A mild rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prompted the Venezuelan ambassador to issue a strong defense of his government's decision to shut down a major independent television station and to claim the action had no impact on press freedom.
Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez wrote in a two-page letter to Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, that the decision not to renew the broadcast license of RCTV, the oldest television station in the nation, was a "simple regulatory matter" that was entirely legal under Venezuelan law. Besides, he added, RCTV was a dangerous opponent of President Hugo Chavez and supported a coup that briefly overthrew him in 2002.
Mr. Alvarez insisted the decision to close RCTV had nothing to do with its "critical editorial stance against the government." However, he added, RCTV was subversive.
"It used its privileged position as a media outlet to help subvert Venezuela's constitutional order," Mr. Alvarez wrote.
The authoritarian and anti-American president on Friday lashed out at critics from Washington to Europe and neighboring Brazil, which all denounced the closure of the television station. Thousands of Venezuelan protesters also demonstrated against the action.
Mrs. Pelosi last week said Mr. Chavez's decision to close RCTV "is exactly the kind of action that raises concern about his leadership." She urged Mr. Chavez to "reconsider this ill-advised decision."
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a stronger statement, calling the silencing of RCTV an "arbitrary decision" and a "setback for democracy" in Venezuela.
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
• A delegation from Venezuela with: Omar Arenas, legal adviser to the Chacao Municipality Parochial Board; Emilio Grateron, a member of the Chacao Municipality Council; Villapol de Jesus Morales, president of the San Francisco Municipality Council; Delsa Solorzano, coordinator for the Commission of Human Rights; Dayaneth Scorza, a staff member of the Science, Technology and Media Committee of the National Assembly; Eduardo Enrique Vale, secretary-general of the Social Christian Party; and Victor Manuel Velasco, legal adviser to the Zulia Federation of Workers. They meet with congressional and administration officials as part of a 12-day U.S. visit organized by the American Council of Young Political Leaders.