MIAMI — Venezuelan media mogul Gustavo Cisneros asked President Hugo Chavez during a private meeting in 2004 to tone down his rhetoric against the news media owners and reporters, as Chavez demanded Cisneros' TV station and other private media to provide balanced news coverage of the government, according to documents and interviews obtained by El Nuevo Herald.
The materials also show that at the June 2004 meeting, mediated by former President Jimmy Carter, the Cuban-born Cisneros asked for a halt in the government harassment of his family and enterprise. His house had been searched several times and the Venezuelan Congress had considered withdrawing his citizenship.
The Cisneros-Chavez meeting was previously reported yet never officially explained. But El Nuevo had access to a file of confidential papers, as well as several people familiar with the meeting, that revealed key details of the session.
At the time, Chavez was harshly attacking Cisneros' Venevision TV station and other broadcast media that had backed the opposition during a 2002 coup attempt against the president, as well as a national strike months later designed to force him out of power.
Although Chavez and Cisneros have maintained that no deal was made, Venevision lowered its critical tone and Chavez abandoned his public attacks against Cisneros after the meeting with Carter.
In one document obtained by El Nuevo, signed by Cisneros, he emphatically denies that he and Chavez had signed any sort of pact through Carter's mediation.
Instead, he argues that the meeting had focused on the need to promote a dialogue between media owners and the government, using the services of an expert negotiator from Harvard University.
Cisneros' version was confirmed by an aide to Carter, Jennifer McCoy.
"One of the results of the meeting on June 18, 2004, was the commitment, both by President Chavez and Mr. Cisneros, to name delegates to participate in the next mediation session scheduled for late June with expert negotiator William Ury," McCoy wrote in an e-mail to El Nuevo.
McCoy, director of the Americas Program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center, said the accord implied that the privately owned mass media would give fair coverage to an upcoming recall referendum against Chavez.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington did not reply to several Nuevo requests for comment. But Chavez himself has stated on several occasions that he did not sign a pact with Cisneros and that he did not commit himself to complying with the businessman's demands.