Americas cases 2004: Country List    I   Americas Regional Home Page
How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

JANUARY 18, 2004
Posted: January 30, 2004

Joshua Torres, Globovisión
Zullivan Peña, Globovisión

Cameraman Torres and his assistant Peña, who both work for the 24-hour Caracas-based TV news channel Globovisión, were attacked by alleged government supporters while they were covering an opposition event in Caracas.

The TV crew had been assigned to cover a political rally by the opposition party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), which was celebrating the anniversary of its foundation in downtown Bolívar Square, Torres told CPJ. Around 10:30 a.m., as Torres and Peña were moving in a Globovisión car on Urdaneta Avenue, they saw a group of hooded men armed with sticks and pipes beating a woman. According to Torres, the woman was wearing an orange shirt-the color worn by MAS supporters. Torres began filming the incident from inside the car. When a man alerted the attackers that they were being filmed, they tried to block the journalists' vehicle. Peña, who was driving the car, accelerated in an attempt to escape, but the attackers began hitting the car with sticks and pipes, smashing the car's windshield. As the car was leaving, a shot was fired, hitting the side of the vehicle. Torres and Peña suffered no injuries.

Globovisión's car was not marked "Press." Because Venezuelan journalists who cover political events have been routinely attacked, journalists often hide their press credentials and seldom identify their vehicles.

According to Torres, some of the attackers were wearing T-shirts and hats bearing symbols of government programs and of neighborhood organizations that have close ties to the government.

Later that day, police experts inspected the car for evidence related to the attack. On January 19, Torres and Peña filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office in Caracas.

FEBRUARY 12, 2004
Posted: February 23, 2004

Víctor Serra, Cambio de Siglos

Serra, a reporter for the daily Cambio de Siglo based in Mérida State, was attacked by state police while covering student protests against the government in the city of Mérida.

The attack occurred at around 11:30 a.m. near the scene of the protests, Serra told CPJ. Riot police surrounded Serra and Cambio de Siglo's lawyer Javier Pulido and attacked them without warning. Pulido was beaten with police shields but managed to escape. Four to five police officers then cornered Serra with their shields. He identified himself as a journalist, but the officers beat him with shields and sabers for about 30 seconds, hitting him in his arms, legs, chest, and back. After one officer gave an order, they stopped and told him to leave.

Firefighters then helped the journalist to a hospital, where he was treated for several bruises on his arms and legs. He was released the same day and prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications.

The day of the attack, Serra filed complaints with the local Public Prosecutor's Office and the police.

FEBRUARY 27, 2004
Posted: April 6, 2004

Vladimir Gallardo, El Impulso
Carlos Montenegro, Televén

Gallardo, photographer with the regional daily El Impulso, and Montenegro, a cameraman with the Caracas–based private television station Televén, were injured while covering violent street clashes in the capital, Caracas, in the wake of a four–day antigovernment protest. The protesters were demanding a referendum to recall President Hugo Chávez Frías.

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 occurred while Chávez was hosting a summit meeting of the leaders of 18 developing nations. Vladimir Gallardo was injured when rubber pellets hit his face and abdomen while he was near Plaza Venezuela, in downtown Caracas. Carlos Montenegro was shot in the leg while covering the protests. Both Gallardo and Montenegro were taken to the hospital and treated. According to local press reports, it is not known who fired the shots.

FEBRUARY 28, 2004
Posted: March 5, 2004

Billy Castro, Impacto
Wilmar Rodríguez, Impacto

Castro and Rodríguez, a photographer and a reporter, respectively, with the daily Impacto, based in the northeastern state of Anzoátegui, were attacked by government supporters.

That morning, Castro told CPJ, he heard that government supporters had taken over the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Anaco and went there to cover the story. Anaco's Chamber of Commerce served as the local offices of the opposition umbrella group Coordinadora Democrática. When Castro arrived at the scene, police, army troops, and National Guardsmen were positioned in front of the Chamber of Commerce. Rodríguez, who works as a political correspondent for Impacto, arrived later.

At about 12:30 p.m., as some government supporters helped the security forces to evict other government supporters who were chanting slogans against government opponents and journalists, a woman pushed Rodríguez and attacked her verbally. When Rodríguez complained, another man grabbed the journalist and beat her. As government supporters began encircling Rodríguez, Castro came to help her and, while trying to take her away from the crowd, government supporters hit him in the head with a stone and began beating him. As Castro fell on the floor, Rodríguez saw one man pull out a handgun. Thinking the man was going to shoot Castro, Rodríguez yelled, after which two soldiers came and rescued the journalists.

According to Castro, the protesters were wearing T-shirts with the logo of the Círculos Bolivarianos, a network of neighborhood committees that are controlled by the Venezuelan government. Before the attack, Castro said, he and Rodríguez had identified themselves as journalists to the crowd.

