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Cablegate: Press Freedom Update: Brv Pressure Continues Into

VZCZCXRO9170
PP RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ
DE RUEHCV #2529/01 2352143
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 232143Z AUG 06 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5975
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 6935
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 5737
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ PRIORITY 2297
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 0545
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA PRIORITY 1436
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO PRIORITY 3982
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0827
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 2381
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE PRIORITY 1083
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0470
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA PRIORITY 0955
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 002529

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPT PASS TO AID/OTI RPORTER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM VE
SUBJECT: PRESS FREEDOM UPDATE: BRV PRESSURE CONTINUES INTO
ELECTION SEASON

REF: A. CARACAS 2466
B. CARACAS 2272 AND PREVIOUS
C. CARACAS 1909

CARACAS 00002529 001.2 OF 003


-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) This cable is an update on the Bolivarian Republic
of Venezuela's (BRV) efforts to restrict freedom of press.
As indicated in reftels, the BRV employs a variety of
mechanisms - legal, economic, regulatory, judicial, and
rhetorical - to harass the private media, inducing
self-censorship and engendering a repressive, almost
fascistic, attitude towards the free press. Topics addressed
in this update include:

-Ortega jailbreak's impact on the press;
-Lara newspaper facing state-sponsored aggression;
-Border security, BRV-style: attack journalists;
-Trials and tribulations of Miguel Salazar continue;
-Overseas Press Club of America sends letter to Chavez
condemning press record; and
-Press regains access to the Palacio de Justicia.

END SUMMARY

--------------------------------------
ORTEGA ESCAPE'S IMPACT ON A FREE PRESS
--------------------------------------

2. (U) Globovision reported August 15 that independent
journalists were denied access to penal installations at Ramo
Verde, the military prison from which political prisoners
Carlos Ortega and the Faria family reportedly escaped on
August 13. The escape story (ref a) received prominent play
in all media outlets. According to Globovision, only
official government media outlets have been given access
inside the facility. Globovision further reports that on
August 17, several of their journalists were detained while
covering the processing of the fourteen military officials
charged with involvement in the escape.

3. (SBU) Before conducting a full investigation, the BRV
directly accused opposition media of complicity in the Ortega
prison escape. Minister of Interior and Justice Jesse Chacon
said August 16 that there were indications that Globovision
employee Edith Ruiz knew beforehand of the planned escape,
leaving the path open for yet another legal action against a
media personality. Ruiz, Manager for Institutional Relations
at Globovision, informed PAS staff on August 14 that she is
concerned for her safety as a result of the BRV's attempts to
involve her in the escape.

4. (U) Piggybacking on Chacon's comments, the government
organization Journalists for the Truth (Periodistas por la
Verdad de Venezuela) also accused Globovision of involvement
in the escape. This organization's director, Marcos
Hernandez, expressed his conviction that Globovision had
advance knowledge of the escape, due to its detailed coverage
of the story. Hernandez points to the network's coordinated
approach to the story, including interviews with the
escapees' attorneys and family members, as evidence of
advance knowledge of the plot.

5. (U) Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez announced August
17 that the Public Ministry would open an investigation
against "all persons who have shown solidarity or support"
for the Ortega/Faria escape. Rodriguez insinuated that such
individuals could be held accountable for speaking in defense
of persons whose actions may threaten public safety. He
emphasized that both individuals and media outlets would be
subject to the investigation, opening yet another flimsy

CARACAS 00002529 002.2 OF 003


avenue for future media and political persecution.

-------------------------------
PROTESTS AGAINST LARA NEWSPAPER
-------------------------------

6. (U) The Interamerican Press Society (SIP) condemned
August 8 threats and intimidation against daily "El Caroreno"
(Lara state). The threats, supposedly orchestrated by
municipal employees, were motivated by the critical editorial
bent of the newspaper towards the local administration,
charges SIP. On July 26, some 40 individuals, including
municipal employees, forced their way into a radio interview,
hurling invective at the newspaper's editor, the interviewee.
Protesters then began burning issues of the newspaper and
threatening to set fire to the building.

------------------------------------
DISIP ATTACKS JOURNALISTS IN TACHIRA
------------------------------------

7. (U) Three journalists working for regional newspaper
"Diario Los Andes" were attacked July 25 while investigating
a story on border security in Tachira state, according to an
alert issued by the local NGO Institute for Press and
Society. DISIP (intelligence) agents reportedly detained the
journalists' vehicle after spotting the photographer taking
pictures, demanding they turn over the camera. One of the
journalists - a woman - was beaten by a DISIP agent
attempting to pull her from the vehicle.

-----------------------
DELAYING THE INEVITABLE
-----------------------

8. (U) A Circuit Court judge August 11 issued an arrest
warrant against Miguel Salazar, editor of the weekly "Las
Verdades de Miguel." Salazar, already facing prosecution for
aggravated slander, reportedly failed to appear before the
court, as ordered by the judge. Salazar is accused of
slandering several high-ranking officials, including the
former Secretary of the Presidency, the governor of Guarico
state, and a National Assembly deputy and his political
party. Salazar's attorneys called for the recusal of the
judge, a tactic they have now used three times. This move,
in conjunction with the month-long judicial recess, has led
to the postponement of Salazar's trial until September.

----------------------
CONDEMNATION FROM AFAR
----------------------

9. (U) The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) addressed a
letter to President Chavez July 11, condemning Venezuela's
repression of the freedom of expression. The letter
highlights four incidents: a journalist accused of defamation
and slander by the Minister of Infrastructure for reporting
on the collapse of the viaduct to the airport (an issue that
nearly every Caraqueno has bemoaned in the last several
months); a conviction in Guarico state for criminal
defamation of the governor (ref b); the baseless accusations
against daily "El Correo del Caroni" of "waging state
terrorism" (ref b); and the threatened review of broadcasting
licenses for media outlets, from President Chavez and
Minister of Communications and Information Willian Lara (ref
c). The OPC delicately invites Chavez to "clear your own
good name." Copies of the letter were also sent to Attorney
General Rodriguez, Minister Lara, Ambassador Alvarez in
Washington, Ambassador Toro in New York, Ambassador
Brownfield and the Inter-American Press Association.

------------------------
A PRESS FREEDOM VICTORY?

CARACAS 00002529 003.2 OF 003


------------------------

10. (U) Supreme Court Magistrate Eladio Aponte Aponte
announced August 15 the reopening of the press room at the
Palacio de Justicia. The court's press room had been closed
since November 2005, when ex-judge Belkys Cedeno cut the
electricity during a dissenting judge's statement to
journalists. Aponte issued a statement saying the Judiciary
has nothing to hide and that this measure is a way of
demonstrating that freedom of the press exists in the BRV.

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) With presidential elections looming in December,
Chavez can be expected to make new efforts to appear
democratic, but will continue to rely on authoritarian
tactics. Similarly, Chavez can be expected to trumpet
Venezuela's supposed excellent climate for freedom of
expression, while Chavista police, prosecutors, and judges
continue to keep the free press on the run. Whomever the
messenger, the strategy remains the same: silencing critics
and scaring those who may dare to speak out.


WHITAKER

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