Venezuela’s Chávez Denounces Violence By Militant Government Supporters

During a television broadcast on Saturday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez strongly denounced the violent actions of radical groups who identify themselves as supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution led by Chávez.
"President Hugo Chavez addressing supporters in the Caracas barrio of Petare on Saturday. (ABN)

Mérida, February 9th 2009 (– During a television broadcast on Saturday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez strongly denounced the violent actions of radical groups who identify themselves as supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution led by Chávez. Chávez called on Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz and state security forces to investigate and arrest those who are responsible for the violence.  

“I cannot conceive that there are small groups out there that claim to be revolutionaries but take actions that are really against the revolution,” said Chávez to a cheering audience of supporters in the low-income Caracas neighborhood of Petare. “The Venezuelan people want peace.”

Chávez called for the arrest of Valentín Santana, the leader of the Caracas-based group La Piedrita. In a recent interview with the opposition newspaper Quinto Día, Santana said La Piedrita was responsible for a series of recent tear gas attacks against the facilities of political parties, news media, the Catholic Church, and other groups affiliated with the anti-Chávez opposition.

Santana also threatened to kill Marcel Granier, the president of the television news station RCTV, which supported the 2002 coup against Chávez by broadcasting the coup leaders’ propaganda during the two-day event.

“I called the Attorney General… That person should be detained,” Chávez said of Santana.  “We cannot allow La Piedrita to become a group of terrorists who go around threatening people.”

State security forces had attempted to detain Santana on a previous occasion, but La Piedrita confronted the forces with arms, impeding the arrest. This time, Chávez said, “I am capable of coming after them myself… Here, there will be peace, not anarchy.”

Chávez also questioned whether La Piedrita’s actions are really meant to defend his government, as the group claims. “I have a firm suspicion that they are counter-revolutionary agents,” said Chávez. “Ask yourselves who benefits from [Santana’s] declarations. The counter-revolution!”  

In a communiqué Sunday, La Piedrita rejected Chávez’s statements, declaring, “No court will have the moral authority to judge a revolutionary. To criminalize us is a failed strategy.” La Piedrita also said it had been the victim of violent acts of intimidation Sunday morning by Colombian paramilitaries who operate in Caracas.

On Monday, Chávez compared Santana’s death threats with those made by prominent opposition talk show host Rafael Poleo against Chávez last year. “The extreme Left and the extreme Right are connected,” said the president, adding that both Santana and Poleo should be in jail. “The revolutionary acts with love for human beings and for life, not hate.”

The president of the Interior Policy Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN), Tulio Jiménez, announced Monday that the commission will investigate the crimes in which La Piedrita and other militant groups are implicated. “These groups should think about how their positions do harm to the [revolutionary] process and the government,” said Jiménez.

Speaking for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on Monday afternoon, party leader Vanessa Davies stated, “We endorse President Chávez’s statements about La Piedrita. We think the methods that this organization wants to employ during this political juncture in our country are not revolutionary.”

Chávez, during his announcements Saturday, also criticized Lina Ron, the leader of another militant group called Venezuelan Popular Unity that has participated in attacks on opposition groups. Chávez said he has spoken with Ron many times, and that “she is a good fellow revolutionary.” However, “if she continues like this, she’ll end up alone… if someone gets involved in a revolutionary movement they must be disciplined,” said Chávez.

Chávez accused Ron of helping La Piedrita obtain weapons. “The weapons of this revolution are in the Armed Forces of Venezuela, of which I am the commander in chief, and they cannot be in the hands of anybody else,” said the president.

Finally, the president gave orders to the armed forces not to tolerate the presence of guerrilla groups such as the Bolivarian Liberation Forces, which identifies as pro-Chávez and operates near the border of Colombia.

“Whether they’re guerrillas, pro-guerrillas, anti-guerrillas, paramilitaries, or drug traffickers, they cannot be tolerated!” the president exclaimed. “They kidnap people, kill people, and they have fired shots at our army. They are doing a lot of harm to the revolution.”

Chávez’s statements came one week before a national referendum on a constitutional amendment that will allow Venezuelans to re-elect the president and all other elected officials more than once if it is approved by voters February 15th.