Concerns about Venezuela

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A group of Venezuelan opposition leaders are in Washington for talks with the head of the Organization of American States, about their concerns over the state of democracy in Venezuela. Correspondent Will Grant reports.

LISA MULLINS: A group of Venezuelan opposition leaders are in Washington now, they're talking with the head of the Organization of American States, about their concerns over the state of democracy in Venezuela. This meeting's is being held after the Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela held a brief hunger strike. He was trying to pressure the OAS into talking to him and other opposition leaders and hearing their case. These opposition leaders say that the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, is a threat to democracy and freedom of expression in the South American nation. From Caracas, Will Grant reports.

WILL GRANT: The opposition in Venezuela is unhappy, and has been for some time. Now, they are taking their complaints about the socialist president, Hugo Chavez, to Washington. Among the complaints raised with the OAS are a series of presidential restrictions on opposition-led local government, and alleged attacks on the freedom of expression, and the country's private media. All of which they say amounts to an erosion of democracy and civil liberties in the oil-rich nation. The Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma said he traveled to Washington to protest over the way in which Mr. Chavez has appointed a Governor of the Capital District, who has absorbed around eighty percent of the mayor's powers, budget and staff. The opposition say that Mr. Chavez has undermined their victories in November's local elections, and has coordinated a strategy to prevent them from governing their regions, something which the Venezuelan government denies.


WILL GRANT: For his part, the head of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, was tight-lipped following the meeting, saying that his was not the correct organization to deal with internal constitutional issues in Venezuela. Among the opposition's main complaints were the alleged attacks on the country's private media outlets. The OAS talks coincide with a government move to shut down some 240 radio stations in Venezuela, estimated to be about half of the radio on the dial in Venezuela. The governments say the stations didn't register their license papers ahead of a deadline last month. The opposition say it's an attempt to silence dissent.


WILL GRANT: In 2007, huge demonstrations were held when the oldest privately-owned TV channel in Venezuela was taken off the public airwaves after the government denied it to renewal of its national broadcast license, accusing the station's owners of supporting a failed coup attempt against Mr. Chavez five years earlier.


WILL GRANT: Now a similar storm is brewing now over a second private TV station, Globovision, which takes a similarly anti Chavez editorial line, seen during their recent reporting of a clash between the public and the National Guard in a town called Curiepe. Mr. Chavez has threatened to take the channel off the air, describing the owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, as a madman with a canon. Mr. Zuloaga is currently under investigation for alleged illegal business dealings, and Globovision was recently fined more than two million dollars for tax evasion. For The World, Will Grant, in Caracas.