* Chavez says stations no longer belong to 'bourgeoisie'
* Calls closures part of effort to democratize airwaves
* Critics say the move attacks freedom of speech
(Adds Chavez comment)
By Raymond Colitt and Ana Isabel Martinez
CARACAS, Aug 1 More than a dozen of 34 radio
stations ordered shut by the Venezuelan government went off the
air on Saturday, part of President Hugo Chavez's drive to
extend his socialist revolution to the media.
The association of radio broadcasters said 13 stations had
stopped transmitting, following an announcement Friday night by
government broadcasting watchdog Conatel that 34 radio outlets
would be closed because they failed to comply with
Critics said the crackdown infringed on freedom of speech
and that owners were not given the right to a proper defense.
"They're closing the space for dissidents in Venezuela,"
William Echeverria, head of the National Council of
Journalists, told RCTV, a private cable TV station, which did
not have its broadcasting license renewed in 2007.
Chavez defended the closures, calling them part of the
government's effort to democratize the airwaves.
"We haven't closed any radio stations, we've applied the
law," Chavez said on state television. "We've recovered a bunch
of stations that were outside the law, that now belong to the
people and not the bourgeoisie."
Chavez supporters say they are waging a "media war" against
private news companies and have denounced in recent days what
they say is a renewed offensive by privately owned domestic and
international media to discredit Venezuela.
Diosdado Cabello, the public works minister who also
oversees Conatel, said some of the radio stations were shut
because they did not have their broadcasting licenses renewed
and others transferred them illegally to new owners.
Conatel delivered an order to CNB radio in Caracas before
dawn for its five stations to stop transmitting by 8 a.m., the
station said on its website.
At CNB's headquarters in downtown Caracas, hundreds of CNB
employees and government critics gathered to protest the
shutdown. Some later marched to Conatel.
CNB said it would continue to broadcast on its Internet
'MUTILATOR OF RIGHTS'
"This government has turned into a mutilator of rights,"
Juan Carlos Caldera, of the opposition political party Primero
Justicia, said on Globovision TV.
Antonio Ledezma, the opposition mayor of Caracas, called on
Venezuelans to protest the move in the streets.
One of the stations to cease operations was Radio Bonita
1520 AM in the city of Guatire, 25 miles (40 km) from Caracas.
"Fifteen years after my father died, they tell me
(broadcasting) licenses can't be inherited, we're shocked,"
Felix Ali Obelmejia, director of Radio Bonita, told
Another 120 radio stations were being investigated for
administrative irregularities and the radio frequency of
stations being shut down would be transferred to new community
broadcasters, Cabello had said.
Venezuela's attorney general presented this week draft
legislation that would establish prison sentences for anyone
who provides false information that harms the interests of the
state. Rights groups harshly criticized the proposal.
As part of his drive to remake Venezuela as a socialist
country, Chavez has vastly expanded the number of publicly
owned television and radio stations since he took office in
1999. Some are directly owned or financed by the government,
while others are operated by cooperatives and community
(Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Editing by Will