In Venezuela, newspaper and humorist fined over satirical letter to Chávez’s daughter

New York, February 15, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists protests a Venezuelan court decision to fine the daily newspaper Tal Cual and humorist Laureano Márquez following a satirical letter addressed to President Hugo Chávez Frías’ daughter.

On February 13, a juvenile court (the case was tried here because of the young age of Chávez’s daughter) imposed a fine of 40 million bolivars (U.S. $18,600) on Tal Cual Publisher Mosca Analfabeta and said that humorist Márquez must pay another fine whose amount has not yet been determined, the local press reported.

The court ruled that a November 25, 2005, satirical letter published by the daily “violated the honor, reputation, and private life” of the Venezuelan President’s now nine-year-old daughter Rosinés Chávez Rodríguez, reported the local press. Representatives of the local Council for the Protection of Children and Adolescents had accused Márquez and Tal Cual of damaging the private life of Chávez’s daughter.

“We condemn the prosecution and fining of Tal Cual and Laureano Márquez,” said Executive Director Joel Simon. “Satire is protected by international standards on freedom of expression.”

In the piece, “Dear Rosinés,” Márquez had requested the President’s daughter influence her father so he would be more tolerant toward political opposition. The humorist also mocked Chávez’s decision to change the country’s coat of arms so that its horse would appear running left, not right. In his weekly radio and TV call-in program “Aló, Presidente” (Hello, President), Chávez said his daughter thought the horse looked weird running to the right with its neck in the opposite direction.

Based on the President’s instructions, the National Assembly approved changes to the coat of arms in March 2006. Critics suggested that the change was a political statement of the current left-wing government headed by Chávez.

Márquez said the letter was written with a kind tone and that not a single word violated the President’s daughter’s moral integrity, according to Tal Cual.

In a press conference today, Tal Cual Editor Teodoro Petkoff described the decision by the juvenile court as “ridiculous, grotesque,” and a clear attempt to silence the paper. Tal Cual, founded in 2000, is known for its strong opposition views. Petkoff believes the fine was politically motivated.

A CPJ delegation traveled to Caracas in January and found that the government punishes critical news outlets by, among other things, blocking access to government events and officials, withholding public advertising, filing criminal defamation complaints, and imposing content restrictions.