December 6, 2002
His Excellency Hugo Chávez Frías
President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Palacio de Miraflores
Via facsimile: 58-212-806-3221
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the numerous attacks against Venezuelan journalists during the last three weeks. The two latest incidents, which occurred this week during a strike by the political opposition, the country’s largest workers’ union, and an association of businesses, are particularly worrying because state security forces were either involved in the aggressions or did little to stop them.
We are particularly concerned about the following incidents:
– On November 19, journalists from the state-run channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) were attacked while trying to cover an opposition demonstration in the Caracas neighborhood of Altamira. Reporter Zaida Pereira and cameraman Eduard Escalona were preparing to broadcast a report when opposition members blocked their access to the area. As Pereira protested and Escalona began filming, the opposition members beat Escalona and took his camera, which had recorded part of the assault. The camera was returned half an hour later without the tape and on the condition that Pereira and Escalona leave the scene.
– On December 3, National Guard troops attacked several journalists while they covered an opposition demonstration near the Caracas headquarters of the state oil company, PDVSA. According to journalists contacted by CPJ, the security forces fired rubber bullets and threw tear gas grenades at journalists and other civilians. Fernando Malavé, a photographer with the Caracas daily 2001, was arguing with guards who were preventing him from taking photos when one guard shot him point-blank with a rubber bullet gun, said 2001 reporter Ángel Arráez. Although he was wearing a bulletproof vest, Malavé suffered a serious wound to his ribs. In another attack, security forces kicked Rafael Fuenmayor, reporter with the Caracas-based TV channel CMT; and José Antonio Dávila, a CMT technician, was hit with rubber bullets in the neck, face, and back after a guard shot him at point-blank range. According to local news reports, troops also beat Luis Alfonso Fernández, a reporter with the Caracas-based TV channel Venevisión; and Aymara Lorenzo, a reporter with the news channel Globovisión. National Guard generals and other government officials justified their actions, claiming that the journalists had attacked National Guard troops despite evidence that the opposite had occurred. The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the People’s Ombudsman have criticized the National Guard’s violent and disproportionate actions.
– On December 4, government supporters in the city of Barquisimeto, in northeastern Lara State, attacked several journalists. The journalists were covering an opposition protest when government supporters began throwing bottles and stones at them and the protesters. Later, clashes broke out, and government supporters assaulted some journalists. José Rodríguez, a photographer for the Barquisimeto daily El Impulso, was hit with a sharp object in the head and suffered a concussion. Clara Reverol, a reporter with Caracas-based TV channel Televén, was hit in the forehead. Martín Urteaga, a photographer for the Barquisimeto daily El Informador, was hit in the head as were Julio Torres and Gustavo Escalona, cameramen with TV channel Venevisión. Cristian Rodríguez, a reporter for the Barquisimeto-based TV channel Promar TV, was kicked in the abdomen, while her cameraman José Barreto had the lens of his camera smashed. Reporter Yelina Torrealba and cameraman Miguel Ángel López for Barquisimeto TV channel Telecentro, were beaten. Erika Paz, a reporter with Caracas-based TV channel RCTV, was also beaten, while her cameraman Samuel Sotomayor was beaten and had his camera kicked and destroyed. According to local news reports, the police stood passively while journalists were being harassed and attacked.
CPJ believes that your administration has not taken firm and decisive action to investigate attacks against journalists and media outlets. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, has little to show for its investigations into previous attacks. Often, the journalists file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, but the initial investigations are not completed. The government’s failure to conduct thorough inquiries has reinforced the impunity that has long prevailed in Venezuela and has encouraged those who have perpetrated assaults on journalists.
We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure those responsible for attacking journalists are brought to justice, regardless of their political affiliation or sympathies. We also urge you to demonstrate your active support for press freedom by condemning all attacks on the Venezuelan press and by creating a climate in which journalists may fulfill their professional duties without fear of reprisal.