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Bernardo Alvarez

Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S. dismissed a proposal that passed the U.S. House of Representatives today, to allow the U.S. “to initiate radio and television broadcasts that will provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news to Venezuela.”

The initiative, which is an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2005, was proposed by the Republican Florida representative Connie Mack and passed the House today by voice vote. It still has to pass the U.S. Senate.

Upon presenting his proposal, Mack argued, “the United States should promote the creation of institutions that will foster a free press, free markets, the freedom of speech and religion, and free and fair elections for Venezuela, including the establishment of a Venezuelan counterpart to Radio and TV Marti.” Radio and TV Marti are U.S. government sponsored broadcast outlets that are aimed at Cuba.

Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez, said that this amendment “reflects a total lack of knowledge about Venezuelan reality.” Alvarez also argued that the amendment actually represented a defeat for Mack because his original proposal was far more drastic, which had included proposals for the promotion of free enterprise and a declaration that there was no freedom of press in Venezuela.

Mack’s full proposal was to “establish a Venezuelan Security Zone that will isolate Chavez and limit his ability to destabilize Latin America” and to “Promote economic development in Venezuela through free markets, privatization, and other means that will create lasting prosperity and opportunity for all Venezuelans.” Mack justified his proposal by arguing that “In Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela there is no free press - just state controlled Anti-American, anti-American propaganda. ... There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of dissent, and no freedom to stand in opposition to the Chavez regime.”

Reacting to this comment, Ambassador Alvarez pointed out that the U.S.-government TV channel Voice of America is broadcast on all Venezuelan cable and satellite carriers. Also, Fox News and CNN International are both broadcast on cable and satellite carriers in Venezuela. Venezuela’s main private TV stations, Venevisión and Globovisión, which are broadcast via the airwaves, also present the conservative Miami program of Andrés Oppenheimer and CNN en español on a regular basis. All this is in addition to the general anti-Chavez bias of all of Venezuela’s private broadcasters, which dominate the airwaves.

Another argument Mack used to justify the amendment was that Chavez was preparing to “to launch his own television network patterned after Al-Jazeera to spread his anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric...” The network Mack referred to is Telesur, the continental Latin American television channel, which is being co-sponsored by Venezuela (51%), Argentina (20%), Cuba (19%), and Uruguay (10%) and is expected to launch this July 24th. A Venezuelan embassy statement in response to the Mack amendment argued that Mack and others concerned about freedom of the press ought to celebrate a channel such as Telesur, as it represents a further addition to the diversity of broadcast media in the continent.

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D) also reacted to Rep. Connie Mack’s amendment, sending a letter to fellow members of the House in which he said, “Venezuelan media are rabidly anti-Chavez and are free to broadcast their views on television, radio, and in major newspapers. They do so with great vehemence, and with much inflammatory content.”

Grijalva’s letter went on to state that, “It is absurd to see some of the richest men in Venezuela use the many newspapers and TV stations they fill with anti-Chavez messages to complain about a lack of press freedom,” adding, “The owners of the private media [in Venezuela] are immensely wealthy, and they are probably some of the last people on earth who would ever need to the help of the US taxpayer to broadcast their opinions.”

Venezuela’s President Chavez also commented on the Mack amendment during a late-night television program, saying, “We should not be surprised by any actions the U.S. government takes.” If the Bush administration were to implement the amendment, “our government would have to respond. Any counter-revolutionary actions will be responded with a deepening of the revolution,” added Chavez.