CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuela on Friday criticized a U.S. proposal to boost broadcasts to the South American country in an attempt to counter the influence of President Hugo Chavez.
The House of Representatives on Thursday backed an amendment by Rep. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, to provide $10 million to bolster Voice of America broadcasts to Venezuela and Latin America.
Communications Minister Willian Lara accused the United States of ``escalating a media campaign'' against Venezuela and rejected statements by Mack that a recent decision by Chavez to force an opposition-aligned TV station off the air was a blow to free speech.
``Freedom of expression now belongs to everyone,'' Lara said, defending the government's decision not to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV. The channel, Venezuela's oldest and most-watched private TV broadcast, was turned over to a public service station.
Chavez accused RCTV of inciting a failed 2002 coup, violating broadcast laws and ``poisoning'' Venezuelans with soap operas that promoted capitalism.
RCTV's broadcasts ended May 27, sparking weeks of protests in Venezuela and condemnations from the U.S. and Brazilian congresses, as well as numerous human rights and press freedom groups.
On Friday, thousands of students from public and private universities filled the baseball stadium of Caracas' Central University of Venezuela to protest the decision to close the station.
The amendment approved by the House on Thursday allots $10 million to the Broadcast Board of Governors, the federal agency which controls all foreign non-military radio and TV broadcasts, to increase broadcasting in Venezuela and Latin America.
``As the window of independent media in Venezuela closes, Voice of America will play a critical role in getting the truth out about what is happening in the country,'' Mack said, according to a transcript of the session.
Voice of America began broadcasts to Venezuela last year.