Acquitted of all charges men accused of shooting against opposition march during coup d’ etat

Government loyalists were acting in self-defense against opposition-controlled police and sharpshooters.

Aragua, Sept. 18.- The Fourth Judicial Court of the State of Aragua acquitted of all charges the four men accused of killing several people and injuring others during the events that took place around the Llaguno Bridge on April 11 2002, the day of the coup d’ etat against President Hugo Chavez.

The defense successfully made the claim that the accused were firing against the Metropolitan Police, and against sharpshooters hiding in adjacent buildings. The judge ruled that the defendants -Richard Peñalver, Henry Atencio, Nicolas Rivera and Rafael Cabrices- were acting in self-defense.

19 people were killed that day, most of them from precise shots to the head. The precision of the shots as well as the fact that most of the deaths, especially the first ones, were on the side of the government loyalists, were key pieces of evidences in acquittal of the accused.

The Llaguno Bridge, located on the intersection of the Urdaneta and Baralt avenues in downtown Caracas, at only two blocks east of the Presidential Palace, was one of the places where Chavez civilian loyalists gathered to try to defend the Palace against a massive opposition march that was illegally sent off its original course by the opposition coup plotters.

A group of Government civilian loyalists were caught on video firing handguns at an unspecified target from the bridge. The local mainstream media used the video as evidence that the shots were aimed at “peaceful opposition demonstrators”, and they accused President Chavez of ordering to “shoot and kill”. That video was pivotal for the success of the coup, as many of Chavez’s own supporters, and military officers, ended up believing that Chavez had turned into a murderer.

Video did not show the whole picture

According to witnesses and other video and photographic evidence, what took place that day was in fact a confrontation of Chavez’s civilian loyalists versus the Metropolitan Police and opposition sharpshooters that day. The Metropolitan Police, under the control of opposition Mayor of Gran Caracas, Alfredo Peña, and the sharpshooters were trying to clear up the space for opposition demonstrators to march into the Presidential Palace.

A recently released video by Globovision shows no opposition demostrators in the line of fire of Chavez’s loyalists shooting from the bridge.

Luis Alfonso Fernandez, the Venevision journalist who shot the video that was shown around the world to incriminate Chavez and his loyalists in the killings, received the King of Spain International Journalism Award. The video was titled “Massacre in Downtown Caracas”. Venevision is Venezuela’s most viewed TV network, and it is controlled by Latin American media tycoon Gustavo Cisneros, who according to sources such as Newsweek, was one of the main figures behind the coup against Chavez.

However, earlier this year after receiving the award, Fernandez testified in a Venezuelan court that at that time he could not see if the pro-Chavez demonstrators seen on his video were aiming their guns at the opposition march. Fernandez also said that the voice heard on the video claiming that Chavez’s supporters were firing at the opposition, was not his voice but the one of another journalist at Venevision’s studios.

Photographic, other video clips and witness testimonies show that opposition demonstrators did not come closer than two blocks from the place where the shoots shown in the video were being made.

A Metropolitan Police officer (right) hides behind a anti-riot vehicle and looks at Chavez’s supporters gathered at the Llaguno bridge.

Award given to video could be taken away

On Wednesday, Miguel Gozalo Angel, a member of the board of directors of the King of Spain International Journalism Award (Premio Rey de España), admitted that “an error could have been made by giving the prize to the Venezuelan journalist (Luis Alfonso Fernandez), because according to his statements in a Venezuelan court, he could not see if the pro-Chavez demonstrators seen on his video making gun shots, were shooting at a peaceful [opposition] march”.

A Metropolitan Police officer uses an AK-47military-grade machine gun to fire against Chavez’s loyalists gathered at the Llaguno bridge on April 11, 2002.