Opposition Protestors Attack Venezuelan Regional Newspaper

Venezuelan opposition protestors violently attacked the offices of privately owned Venezuelan regional daily, Panorama, on Monday, with the aim of shutting the newspaper down.

Caracas, September 19, 2007, (venezuelanalysis.com) – The National Guard remained stationed throughout streets of Maracaibo, capital of the Venezuelan state of Zulia, yesterday, to maintain calm after radical rightwing sectors affiliated with Venezuelan opposition protestors violently attacked the offices of privately owned Venezuelan regional daily, Panorama, on Monday, with the aim of shutting the newspaper down.

Early Monday a group of supporters of the Secretary of Security of the state of Zulia, José "Mazuco" Sánchez, protested outside the Court of Justice as Sánchez was being transferred to face charges relating to the murder of Claudio Enrique Macías Briceño, a functionary of the Military Intelligence Directorate (DIM). Macías was carrying out intelligence investigations into regional police and government functionaries in Zulia, when the Penal Investigation Division (DIP) of the Regional Police Force of Zulia arrested him in "strange circumstances" on August 7 – he was found hanged in El Marite police prison the following day. Panorama reported on September 6 that an autopsy of Macías' body had found, "signs of violence, atypical of death by hanging."

Later Monday, the same group of protestors, in a coordinated attack, took buses to the offices of Panorama-which has been regularly reporting on the Macías case-where they began throwing rocks, bottles, and other objects. The assault on the office lasted for more than half an hour before the National Guard and police arrived.

Panorama journalist José Manuel Luengo said the attackers "screamed that they were going to shut down Panorama, many of them were throwing rocks at our offices. I couldn't go outside the building."

Priselen Martínez, also a reporter for Panorama, explained that she was walking towards her workplace when "a group of enraged people ran towards the office. I had to jump into a bus to save myself from the hail of rocks."

Sub-director of Panorama, Lolimar Suarez, said that the attack was aimed a "cutting freedom of expression" and declared that there are opposition sectors in the region that have a strong interest in preventing this news [about Macías] from being published.

However, Suarez added, "Panorama will continue providing all the information, as it has done throughout its 93 year history."

In addition to investigating the Macías case, Panorama, owned by businessman Esteban Pineda Belloso, has also been strongly critical of the failure of Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales to combat the activities of paramilitaries and criminal gangs operating in Zulia with the alleged complicity of the Regional Police.

Eleazar Díaz Rangel, the director of Venezuela's largest circulation daily Ultimas Noticias, condemned the attack on Panorama, and said that although he did not have proof he suspected the attacks were linked to Governor Rosales.

Vice Minister for Communication and Information, Helena Salcedo also linked the attack on Panorama to Rosales. "It would appear that the hand of the governor of Zulia was involved," said Salcedo. In a clear reference to Rosales' former security advisor Henry Lopez Sisco, Salcedo charged that on June 13 of last year, in connection with a number of student and campesino massacres in the 1980s, "We know his tactics and who have been his advisors; people that have been linked to repulsive acts and violations of human rights."

The president of the National College of Journalists, Levy Benchimol, also condemned the attack on Panorama saying, "The National College of Journalists rejects every aggression against a medium of social communication; [aggressions] that intend to limit, intimidate, and threaten freedom of expression, freedom of information, and freedom of the press, because these acts are contrary to the democratic system."

Oscar Pérez, the secretary-general of the National College of Journalists in Zulia, added, "Freedom of expression prevails in this moment in this country, which is why this union rejects the action that this important means of information [Panorama] was subjected to."

In a statement published yesterday in El Universal Rosales' political party Un Nuevo Tiempo criticized Panorama, claiming that the newspaper, along with the charges against Sánchez, are part of a "macabre plot" by the national government to criminalize the institutions and government of Zulia.

Venezuela's Attorney General, Isaías Rodríguez, denied yesterday that there was any kind of "plot."