Venezuelan Authorities Reject Editor’s Claim of Censorship

Venezuelan Finance Minister, Rodrigo Cabezas and Communications Minister William Lara, have rejected as "slander", claims by editor and publisher David Natera, that his regional daily, Correo del Caroni, is being forced out of print.
Correo del Caroni's final print edition on December 11 (VTV)

Caracas, December 13, 2007,
– In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Venezuelan Finance Minister,
Rodrigo Cabezas and Communications Minister William Lara, rejected as
"slander", claims by editor and publisher David Natera, that his
regional daily, Correo del Caroni, is being forced out of print. Natera
denounced the situation as a "politically motivated" failure of the
government to grant access to U.S. dollars it needs to import news print.

Since 2003, the Venezuelan
government has maintained foreign currency exchange restrictions in order to
prevent capital flight. Natera claimed that Correo del Caroni was going out of
circulation, "because the regime of Chavez has refused dollars to the
company DIPALCA, that they know is the importer of Chilean newsprint, that we
have used exclusively for the printing of this daily for many years."

However, Cabezas and Lara
said that CADIVI, the government commission that handles foreign currency
requests, had assigned US$ 82 million for importing newsprint in 2007, up from
US$ 76.3 million in 2006, an increase of 8 percent.

DIPALCA, which supplies
Correo del Caroni, has received US$20.3 million since currency controls were
imposed in 2003, of which US$ 5.4 million has been assigned to them this year.
This is equivalent to 6.62 percent of dollars assigned to importing newsprint
for the press in 2007, the two ministers said.

The ministers dismissed
Natera's allegations that the government is using currency controls as a
"political weapon" pointing out that DIPALCA not only supplies
newsprint to Correo del Caroni, but also many other newspapers, including the
pro-government daily, Diario VEA.

DIPALCA assured yesterday
that it has imported more newsprint which it will distribute in the next few
days, and said that it had had problems with its inventories, which combined
with increased demand for newsprint on a world wide level, had affected its
operating circumstances.

Dagoberto Romer, president
of DILPACA also expressed his satisfaction with his dealings with CADIVI and
confirmed that DIPALCA currently has only six written requests for newsprint,
three which were only received on Tuesday and are still pending, and another
three which have just been approved through the "regular procedure."

Manuel Barroso, head of
CADIVI also denied Natera's allegations; however, he admitted that due to
increased demand for dollars in the lead up to Christmas which caused a
breakdown in CADIVI's website, the government commission had had problems
processing requests in the past week.

Reporters Without Borders,
which receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the
International Republican Institute, (which are in turn funded by U.S Congress),
said, "We hope that exchange controls, like the allocation of state
advertising, has not been turned into a way of penalizing publications for
their editorial policies."

Similarly, Gonzalo Marroquín,
from the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), said "We are deeply
concerned that a daily newspaper has to discontinue publication of its print
edition not because of economic issues, but because of the existence of a
government-imposed regime of exchange control."

However, Richard Auda from
the Venezuelan based group Reporters for the Truth said Natera's allegations
"that there is a strategy to close the paper down" were unfounded,
"the truth is" Auda argued, that Correo del Caroni, which owes DIDALCA
money, "did not take sufficient steps" to ensure supply.

Natera is the chairperson
of the Venezuelan Press Block, which groups more than 40 private national and
regional newspapers politically aligned with the Venezuelan opposition.

"The attitude of the
owner of the daily Correo del Coroni, is nothing more than the ratification of
his opposition to the government, using the means of communication that is his
property, not to inform, but rather as a political instrument," Lara and
Cabezas said.

Ministers Lara and Cabezas
said, Natera's "campaign of lies" aims to "generate an
ill-intentioned matrix of opinion internally and internationally in relation to
freedom of expression and information," in Venezuela.

However, the statement
concluded, "The government of the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela ratifies its commitment,
loyalty and defence of the constitutional principles in articles 57 and 58 of
our Constitution. Both guarantee the right of all Venezuelans to express freely
their thoughts, ideas and opinions without any type of censorship, to free and
plural communication and timely, true and impartial information."

The majority of Venezuela's
print, radio and television media outlets are privately owned and many put forward
an anti-government line.