Government supporters attack media outlets

New York, June 4, 2004—Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías angered that he could face a recall vote yesterday attacked two media outlets yesterday.

At around 1 p.m. yesterday, dozens of government supporters threw stones and other objects at the offices of the Caracas-based television channel Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). The attackers took a truck, crashed it against the entrance, and set the vehicle on fire, RCTV journalist Luis Domingo Álvarez told CPJ. National Guard troops arrived 20 minutes later, and the attackers left. Most RCTV staff had to be evacuated.

Two hours later, about 20 people attacked the offices of the Caracas daily El Nacional in downtown Caracas. According to Antonio Fernández, a political editor at the paper, the attackers first threw bottles and stones against the building, destroying several windows. They also burned an El Nacional newspaper distribution truck.

The attackers then rammed a truck against the gates of the building’s parking lot, damaging several vehicles belonging to the newspaper’s employees. The assailants then ransacked the adjacent administrative offices of the tabloid Así es la Noticia, which is owned by El Nacional‘s publishing company, damaging computers, furniture, and windows. They dispersed at around 5 p.m., when National Guard troops came and restored order.

The attacks against the media outlets came as Venezuelans were awaiting an official announcement by the Electoral National Council (CNE) on the results of a signature verification process, known as a reparo, which could trigger a recall referendum on President Chávez.

Late in the afternoon yesterday, the CNE announced that enough signatures had been gathered for a recall referendum. Chávez, who had accused the opposition of fraud in collecting the signatures, said he accepted the decision and was beginning a campaign to defeat the referendum.

Relations between the Venezuelan government and the private media continue to be tense. President Chávez frequently attacks the private media, which he accuses of promoting the political agenda of government opponents.

“CPJ condemns these attacks and calls on authorities to bring those responsible to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.