The police took Castro to a private clinic where he was treated and released. An hour after the attack, Castro filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office. On March 4, Castro told CPJ, the Círculos Bolivarianos issued a press release accusing him of being the aggressor.

MARCH 2, 2004
Posted: March 5, 2004

Juan Carlos Aguirre, CMT
Alejandro Marcano, CMT

Aguirre and Marcano, members of a news crew with Caracas-based TV channel CMT, were attacked and harassed by National Guard troops while they were covering violent protests in support of a referendum to revoke President Hugo Chávez Frías' mandate.

The attack took place at about 8 p.m., while reporter Aguirre and cameraman Marcano were covering the protests in the neighborhood of Altamira, in eastern Caracas, Aguirre told CPJ. At the time, Aguirre said, the violent protests had subsided and only a few protesters were throwing bottles and Molotov cocktails in the direction of a checkpoint manned by National Guard troops. Both journalists were wearing gas masks and bulletproof vests.

After Aguirre and Marcano heard gunfire and saw several protesters run away, they got closer to the checkpoint to report on the developments. Then they heard people shouting at them. At first they thought the shouts came from government supporters but later realized they came from National Guard troops, who were throwing tear gas grenades at them. As the journalists ran away, troops fired several shots, and the journalists threw themselves on the ground.

Then three National Guardsmen grabbed Aguirre and dragged him several meters. Then a group of 10 to 15 guardsmen encircled him and began beating and kicking him. The reporter, who was wearing a gas mask, was told to take it off and, after he did, he was hit in the head. One guardsman hit him in the head with the butt of his gun. While Aguirre was being attacked, the men told him, "This is so you learn to tell the truth, liar and coup plotter." Aguirre did not see their faces because the agents were wearing gas masks and helmets. When the men noticed he was bleeding, they said, "This is enough. This is so you learn to tell the truth."

The guardsmen then approached Marcano, who had recorded the attack, and forcibly removed his camera and his gas mask.

Aguirre, who was taken to a private clinic for treatment, told CPJ that he did not file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office because he did not trust the judiciary to be impartial and doubted that the authorities would carry out a serious investigation. CMT has subsequently recovered the camera, he said, but its battery and the videotape were missing.

MARCH 2, 2004
Posted: March 5, 2004

Venezolana de Televisión

Government opponents attacked the facilities of the Caracas-based, state-owned channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV).

In a press conference held at noon on March 3, VTV President Vladimir Villegas said that, in the evening of March 2, government opponents had fired several shots and threw bottles, stones, and Molotov cocktails at VTV facilities, reported state-owned Radio Nacional de Venezuela (RNV). The opposition members also threw stones and firecrackers at VTV employees who were entering and exiting the premises. No VTV employees were injured.

Villegas also said that for safety reasons, VTV employees had to stay in the building until late in the evening, and that others who lived outside Caracas had to sleep at VTV's offices, according to RNV. Villegas added that the station decided against broadcasting images of the attack because they did not want government supporters to come and defend VTV facilities, which could have led to more confrontation and violence.

Since February 27, violent antigovernment protests have occurred throughout Venezuela. The protesters are demanding a referendum to revoke President Hugo Chávez Frías' mandate.

MARCH 2, 2004
Posted: April 2, 2004

Víctor Yépez, Radio Máxima FM
Adda Pérez, Radio Máxima FM


Yépez, a host with the community radio station Máxima FM, based in Ciudad Ojeda, in the northwestern state of Zulia, and Pérez, the station's director, were attacked by opposition supporters who were protesting against the government.

When Yépez and Pérez, a married couple who co–own the station, arrived at their housing complex at around 10:45 p.m. in their car, a crowd of opposition supporters was blocking the entrance and burning tires, Yépez told CPJ. The journalists then tried to go around the housing complex and enter through a back gate but were again turned back. In a third attempt, through a side gate, Pérez tried to persuade the protesters, saying that she and her husband were tired and hungry. The protesters responded by accusing the journalists of being government sympathizers and of running a pro–government radio station.

When Pérez exited the car to clear several stones and bottles that were in front of the gate, the protesters threw a large rock that smashed the journalists' car's windshield. Yépez then exited the car and was attacked by a woman who tried to hit him with a metal rod. Yépez managed to get back into the car and drive through the gate. Realizing he had left his wife behind, he got out of the car and was punched and kicked by protesters. Finally, a security guard who worked in the housing complex fired three shots into the air and the protesters stopped beating Yépez. Pérez escaped unharmed, but Yépez suffered an injury to his nose.

During the attack, the crowd called for Yépez's lynching. According to Yépez, the attackers were members of the opposition group Gente del Petróleo, which is comprised of former employees of the state–owned oil company PDVSA.

