Venezuela Responds to OAS and UN Accusations Regarding Free Speech

In response to recent accusations by the Organization of American States and the United Nations that Venezuela is using the judicial system to limit free speech, Venezuelan officials said the accusations are politicized interventions based on a case that is not related to free speech.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

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Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Valero (Archive)
Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Valero (Archive)
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Mérida, June 18th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In response to recent accusations by the Organization of American States and the United Nations that Venezuela is using the judicial system to limit free speech, Venezuelan officials said the accusations are politicized interventions based on a case that is not related to free speech.

Last week, the Venezuelan Attorney Generals’ Office issued an arrest warrant for Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of a prominent opposition television news channel, for usury and the hoarding vehicles. The charges were originally brought against him when 24 luxury vehicles were found on his property last year. Zuloaga recently fled the country to avoid arrest.

Zuloaga’s station, Globovision, colluded with a short-lived coup d’état against President Hugo Chavez in 2002 by transmitting manipulated images to justify the ascension of the coup plotters to power.

Globovision was not sanctioned for this activity, but it did come under investigation last year for alleged dissemination of false information and incitement of panic. The station continues to broadcast with a free public license granted by the state and its reporters constantly criticize the government, along with the vast majority of other media outlets in the country.

This week, the OAS’s Inter-American Human Rights Commission said the criminal charges against Zuloaga are an example of “intimidation of journalists and media owners who express their discrepancies [with the government].”

Likewise, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank de la Rue, accused the Venezuelan government of “silenc[ing] critics or those who oppose the state with criminal proceedings,” and urged the government to guarantee due process and freedom of expression to Zuloaga.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Valero pointed out that Zuloaga is wanted for crimes related to his automobile business, not for his criticism of the government. He said de la Rue’s comments make the rapporteur “an accomplice of alleged delinquents.”

“These declarations, without any basis, constitute a new and unacceptable interference by de la Rue in the internal affairs of our country, and they show the rapporteur’s identification with the political plans of the coup mongering opposition,” said Valero.

The ambassador also accused de la Rue of “undue use and abuse of his functions in a case that does not have anything to do with freedom of expression,” and said Venezuela will file a request with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for the rapporteur’s dismissal.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton, accused the OAS of “bursting open artificial scandals to try to change the electoral results” in the run up to this September’s National Assembly elections.

Chaderton also denounced the “growing dominance of the United States of America over the top functionaries of the OAS,” and said the OAS’s declarations “can be used as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of another country, and even, as has occurred in the past, to invade them,” said Chaderton.

Both the OAS and the U.S. government “communicate by telephone with broadcasters like Globovision and the whole fauna of media dictators who do not understand that a democratic change is occurring, that the privileges enjoyed previously by the owners of the media and the businessmen disguised as journalists have ended,” Chaderton continued.

The U.S. backed the 2002 coup against Chavez and has attempted to prove links between Chavez’s socialist government and groups such as the FARC of Colombia or Spain’s ETA, which the U.S. deems terrorist. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing in which they criticized the issuance of an arrest warrant for Zuloaga.

Chaderton said the hearing showed that the U.S. government will “concede certificates of honesty and credibility to any Venezuelan offender or delinquent who presents his or herself as anti-chavista.”

The ambassador noted the absence of OAS critiques of the U.S. for pressuring former White House Press Correspondent Helen Thomas to resign following her recent comments in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

He also criticized the U.S. media, which he called the “machinery of censorship,” for playing down the importance of the recently leaked videotape of a U.S. military helicopter opening fire on a group of reporters and civilians in Iraq.

Chaderton concluded by lamenting what he said was a change in the character of the OAS over the years. In the past, he said, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission was “an example of the institutional struggle against the regimes that violated human rights and whipped the majority of our countries. Now, unfortunately, it is full of active militants against governments that are dissidents of imperial power.”