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Protests in Venezuela; One Hundred High School Students Arrested; Attacks on Media Continue; Bolivian and Ecuadorian Governments Announce Media Crackdown
CARACAS, Venezuela, COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, and QUITO, Ecuador (May 30, 2007) -- Mass protests shook Venezuela over the last three days as people—many of them high school and university students—took to the streets to protest this weekend’s shutdown of the Venezuelan television station Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Severe government crackdowns included the use of live ammunition, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and riot gear. More than one hundred minors and eighty adults were in custody of the Venezuelan police as of this afternoon. Their identities and condition are being withheld by the government.
Tensions had been rising across Venezuela as midnight of May 27 neared, the date the Venezuelan government stated was the expiration of RCTV’s broadcast license. Those tensions broke into rage when Venezuela’s highest court ruled on May 25 that RCTV’s broadcasting equipment was to be seized by the government and loaned to the public broadcasting station that was to replace RCTV. “From the shutdown of RCTV to the arrest of a hundred teenagers, these are cut and dry cases of human rights violations: freedom of expression, due process, and property rights. The Venezuelan government has ceased the pretense of respecting its own constitution,” said Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen.
The Venezuelan all-news station Globovision was also attacked by a government-funded group of masked men (the Alexis Vive Collective) which defaced the exteriors with government slogans. The police stood by as Globovision was under attack. Subsequently, the Venezuelan president took to the airwaves and accused Globovision of inciting violence by broadcasting the demonstrations and threatened to shut that TV station down if it continued. The Venezuelan Minister of the People’s Power for Communication and Information, Willian Lara, claimed that Globovision was calling for the assassination of President Chávez. The reason for this was that during a televised interview about RCTV, the news show presented several seconds of images spanning RCTV’s 53-year history, one of which showed images of Pope John Paul II along with music by singer Ruben Blades with the lyrics “Have faith, this will not end here.” The government claims the images also show the Roman Catholic Pope being shot. The Venezuelan president openly challenged Globovision, telling them he would revoke their broadcast license and citing them as “enemies of the fatherland, particularly those behind the scenes.” He said, “I will give you a name: Globovision. Greetings gentlemen of Globovision, you should watch where you are going.” He also called for “the people of the slums” to come down and take over Caracas and said that he wanted to lead the fight against the counterrevolutionaries. President Chávez also challenged the owners of Globovision to be prepared to die the way he is prepared to die to defend the revolution. The Venezuelan president ended his broadcast with the slogan “Fatherland, Socialism, or Death.”
“We are profoundly concerned about the fate of the students, some as young as 13, in government custody,” said Halvorssen. “Nobody knows their condition or has a list of their names. This is why independent media is so important. Regardless of the editorial leanings of Venezuela’s private media, they have in many cases exposed and prevented violations of human rights. For instance, the media has been essential to draw attention to the plight of Venezuela’s growing population of political prisoners. Under the current scenario the public space is being monopolized by the government which openly declares it wants to exert ‘communicational hegemony’ over the country,” said Halvorssen.
In the aftermath of the RCTV shutdown, HRF has turned its FreeRCTV.com website into an information resource for media about the shutdown of RCTV, and for other human rights groups and NGOs to cover all the attacks on media now going on in Venezuela.
Bolivia’s President Declares Privately-Owned Media “The Principal Enemy”
On May 24, Bolivian President Evo Morales addressed the Fifth World Conference of Artists and Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he declared that “the principal enemy” of his presidency is the owners of the independent, privately-owned Bolivian media. The conference announced the creation of an observatory and a special tribunal to control commercial and privately-owned media. Abel Prieto, the Cuban minister of Culture, stated that the observatory was essential because “it will allow us to analyze the media not just locally, and nationally, but also the great machinery of disinformation that has decisive impact in the great media of enormous global influence.” The conference applauded the RCTV shutdown as “not fighting against freedom of the press,” but instead as “re-establishing that freedom.” The conference denounced the Inter-American Press Association and Reporters Without Borders as groups that “in the name of a distorted definition of freedom of expression serve the imperialist economic structures.”
Ecuador’s President Sues for Critical Editorial; Will Review All TV Broadcast Licenses
The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has sued the head of the Ecuadorian daily newspaper La Hora, Francisco Vivanco, for a harsh editorial critical of the president. In recent weeks he has frequently been in conflict with the journalists, who he described as “human misery.” On Friday of last week he stated he was not afraid of the media and asked that the Ecuadorian people ignore the media because they “manipulate the information.” President Correa stated that he believed radio and television concessions, necessary to broadcast, were obtained in a “dark” way and he stated he would review all licenses. “The similarities between Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and Hugo Chávez are not coincidental” said Halvorssen. “They are all heading in the same direction: the control over the flow of information in a bid to keep tightening their grip.”
About the Human Rights Foundation
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the American hemisphere. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Armando Valladares, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Thor Halvorssen, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, email@example.com