Yépez said that same evening he called the police and the National Guard, but they never came. The next day, the journalists filed a complaint with the police. Yépez also said that he asked the Washington, D.C.-based Inter–American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to grant them precautionary measures that call on the Venezuelan government to guarantee the journalists' safety and provide for their protection. The IACHR granted the measures on March 11.

MAY 10, 2004
Updated: May 25, 2004

Félix Carmona, El Universal
Jorge Santos, El Universal

Carmona, a reporter for the Caracas-based daily El Universal; Santos, a photographer for the paper, and their driver, Andrés Pérez Cova, were attacked and threatened by military intelligence personnel.

At 8:30 p.m., the journalists went to cover a raid at the house of former President Carlos Andrés Pérez, Santos told CPJ. When the journalists left Pérez's house at around 10:30 p.m., they were assigned to cover another raid at the house of Rafael Marín, a parliamentary deputy for the Acción Democrática opposition party.

While the journalists drove to the scene of the second raid, they met a caravan of several Military Intelligence Directorate vehicles that had stopped in the road. Thinking they had arrived at Marín's house, the journalists stopped their car. When Santos exited the vehicle, a military intelligence officer came, pointed a gun at him, and said, "If you take a picture, I'll shoot you." Santos replied that he was doing his job, and several officers began hitting him in the head, face, and chest with the palm of their hands. They pointed a machine gun to his head and forced him to give up his camera.

The officers then forced Carmona out of the car by pointing a gun to his head, beat him, placed him face to the wall, and then grabbed his tape recorder. The officers beat Pérez Cova, cocked a gun, and aimed it at his head.

After Santos, Carmona, and Pérez Cova got inside their car, one of the officers again ordered them to get out, saying they could be armed. The officers searched them and took their press credentials and I.D. cards. The officers told them that if El Universal reported on the attack, they and their families would die. Before leaving, the officers destroyed their car's radio, which the reporting team uses to stay in touch with their newspaper.

According to Santos, while some of the military intelligence officers were wearing ski masks, others weren't, and he was able to identify them as the same officers who conducted the first raid. Santos said he was surprised by the attack, because he and Carmona were able to cover the first raid without any problems.

On May 11, Carmona, Santos, and Pérez Cova filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General's Office. Santos has not heard from authorities since, and the reporting team has not recovered their camera, tape recorder, press credentials, and I.D. cards.

MAY 29, 2004
Posted: June 9, 2004

Sandra Sierra, Notitarde
Pedro Rey, Notitarde
Marta Palma Troconis, Globovisión
Joshua Torres, Globovisión
Nahjla Isaacs Pérez, TVS
Jonathan Fernández, TVS


Six Venezuelan journalists were attacked by government supporters while covering a signature verification process, known as a reparo, the results of which triggered a recall referendum on President Hugo Chávez Frías.

Sierra, a reporter, and Rey, a photographer, were assaulted around 10:30 a.m. in the municipality of Sucre, in eastern Caracas. (The two journalists work in the Caracas news bureau of the daily Notitarde, which is based in Valencia, in the northern state of Carabobo.) When a group of government followers arrived to protest the presence of opposition supporters, Rey climbed on top of a heap of cement to have a better view of the scene, according to Sierra. A government supporter grabbed Rey's camera, causing the journalist to fall and the camera to break. Sierra found the camera's flash, but two women struggled with her and took it. At the same time, around 10 people started to beat Rey in the face, head, and back. The military police then arrived at the scene, fired a shot into the air, and established a security cordon around the journalists.

Sierra and Rey later were treated for their injuries at a medical clinic and told to rest for several days. Both journalists have filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General's Office.

At around 11 a.m., Palma and Torres, a reporter and a cameraman, respectively, for the Caracas-based 24-hour news channel Globovisión, arrived at the scene in Sucre. A government supporter tried to prevent the journalists from reporting, Palma told CPJ. A crowd of government supporters then assaulted Torres, hitting him in the head with a metal pipe. When Palma tried to help him, four men threw her on the ground and kicked her. The attackers stopped only after they grabbed Torres's video camera.

Palma and Torres suffered injuries and bruises on the head, arms, and legs. They received treatment at a medical clinic and were ordered to rest for a week by a physician. They recovered the video camera from a man who found it during the attack and kept it safe. Palma and Torres both filed complaints with the Prosecutor General's Office the day after the attack.

The assailants in both cases were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of Sucre's municipal government, which is headed by supporters of President Chávez.

Meanwhile, in the municipality of San Diego, in Carabobo, government supporters attacked Isaacs and Fernández, a reporter and a cameraman, respectively, who work for the regional television channel TVS. Issacs and Fernández were pushed, beaten, and verbally abused by government supporters, according to reports in Notitarde. The journalists took refuge at a local store and left when the state police escorted them out.

JUNE 3, 2004
June 4, 2004

Radio Caracas Televisión
El Nacional


Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías angered that he could face a recall vote attacked two media outlets.

