Caracas, May 29, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Students from several Caracas universities organized a demonstration in the city center yesterday, to protest the non-renewal of RCTV’s broadcast license. According to several reports, including the opposition-oriented newspaper El Universal, violence broke out between demonstrators and police when demonstrators started throwing rocks at a government building. Student demonstrations continued today, but without major incident.
The student demonstration had been called by a variety of print and broadcast journalists. The march began peacefully at the Central University of Venezuela with several thousand students and headed east. According to El Universal, by late evening about 200 students reached Plaza Brion in the neighborhood of Chacaito, where they began burning tires and boxes to block traffic. Around 8pm the group attacked a government building in the area, whereupon police attempted to disperse the protesters with tear gas and plastic shrapnel (perdigones). The protestors responded with rocks and bottles. At least three protesters and one police officer were injured, according to the AP.
Other opposition media, such as the TV station Globovisión, reported that the demonstration was attacked without provocation against “peaceful, civic, and democratic” students.
Later that evening, the mayor of the area in which the protests took place, who belongs to the opposition, called for students to protest peacefully. “To the you university students, the call is for you to organize, to articulate peaceful mechanisms in order to express your frustration… this is how you can channel ways for the vindication of the rights that have been violated for Venezuelans,” said Chacao mayor Leopoldo Lopez.
Minister of the Interior and of Justice, Pedro Carreño, said yesterday that a "fourth scenario of violence" is currently being promoted by the opposition. the first three were, presumably, the 2002 coup, the oil industry shutdown, and the 2004 street protests and blockades. "For the laboratories of dirty war that direct conspiratory actions in the country, [violent protest] is the center of agitation.., which serves as evidence of the degree of discontent, as a result of the sovereign decision the Venezuelan government took [to not renew RCTV’s license]," said Carreño.
Pro-Chavez student groups also organized a demonstration for today, which headed for the city center, to support the government’s decision not to renew RCTV’s broadcast license. They called on their fellow students not to “let themselves be manipulated” into believing that RCTV’s non-renewal means a los of freedom of speech.
RCTV, Venezuela’s longest-running television network, did not receive a new broadcast license for the channel it has been using for 53 years. Chavez had announced that he would not renew RCTV’s license last November, during his campaign for president. According to Chavez, it did not deserve a new license because of its persistent efforts to overthrow the government, such as its participation in the 2002 coup attempt and the 2002-3 oil industry shutdown.
The station went off the air at midnight between May 27th and 28th, at which time a new public service channel, known as Venezuelan Social Television (TVes), went on air. The new channel is supposed to consist exclusively of nationally and independently produced programming, chosen by representatives from civil society groups and independent producers.
Various NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the Inter-American Press Association, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned the Chavez’s decision not to renew RCTV’s license, saying that it threatens freedom of speech in Venezuela.
Government supporters, though, say that the move was completely legal and actually contributes to the democratization of the airwaves because the new channel will be democratically controlled and more pluralistic than RCTV was, which was a very stridently opposition-oriented channel that mostly featured game shows, soap operas, and typical Hollywood fare. RCTV, though, is expected to soon continue broadcasting via cable and satellite.