Venezuela’s Media Presents Superficial Information About Deaths in Anti-Government Protests

Venezuela's private media is attempting to hide the fact that opposition groups are armed and firing against security forces. Information regarding the caliber of bullets responsible for the wounds and deaths is being withheld

A National Guard officer is taken to a hospital after receiving gunshots from opponents of President Chavez during a protest in eastern Caracas.
Photo: Misael Snow

Caracas, Venezuela. Mar 3, 2004.- The media along with some health centers are withholding information that would establish the origin of gunshots that have left several dead in the opposition protests, with the aim of placing blame on the National Guard.

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are protesting to put pressure electoral authorities into approving a recall referendum on the President’s mandate.

Information about the wounded and dead resulting from the demonstrations and violent protests of the opposition in recent days has been very superficial and difficult to find.

The lack of information about the caliber of the shots and their origins has raised suspicions. The private media has tried to hide evidence that opposition groups are armed and firing against the public security forces.

The caliber of the bullets in question would easily determine whether the victims were wounded by rifles or with pistols (rifles are generally the weapon of the National Guard, even though opposition figure and former guerrilla fighter Carlos Melo was captured Monday with 2 FAL rifles in the trunk of his car).

Health centers in municipalities where the mayors are from the opposition, refuse to cooperate with national government authorities in determinig the caliber of the bullets that caused the injuries or deaths.

A man is treated after being shot at during a demonstration in eastern Caracas. Medical center SaludChacao, refuses to cooperate with authorities to determine the origin of the shots. They denied requests to release the name of the person and the caliber of the bullet extracted. SaludChacao is under the administration of opposition Mayor Leopoldo Lopez.
Photo: Globovision TV / RNV

Last Monday, a cameraperson of Univisión was hit when opposition members shot at National Guardsmen and a one of their bullets reached the cameraperson instead.

A photographer of the AFP news agency was also hit on Monday by bullets shot by “a young boy with a pistol” as the photographer described. His bulletproof vest saved his life.

National Guardsmen hurt

This Tuesday, several guardsmen were shot around the country. In Plaza Altamira a guard was shot in the arm when, in the night hours, someone in the plaza began firing on him and other citizens; the guard used plastic bullets and tear gas to contain the event.

Earlier on Tuesday, soldier Michelangelo Álvarez was shot in the vicinity of Caurimare, in the east of Caracas, when he used tear gas and plastic bullets to push back a riotous group that were blocking access to the neighborhood around the private clinic. Álvarez received a bullet in his left lung and it exited through the back of his neck.

National Guard officer Michelangelo Álvarez was shot in cheek while trying to dissolve a violent opposition protest in eastern Caracas.
Photo: Venezolana de Television

Also, Luis Camacaro, of the National Guard regional command No. 5, received a gunshot wound in the right ankle this Tuesday in Plaza Altamira of Caracas, while sitting in a National Guard vehicle. He and his companions were ambushed; “we were shot at from buildings, from all sides”; he said. The vehicle remains covered with bullet marks.

An x-rays slide shows the bullet inside the head of National Guard officer Michelangelo Álvarez, who was shot in cheek while trying to dissolve a violent opposition protest in eastern Caracas.
Photo: Venezolana de Television

The information regarding the wounded National Guardsmen and members of other security forces was reported by international media; the Venezuelan media, in general, remained silent and ignored these aggressions. Opposition politicians refuse to condem the acts of violence, and deny any responsability in the protests.

National Guard officer Luis Camacaro was shot in the foot while inside his vehicle close to an opposition protest in eastern Caracas.
Photo: Venezolana de Television

Deaths of Tuesday

Newspaper Ultimas Noticias reported “a militant of Proyecto Venezuela (a political party opposed to President Chavez), identified as Jose Sanchez Robles (23 years) died during disturbances in the municipality of Carlos Arvelo. Versions of the story from opposition spokespersons indicate that after the National Guard arrived, Carlos was shot in the right thigh but because of difficulties transporting him to a health care facility, he died in the Central Hospital four hours later.”

There is no information about where the shots originated or what caliber of bullets Sanchez was hit with.

In Altamira

El Nacional and Globovision reported that “the situation in the vicinity of Altamira Square was tense all day long, but at least 4 resulted injured, and one death during shootings early in the evening. Altamira Square is a stronghold of the opposition, and it is located in an upper-middle class section of Caracas.

The media made no effort to identify the victims nor the type of firearms used. They only say “there was a shooting”. This vagueness is very curious since many journalists and photographers were present covering the scene at the time as well as many neighbors who would all be potential witnesses.

A death at Los Salias on Monday

Yesterday, in the neighborhood of Los Castores in the municipality Los Salias, the scientific police began their investigation to determine where the shots that last Monday night, killed José Vilas (41), ex oil worker, come from. He was a member of the organization Gente del Petróleo (People of Petroleum), the masterminds of the oil industry sabotage of the end of 2002 and begining of 2003, which caused more than 10 billion dollars in loses to the Venezuelan economy.

Neighborhood witnesses said Vilas’ death took place after a convoy of National Guard and Military Police arrived at a demonstration and threw tear gas to disperse protesters.

Again, the origins of the shots are unknown, and the caliber of the bullets that killed Vilas has not been revealed.

State TV station attacked

Vladimir Villegas, the president of state TV station Venezolana de Television (VTV), denounced that opposition protestors have attacked the station’s building by setting up fires outside, throwing Molotov cocktails and firing fireworks and gunshots at it.

Fire set up by anti-Chavez protestors outside the state TV station VTV, which is located in a middle-class neighborhood in eastern Caracas.
Photo: Venezolana de Television

According to Villegas, sharpshooters from nearby buildings fired shots at the station on Monday night, preventing the station’s workers from returning to their homes.

VTV is located in Los Ruices, a middle-class neighborhood in eastern Caracas where many opponents of the government live.

Villegas criticized the commercial private media for not condemning the opposition’s violence and the attacks against VTV. Past protests against commercial media has been condemned by several organizations, including the Organization of American States, which so far has remained silent on this particular attack on a media outlet.

Villegas said he ordered not to broadcast the agression live in order to prevent people from working-class neighborhoods who support the government, from risking their lives trying to defend the station as they have done in the past.