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Free Press In Venezuela

The Inter American Press Association has issued a statement describing the Venezuelan government's investigation of the newspaper El Universal "as interference in the editorial policy of an independent newspaper and an affront to free speech and press freedom." The non-profit association represents more than one-thousand-three-hundred newspapers and magazines in the western hemisphere.

What is the reason for the investigation of El Universal? Isaias Rodriguez, Venezuela's attorney general, says that an editorial published in the paper "offends, exposes to public ridicule and vilifies the Office of the public prosecutor and the judicial branch."

Gonzalo Marroquin is editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, daily newspaper Prense Libre and chairman of the Inter American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. He says the action by the government of President Hugo Chavez "demonstrates once again the existence of an ongoing government strategy against freedom of the press, which has already seen amendment of the Penal Code and increased sanctions for critics of public officials."

President Chavez is clear about his intentions: he says he wants to "liberate the people of Venezuela from the dictatorship of the private media owners." In other words, Mr. Chavez wants governmental control of the media. Miro Quesada is editor of the Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio. "Let's not deceive ourselves," he says. "What is at stake is the right of all citizens to be duly informed and not only about what the government wants them to know, as happens in Cuba."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says threats to independent institutions like the press in Venezuela should be of regional concern: \

"It is not an issue that is just between the United States and Venezuela. This is an issue of what happens to democratic processes and democratic opportunity in Venezuela. Is there going to be a free press? Will there be the opportunity for opposition to mobilize? How will the congress be treated? What happens to people who are critical of their government?"

Where the government controls news and public discussion, corruption and repression are the inevitable results. President Chavez's investigation of El Universal is bad news for the people of Venezuela. The question is, will they accept it?

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.