Following a range of sometimes violent protests across the country last week over the temporary suspension of TV station RCTV, as well as one protest last Monday in Merida which left two youths dead, president Hugo Chavez has called for calm, arguing that the protests, together with a media terrorism campaign, are aimed at creating a climate of distress in the country.
On Saturday 23 January Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) temporarily suspended six TV channels from air, including 2002 coup supporting Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Four of those stations have since had their suspensions lifted by CONATEL.
CONATEL found that over 90% of RCTV’s content is domestic, and therefore the law of Social Responsibility of Radio and Television applies to it. It issued the sanction when RCTV refused to broadcast a government announcement that day, a requirement under the law. CONATEL director Diosdado Cabellos said RCTV can reinitiate broadcasting after registering as a domestic producer, and then it will be monitored for four months to ensure compliance with the law.
The suspension of RCTV was followed by opposition protests around the country. In Lara state last Thursday night Laverdad.com reports that student protests in residential buildings left at least five students injured and 15 detained. Later, press reported that President Chavez had ordered the governor of Lara state, Henry Falcon, to use the police to curb the violence after it was reported that the state police stood by as students went on a violent rampage.
Specifically, Chavez said, “I call on all the governors and mayors to apply authority, I don’t mean repression, but authority, because [the violent opposition] are groups that are looking to cause chaos.”
“We can’t allow the violation of any law, and those who block roads or avenues are violating a law, they are violating the rights of others, we have to be very clear, the rest is weakness that generates impunity, and the damage can be worse,” he said.
“I spoke with the governor [of Lara state] this morning, very firmly, and I warned him: if the Lara police don’t fulfil their functions I’m going to have to intervene.”
Chavez added that to not respect the law, “generates the idea that there’s no government’a society that isn’t protected against twenty or forty people crazy for burning tires, vehicles and blocking roads.”
“In Merida the police didn’t act on time, and that’s something we’re investigating. The police refrained, didn’t fulfil their duties, and that obliged the [National] Guard to come and someone comes and they shoot at the national guards,” he said, referring to opposition road blockades and tire burning last Monday which was confronted by a march of left wing and Chavista groups, and which resulted in two dead youths, one Chavista and one opposition. The youths were shot by unidentified snipers, however much of the international media has reported the incident as though they were shot by the police.
Most media reports of the opposition protests such as the one in Lara also leave it unclear how many participated and the method of protest, though photos and Youtube footage show that the protestors were small groups of young, principally men, blocking roads and destroying property, while other protests consisted in daytime marches.
On Friday there was a march in Carabobo state organised by the National College of Journalists (CNP) against the suspension of RCTV and that also blocked traffic at three locations. Also, El Universal reports 12 youth and students were detained, ten of those receiving cautions, and 40 injured during a protest in Anzoategui state at the end of a march. Following protests in Aragua state, 13 students were detained overnight and there were two days of student-police confrontations in Barinas.
Further, last Thursday in Caracas, students of the Andres Bellow Catholic University protested for “freedom of expression”.
In response to the varied protests, Chavez repeated his call for calm on his weekly program, AlÃ³ Presidente, yesterday, calling on the Venezuelan population to not allow themselves to be intimidated or roused by the recent violent actions by sections of the opposition.
“Violence and destabilisation have always been the symbols of the counter revolution in its attempt to defeat the government’ but we shouldn’t let ourselves be taken along the path of violence,” he said.
Chavez called attention to the media terrorism that has accompanied the recent acts, and that together with the protests is generating an environment of distress and panic. For example, an El National article about the Caracas protest spread fake claims of torture in an article headlined, “National guard use steel claw to repress”. The article itself did not mention use of the hook, and the accompanying photo was an archived one of the National Guard holding a steel hook, which is used to remove hot objects such as burning tires.
“In the face of these acts of destabilisation’ the best vaccine is popular organisation, the organised movements in the vanguard; the government, people, combative working class, students, rural workers movements, together with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV),” Chavez continued.
He also referred to some of the nation’s mainstream media which tried to imply that there are similar conditions presently in Venezuela to before the Caracazo of February 27 1989, when 276 people according to official government estimates, (up to 3000 according to various human rights organisations) were killed by state security forces as they protested neo-liberal measures.
“I tell them that if there were to be a social outburst here, right now’ it would be an uprising of the people against [them], against the oligarchy, against this bourgeoisie which during the time of the Caracazo was in government and ordered a massacre of the people,” he said.
Instead, Chavez suggested the opposition “use the constitution to organise a change in government.”
“All this energy that they are spending on this craziness, all the money that comes from the north, all this ink and paper they use, with that they should go and organise ‘ collect signatures’to ask for a recall referendum against my mandate, and we’ll see what happens, we’ll see if they strike me out,” he said, referring to recent chants and placards at baseball games saying Chavez has “struck out”.
Ennio Di Marco Antonio, from the National Independent Producer (PNI) said, “We condemn the media campaign of irresponsible disinformation’ around the law of Social Responsibility of Radio and Television.” He accused the director of RCTV, Marcel Granier, of wanting to create the impression of a dictatorship, to generate the violent protests and defend the interests of the television station.
Further, Marco Antonio argued that the measure taken by CONATEL favours the participation of independent media and means “more national content and thereby more sources of employment and freedom of expression for all Venezuelans.”
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This post was written by Tamara Pearson