Venezuela’s Minister of Communication Resigns, Takes Blame for Chavez’s Erroneous Statement

Minister Jesse Chacon took full responsibility for the president's erroneous statement on Sunday regarding wounded soldiers, one which died later that day. Opposition leaders claimed the soldiers were suffering reprisals from government

Jesse Chacón

Caracas, April 6, 2004 (—Late last night, Venezuela’s Minister of Communication and Information, Jesse Chacon, announced that he would resign from his post because his office had provided the President with erroneous information on the condition of eight soldiers who were injured during detention in a military fort.

Last week, eight soldiers suffered serious burn injuries, when a fire erupted in their detention cell. Opposition leaders and the media suggested that the fire was placed intentionally in order to silence the eight soldiers who had been supposedly placed in detention for having signed the recall referendum against President Chavez. Military officers at the fort, however, suggested that a cigarette had caused one of the cell’s mattresses to ignite. It was later discovered that none of the burn victims had signed the petition for a recall referendum against the president.

President Chávez, during his weekly Aló Presidente live television program, downplayed the incident, saying, “the boys were wounded as a result of an accident. (…) In this case it was a small fire … almost all of the wounds were light…” Around midnight of the program’s broadcast, however, one of the victims, Orlando Bustamante, died as a result of the 3rd degree burns he suffered.

Minister Chacon said that he takes full responsibility for the erroneous information that his office provided to the president and that his resignation would be “irrevocable.” “In my role as manager of information, I have to recognize that the president made reference to incorrect information,” said Chacon.

The president, however, still has to accept the resignation for it to be effective. Chacon also added that it was a disgrace the way Venezuela’s national private media attempts to make political points out of every unfortunate accident, as it did when it launched unsubstantiated claims that the soldiers were victims of reprisals for having participated in the presidential recall process.

Meanwhile, supporters of the minister have launched a petition drive for President Chavez to reject the resignation, for being a leader who takes responsibility for his actions.