VENEZUELA'S CLASS WARFARE
New York City
* Although we commend Naomi Klein for writing about the struggle between the Venezuelan government and the private media, in her March 3 "Lookout" column, she misrepresented the position of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
While we do not dispute the Venezuelan government's right to regulate public airwaves, and while we recognize that serious allegations have been made regarding the conduct of private media, we object to efforts by the administration of President Hugo Chavez to apply regulations that are inconsistent with international standards of press freedom. For example, some of the regulations that Chavez is seeking to apply forbid speech that incites "rebellion and disrespect of institutions and its authorities," a statute that violates the American Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, the investigations are being carried out in a punitive manner by a government agency whose impartiality and independence are highly suspect.
During the past several years, CPJ has been carefully monitoring the media in Venezuela. The current investigations into the broadcast media come in the wake of a two-month strike by the country's largest labor union and other opposition forces that has severely crippled Venezuela's economy and contributed to social unrest there. We realize that in this polarized environment both private and state media have dropped all pretense of objectivity from their news coverage. And as we observed in a CPJ report, Cannon Fodder, published last summer, we are concerned that journalists--caught between the private media owners' anti-Chavez objectives and Chavez's charged rhetoric criticizing the press--are not being allowed to do their jobs. The result is that the Venezuelan people are being deprived of the information they need to make informed decisions about their country's political future.
Joel Simon Committee to Protect Journalists
* Although Naomi Klein's appraisal of the power of the Venezuelan media and Gustavo Cisneros is on target, I must say that the Venezuelan process has created a third current, which holds enormous promise. The head of the National Confederation of Workers, the soon-to-be-arrested Carlos Ortega, since his bitter experience with the fleeting President Carmona, has forged a forward-looking alliance with the recently arrested president of Fedecamaras, Carlos Fernandez. Among the chief points of their "governability agreement" are the inclusion of all Venezuelans in a truly democratic system and a policy of wealth redistribution.
Let there be no mistake. The situation in Venezuela today comes from decades of mismanagement, aggravated by market-oriented measures taken at the behest of the IMF and the World Bank. Chavez--"democratically elected," as Klein calls him--won because of popular disgust with the system. He obtained 56 percent of 40 percent of the electorate. At this time, his legitimacy is severely compromised, since millions of Venezuelans have signed petitions for new elections. His government has now resorted to the arrest of opposition leaders for acting as allowed by Chavez's own Constitution. And recently three military dissenters were murdered, execution-style, possibly by government-sponsored death squads.
Klein should join OAS Secretary General Gaviria, President Carter and the Venezuelan opposition in calling for free and fair elections. The Venezuelan media, especially Venevision, are very powerful and sectarian, but Chavez has his own control over media and has put together an impressive political organization. Let the people decide. Elections are the solution to the problem in Venezuela.
* In fact it is Joel Simon, in his letter, who is misrepresenting the Committee to Protect Journalists' stated positions on the Venezuela conflict. …