During his weekly television show “Hello President” on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticised protests by right-wing opposition student groups over alleged political persecution in Venezuela as “defending impunity and corruption.”
Last month, right-wing student groups began a series of protests and hunger strikes that were sparked by the arrest and detention of Julio Rivas, the coordinator and founder of Juventud Activa de Venezuela Unida – United Active Youth of Venezuela (JAVU) on September 7, in relation to a violent opposition protest against Venezuela’s new Education Law in Caracas on August 22.
The Venezuelan government says that members of JAVU, which was created in 2007, act as violent “shock troops” in opposition protests.
The government also says that JAVU is the recipient of substantial funds from U.S. government affiliated organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), with the aim of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
Venezuelan opposition groups deny this allegation. They say JAVU is an environmental organisation and claim that Rivas is the victim of political persecution.
According to Venezuelan regional daily El CarabobeÃ±o, JAVU was formed to protest the non-renewal of private television channel RCTV’s broadcasting concession in May 2007.
“In Carabobo there are 17 cells, each one formed by 200 people. It has a presence in 12 states of the country, and approximately some 80 thousand members,” the report claimed.
Statements on the group’s blog site have included calls for bringing down the Chavez government and a communiquÃ© supporting the June 28 military coup in Honduras. However, shortly after Rivas’ arrest, JAVU administrators closed down their own site.
Rivas, who was released on September 29, is required to appear in court in Caracas monthly as part of his trial. He faces charges including resisting arrest, instigation to commit crime, conspiracy, inciting rebellion, damaging public property and use of generic weapons.
Venezuelan Public Defender Gabriela RamÃrez said she visited Rivas in custody to ensure he was afforded full constitutional rights.
Although Rivas was released, opposition student groups and political parties, including Democratic Action (AD), A New Era (UNT), and Justice First (PJ) said on Saturday that they were continuing to protest for ‘all the other political prisoners’ in Venezuela.
Among others, Venezuelan opposition groups claim that former metropolitan police officers IvÃ¡n Simonovis, Henry Vivas and LÃ¡zaro Forero and six others, convicted of homicide for shooting demonstrators during the April 2002 military coup, are “political prisoners.”
Chavez responded saying he found it “paradoxical that these young people who claim to defend so-called ‘political prisoners’ are defending corruption and impunity.”
In particular Chavez said he couldn’t understand why the students would defend the police officers, Simonovis, Vivas and Forero, and the former governor of Aragua, Didalco BolÃvar, who is charged with corruption, among others.
“Someone who goes on hunger strike is willing to risk their life and you would suppose they would to risk their lives for something bigger, but calling these corrupt people who are imprisoned for embezzlement or murder, ‘political prisoners,’ is shameful,” said the president.
Chavez also referred to the case of retired general Felipe RodrÃguez, who is considered by opposition groups to be a “political prisoner.” RodrÃguez is sentenced to ten years in jail for involvement in attacks on the Colombian and Spanish Embassies in 2003, as well for his role in the assassination of three soldiers in Plaza Altamira.
“They were young boys and they massacred them… he’s a murderer,” Chavez said.
Venezuelan opposition groups also claim that former governor of Zulia and former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales is being politically persecuted.
Rosales fled to Peru in April this year in order to avoid corruption charges including allegations of stealing public funds and accepting bribes during his term as governor.
Rosales is also being investigated over alleged involvement in an assassination plot against Chavez, following recent declarations by a former paramilitary hit man and a former Colombian intelligence official.
Referring to Saturday’s protest where opposition students pulled down their pants and bared their buttocks, Chavez added their actions are “shameful and sad… So now they pull down their pants and turn around. Who do they think they are going to offend with this? Only themselves!”
Pro-Chavez students also held a counter-protest on Saturday calling for “peace and tolerance.”
Carlos Sierra from the Federation of Bolivarian students argued, “These [opposition] students are being used and manipulated by the top leadership of the irrational opposition, which, via the media, send them to generate violence and terrorism in the country.”
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This post was written by Kiraz Janicke