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Hugo Chávez Wins Journalism Award. Come Again?

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez greet after signing commercial accords during a visit to a state-run shipyard in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Chavez is on a one-day official visit to Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez greet after signing commercial accords during a visit to a state-run shipyard in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Chavez is on a one-day official visit to Argentina. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)  (AP2011)

At home in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez has waged a long battle with the press – silencing critical voices and opposition voices, expropriating media outlets, and even trying to curb freedom of expression in social media.   

But at Argentina's University of La Plata, Chávez was awarded the Rodolfo Walsh Prize on Tuesday "for his unquestionable and authentic commitment" to giving people without a voice access to the airwaves and newspapers.

Chávez has used oil funds to bankroll the growth of the Telesur network, a Venezuelan state-funded alternative to privately financed broadcast stations across Latin America.

Needless to say, the choice of Chávez for the award is controversial.

Inter-American Press Association president Gonzalo Marroquín said in an interview that the Venezuelan leader is a "clear enemy of freedom of the press."

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"It would take a long time to enumerate the long chain of actions Chávez has taken against the right of the Venezuelan people to receive information," he said.

Chávez's government forced the opposition RCTV channel off airwaves in 2007 by refusing to renew its broadcast license. The telecommunications agency then ordered cable companies to drop RCTV International last year for refusing to carry Chávez's speeches and other mandatory programming. The government also cited licensing issues in forcing 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air.

The majority owner of Globovisión, Venezuela's only remaining anti-Chávez TV channel, fled the country rather than be jailed pending a conspiracy trial for keeping two dozen new vehicles at one of his homes. Guillermo Zuloaga, who also owns several car dealerships, said Chávez ordered bogus charges.

Venezuela still has a few independent newspapers and web sites, including the newspaper El Nacional, which on Tuesday editorialized against the award.

Chávez's host, Argentine President Cristina Fernández, is fighting her own battle against the press. Fernández is trying to transform Argentina's private communications industry through a law that would force cable TV providers to include channels run by unions, and other activists.

Chávez began his tour of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia only days after U.S. President Barack Obama skipped these countries in his first visit to South America, a goodwill tour overshadowed by the U.S. attacks Obama ordered on Muamar Qaddafi's forces in Libya. Both Chávez and Fernández strongly criticized the air attacks Tuesday.

Chávez is an ally of Qaddafi, who honored the Venezuelan leader in 2004 with his Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, an honor he shares with Fidel Castro (1998), Evo Morales (2006) and Daniel Ortega (2009).

As for the journalism award, Chávez said he is proud to receive it, even though some say "that the dictator Chávez doesn't deserve it."

"One must fight the media dictatorship. The dominant classes always manipulate the communications media and trick the people through powerful psychological campaigns," he said.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press. AP Writers Debora Rey and Almudena Calatrava contributed to this report.

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