decree abolishing the Constitution, firing all state governors, and dissolving the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. The U.S. and the local Venezuelan commercial media’s support of the coup against Chavez is well known and has been covered by media outlets such as Newsweek.

The Venezuelan Embassy’s official response follows:

The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela wishes to remind the State Department’s spokesman Richard Boucher, and the United States general public, that the government of Venezuela is and has always been respectful of the Constitution, the law and freedom of expression in our country.

The measure taken against Globovision has to do with their illegal use of the radio electrical spectrum. This procedure follows the law and can be compared to the similar procedures normally done by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States against illegal broadcasters.

The Government of Venezuela has respected freedom of expression at all times, even when some private media took an active role in the failed coup d’etat of April 2002 and the attempted effort to paralyze our economy during December and January of last year.

With regard to the concerns expressed by Mr. Boucher, we would like to assert that the Rule of Law prevails in Venezuela, as proven by the recent decisions taken by the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council on the referendum processes.

It is important to notice that exaggerated and biased reactions with inaccurate information could stimulate violence in our country. This is something we should avoid at all cost.

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