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.