At around 1 p.m., 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 on June 3, 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.

JUNE 27, 2004
Posted: July 2, 2004

Romelia Matute, Radio Nacional de Venezuela

Matute, a reporter for state-owned Radio Nacional de Venezuela (RNV), was attacked and harassed by opposition supporters while covering campaign activity by followers of President Hugo Chávez Frías in southeastern Caracas.

Government sympathizers had set up two booths that morning in a park in the Caracas neighborhood of Alto Prado to gather support ahead of the August 15 recall referendum on Chávez and several opposition legislators, according to local news reports. Opposition supporters congregated to demand the government sympathizers leave, and police cordoned off the two sides.

Matute arrived around 12:30 p.m., interviewing government followers before walking to the other side of the police cordon to interview opposition supporters, she told CPJ. As she was interviewing an opposition sympathizer, she said, other opposition supporters approached, pulling her press credentials and tape recorder. A woman grabbed Matute's hair from behind and threw her to the ground.

In pain, Matute said she went to the pro-government booths to rest. After she called RNV and was given permission to go home, she said, she was blocked from leaving by opposition supporters who had encircled the booths. She finally left around 3 p.m. and, that evening, filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General's Office.

The next day, she went to a hospital, where doctors found she had suffered whiplash and prescribed 21 days of rest, during which she was to wear a cervical collar.

AUGUST 11, 2004
Posted: August 24, 2004

Tony Vergara, Globovisión
Juan Camacho, Globovisión

Ana Karina Villalba, Globovisión
José Umbría, Globovisión
Ademar Dona, Globovisión

Government supporters attacked Tony Vergara and Juan Camacho, technicians for the 24-hour news channel Globovisión, after they had finished covering a meeting in Caracas on the recall referendum. Villalba, Umbría and Dona, the other members of the Globovisión news team, were threatened and harassed in the same incident

Villalba, a reporter, said they preparing to leave after the meeting between government officials and international observers from the Carter Center at the vice president's office in downtown Caracas.

Umbría, a cameraman, and Dona, an assistant, got inside their car with Villalba. As Vergara and Camacho got inside a second vehicle about half a block away, a group of 15 to 20 government supporters pointed guns at them. The attackers smashed the car's windows and windshield, and punctured its tires. They ordered Vergara and Camacho out of the car, beat them, and pepper-sprayed them.

The attackers took Vergara and Camacho's personal belongings, including gold chains, identification cards, and the vehicle's radio transmitter, which the news team used to communicate with Globovisión headquarters. When Villalba and Umbría tried to record the attack, they were threatened and told to keep their camera away. Because of the threats, Villalba said, the news team left the scene.

Vergara and Camacho were taken to a hospital where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

Although their vehicle was not marked with the Globovisión logo, Vergara and Camacho's shirts had the Globovisión logo and both carried press credentials, Villalba said. Similarly, the other vehicle was not marked, but the journalists had press identification.

Globovisión filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's General's Office, according to Villalba.

Posted: September 17, 2004

Mauro Marcano, Radio Maturín, El Oriental

Marcano, a radio host and columnist, was shot dead by unidentified attackers at around 7 a.m. in his apartment building's parking lot in the city of Maturín, the capital of eastern Monagas State, according to local news reports. Next to his body, police found his handgun, which he had apparently reached for to defend himself, the country's Attorney General's office has stated.

Marcano hosted the radio show "De frente con el pueblo" (Facing the People), broadcast daily from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. by Radio Maturín. In addition, he wrote a weekly column titled "Sin bozal" (Without Muzzle) for the Maturín-based daily El Oriental.

At the time of his murder, Marcano was also a municipal councilman for the regional political movement Fuerza Monaguense. Before joining Fuerza Monaguense, he had long been involved in politics with the Movement toward Socialism party.

Justo Estaba Millán, Radio Maturín's press coordinator, said that Marcano had hosted his show at Radio Maturín for about four years. According to Estaba, Marcano aggressively denounced drug trafficking and police corruption. Estrella Velandia, El Oriental's director, told CPJ that Marcano's columns discussed drug trafficking, contract killings, and police corruption. Velandia said that in the past, police have been able to capture drug traffickers based on information from Marcano's reports According to Velandia, Marcano said he was used to living with threats and knew how to defend himself.

In one of several topics he covered in his last column, published on August 31, Marcano said there was a rumor that police had confiscated 11 kilos of cocaine in a recent bust instead of the 4 kilos they had reported. If the rumors proved true, Marcano said, then police should account for the missing amount of cocaine.

The day of his murder, Marcano was supposed to appear on a noon show at regional television channel Televisora de Oriente (TVO) to discuss recent invasions of privately owned land by landless families, according to TVO journalist Yolimar Bastidas.

CPJ continues to monitor this case to determine if Marcano was killed for his journalistic work.