Caracas, October 5th 2009
– During his weekly television show "Hello President" on Sunday, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez criticised protests by right-wing opposition student
groups over alleged political persecution in Venezuela as "defending impunity
Last month, right-wing student
groups began a series of protests and hunger strikes that were sparked by the
arrest and detention of Julio Rivas, the coordinator and founder of Juventud
Activa de Venezuela Unida – United Active Youth of Venezuela (JAVU) on
September 7, in relation to a violent opposition protest against Venezuela's
new Education Law in Caracas on August 22.
The Venezuelan government says that
members of JAVU, which was created in 2007, act as violent "shock troops" in
The government also says that JAVU
is the recipient of substantial funds from U.S. government affiliated
organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the
International Republican Institute (IRI), and the US Agency for International
Development (USAID), with the aim of interfering in Venezuela's internal
Venezuelan opposition groups deny
this allegation. They say JAVU is an environmental organisation and claim that
Rivas is the victim of political persecution.
According to Venezuelan regional
daily El Carabobeño, JAVU was formed to protest the non-renewal of private
television channel RCTV's broadcasting concession in May 2007.
"In Carabobo there are 17 cells,
each one formed by 200 people. It has a presence in 12 states of the country,
and approximately some 80 thousand members," the report claimed.
Statements on the group's blog site
have included calls for bringing down the Chavez government and a communiqué
supporting the June 28 military coup in Honduras. However, shortly after Rivas'
arrest, JAVU administrators closed down their own site.
Rivas, who was released on September
29, is required to appear in court in Caracas monthly as part of his trial. He
faces charges including resisting arrest, instigation to commit crime,
conspiracy, inciting rebellion, damaging public property and use of generic
Venezuelan Public Defender Gabriela
Ramírez said she visited Rivas in custody to ensure he was afforded full
Although Rivas was released,
opposition student groups and political parties, including Democratic Action (AD),
A New Era (UNT), and Justice First (PJ) said on Saturday that they were
continuing to protest for ‘all the other political prisoners' in Venezuela.
Among others, Venezuelan opposition
groups claim that former metropolitan police officers Iván Simonovis, Henry
Vivas and Lázaro Forero and six others, convicted of homicide for shooting
demonstrators during the April 2002 military coup, are "political prisoners."
Chavez responded saying he found it
"paradoxical that these young people who claim to defend so-called ‘political
prisoners' are defending corruption and impunity."
In particular Chavez said he
couldn't understand why the students would defend the police officers,
Simonovis, Vivas and Forero, and the former governor of Aragua, Didalco Bolívar,
who is charged with corruption, among others.
"Someone who goes on hunger strike
is willing to risk their life and you would suppose they would to risk their
lives for something bigger, but calling these corrupt people who are imprisoned
for embezzlement or murder, ‘political prisoners,' is shameful," said the
Chavez also referred to the case of
retired general Felipe Rodríguez, who is considered by opposition groups to be
a "political prisoner." Rodríguez is sentenced to ten years in jail for
involvement in attacks on the Colombian and Spanish Embassies in 2003, as well for
his role in the assassination of three soldiers in Plaza Altamira.
"They were young boys and they
massacred them… he's a murderer," Chavez said.
Venezuelan opposition groups also
claim that former governor of Zulia and former presidential candidate Manuel
Rosales is being politically persecuted.
Rosales fled to Peru in April this
year in order to avoid corruption charges including allegations of stealing
public funds and accepting bribes during his term as governor.
Rosales is also being investigated
over alleged involvement in an assassination plot against Chavez, following
recent declarations by a former paramilitary hit man and a former Colombian
Referring to Saturday's protest
where opposition students pulled down their pants and bared their buttocks,
Chavez added their actions are "shameful and sad… So now they pull down their
pants and turn around. Who do they think they are going to offend with this? Only themselves!"
Pro-Chavez students also held a
counter-protest on Saturday calling for "peace and tolerance."
Sierra from the Federation of Bolivarian students argued, "These [opposition]
students are being used and manipulated by the top leadership of the irrational
opposition, which, via the media, send them to generate violence and terrorism
in the country."