New York, May 25, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that a request by a Venezuelan state assembly to evict the daily Correo del Caroní from its premises in a zoning dispute is an attempt to silence the newspaper’s critical reporting on local government corruption.
The Bolívar state legislature said in a May 19 report that publishing company Roderick Editorial had illegally purchased the property that has been Correo del Caroní’s offices for the past 29 years, the local press reported. It said the office was in an area not zoned for commercial activity, and so the sale to Roderick Editorial was not valid. The legislature asked the mayor of Caroní, Clemente Scotto, to demolish the building and revoke the newspaper’s commercial license.
David Medina, a spokesperson for Bolívar governor Francisco Rangel Gómez, told CPJ that the report followed a two-month investigation prompted by a complaint from two local residents who claimed Correo del Caroní was illegally occupying the property.
Robinson Lizano, Correo del Caroní’s information director, told CPJ that the paper had documents that prove the building was bought legally. He said the legislature’s report was part of a campaign led by Governor Rangel to silence the paper’s criticism of local government. Lizano said that Rangel had warned Correo del Caroní that the government was planning to investigate it for the illegal appropriation of the building three days before the complaint was lodged.
In a note sent to CPJ, Medina denied that the legislature’s report was an attempt to muzzle the newspaper. He said the report’s recommendations were not legally binding. Mayor Scotto, who will make the final decision, told CPJ he had not yet received the report.
“The state assembly’s report and request to evict Correo del Caroní is a clear attempt to punish the paper for its critical coverage,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge the authorities to refrain from evicting the newspaper or demolishing its premises.”