Mérida, June 27, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— The South American soccer tournament known as America's Cup, or Copa America, began yesterday in Venezuela with a colorful opening ceremony in the city of San Cristobal. Meanwhile, opposition journalists and students marched in Caracas Wednesday to mark one-month since the private television channel RCTV went off the air.
Chavez arrived to the Pueblo Nuevo stadium in San Cristobal last night accompanied by his friends and supporters ex-football star Diego Maradona and Bolivian President Evo Morales to inaugurate the first Copa America held in Venezuela in the 90-year history of the tournament.
"Welcome to this homeland of Bolivar," yelled Chavez to the crowd of more than 40 thousand football fans. "Venezuela opens its heart to all visitors. After 90 years the Copa America came to Venezuela, the cup of happiness, the cup of the people," he said.
Chavez, Morales and Maradona gave the opening plays of the tournament passing the ball between them amid cheers from the crowd. Chavez welcomed both Morales and Maradona to Venezuela and the three left the field having officially inaugurated the 42nd Copa America. The ceremony concluded with festive music and fireworks.
Peru gave the first surprise of the tournament a few hours before with a 3-0 victory over Uruguay in the Andean city of Merida. After the inauguration in San Cristobal, Bolivia and Venezuela ended in a tie, 2-2.
The games will continue from June 26th until July 15th in various cities around Venezuela. The Venezuelan government has inaugurated several new stadiums around the country in recent weeks in anticipation of the football tournament. A total of 12 teams, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, United States and Mexico, will battle it out to see who can go home with the 2007 America's Cup.
The Copa America comes to Venezuela almost exactly 4 weeks after the private television channel RCTV went of the air causing a national controversy and student protests in the streets.
On Wednesday, exactly one month after RCTV's broadcast license expired and it was forced to go off the air, actors and journalists from RCTV and other opposition media, along with students from major universities in Caracas, planned a march to demand the return of RCTV to the nation's airwaves.
Starting at Plaza Venezuela in central Caracas and heading toward the RCTV headquarters in eastern Caracas, marchers carried signs denouncing what they see as attacks on freedom of expression in the country. Thousands of journalists, students, opposition political leaders, actors, and workers began to concentrate at 11 in the morning and slowly made their way towards the RCTV plant.
The Chavez government has accused opposition groups of protesting during the Copa with the intention of sabotaging the event. Opposition groups have denied that accusation but have admitted that they are taking advantage of world attention of Venezuela.
"We are not going to block the Copa. We open our arms and welcome all those who come to the party," said student leader Stalin Gonzalez. "But we are going to take advantage of that presence to convey our message," he said.
On the other side of town, pro-Chavez activists and journalists held a political rally of "Journalists for the Truth" in the central Plaza Bolivar of Caracas. Former Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, participating in the pro-Chavez rally, assured that the opposition march was a failure and criticized the journalists who participated.
Rangel emphasized that the Chavez government has not closed any media and has not detained any journalists, "however, these people still dare to say that there isn't freedom of expression in Venezuela."
According to Rangel, the fight for freedom of expression in Venezuela is just beginning. "It is battle for all people to rescue freedom of expression, to make media that is truly at the service of the majority and not of the powerful economic groups."