Despite the many advances we have witnessed among nations in the Western Hemisphere, democracy is still threatened in our region. The rights of free speech, a free press and individual expression are essential to the functioning of our institutional democracies.
Authorities in Venezuela have recently taken actions against press critics and others who engage in peaceful dissent. An arrest warrant issued for 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 the responsibility of democratic countries to expose attacks on democratic principles wherever they may occur. In so doing, they ensure that future generations enjoy the same rights 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 Venezuela's apparent unwillingness 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.
As Secretary Clinton said last July, “it is easy to look at anyone who criticizes you as being out of bounds ... but you cannot let political concerns ... undermine the freedom of expression." Rulers in a democratic society need constructive criticism.