New York, March 1, 2004—Three journalists were injured over the weekend while covering violent street clashes in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, in the wake of a four-day antigovernment protest. The protesters were demanding a referendum to recall President Hugo Chávez Frías.
On Friday, February 27, Venezuelan National Guard troops fired rubber bullets and threw tear gas grenades to disperse hundreds of opposition protesters, according to local press reports. The crowd responded to the troops by throwing rocks. The confrontation took place while Chávez was hosting a summit meeting of the leaders of 18 developing nations.
Vladimir Gallardo, photographer with the regional daily El Impulso, was injured when rubber pellets hit his face and abdomen near Plaza Venezuela, in downtown Caracas. Also on Friday, Carlos Montenegro, a cameraman with the Caracas-based private television station Televén, was shot in the leg covering the protests. Both Gallardo and Montenegro were taken to the hospital and treated.
On Sunday, February 29, Felipe Izquierdo, cameraman with the international television network Univisión, was shot in the foot, near Caracas’s Plaza Altamira. It is unclear whether the journalist was targeted and who fired the shot. According to local press reports, shots were fired from unknown sources on Sunday while covering clashes between National Guard troops and anti-Chávez protesters.
The opposition is arguing that the Chávez government is blocking their petition for a referendum on the president’s rule. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council is expected to announce today a preliminary ruling on the petition. Opposition leaders say they collected 3.4 million signatures seeking the recall referendum. The constitution requires a minimum of 2.4 million valid signatures. The government accuses the opposition of fraud in collecting the signatures.