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Venezuela


-  Area: 910,250 sq. km.
-  Population: 24,632 000
-  Language: Spanish
-  Type of state: federal republic
-  Head of state and government: President Hugo Chávez Frias

Venezuela - 2003 Annual Report

The polarisation of Venezuelan society between supporters and opponents of President Chávez took a heavy toll in attacks against the press. Journalists were in the front line because the privately-owned press became the spearhead of the opposition. The president’s supporters were all the more aggressive after certain news media owners went so far as to endorse a coup attempt.

The toll from the political tension and violence in Venezuela in 2002 was very high: one journalist was killed, about 50 were physically attacked, around 20 others were threatened and six news organisations were targeted with explosives. The list is not exhaustive.
The press paid the price of the growing polarisation between supporters and opponents of President Chávez. Journalists with the privately-owned news media headed the list of targets. Egged on by the president’s forceful comments, his supporters - many of them grouped in so-called "Bolivarian Circles" - repeatedly threatened, manhandled or beat up journalists trying to cover events in the field. There was often talk of uncontrolled elements but they always enjoyed complete impunity and many acts of intimidation were clearly organised. On 9 December, for example, some 20 news media across the country were surrounded at the same time.
Journalists with many news media also paid the price of the very hard line taken by their editors against President Chávez. Some complained of this editorial line being forced on them. The privately-owned press became the spearhead of the opposition, urging the population to protest against the government. The TV stations broadcast the spots of the old ruling parties and repeatedly relayed their calls for civil disobedience. Many newspapers cancelled issues is support of the general strikes called to press for the president’s resignation.
This partiality led to many breaches of the most basic rules of professional ethics. The most serious came during April’s short-lived coup when the supporters of Chávez took to the streets two days after his overthrow and the capital was abuzz with rumours of his return. The TV stations responded by broadcasting soap operas and cartoons. This was a deliberate policy, according to Andrés Izarra, a journalist with one of the TV channels. A meeting even reportedly took place that day between the owners of the major news media and Pedro Carmona, the head of the de facto government.
The three days that this coup attempt lasted, from 11 to 14 April, were the darkest of the year for press freedom. They began with the TV stations being forced to carry a speech by President Chávez at the same time as unrest was starting in the streets. The TV stations tried to broadcast the president’s speech and the opposition street protest simultaneously, by splitting their screens, but the authorities responded by having their broadcast signals cut off.
At the same time, on the street, press photographer Jorge Tortoza was fatally shot and six other photographers and cameramen were wounded. According to the Venezuelan human rights organisation Provea, some 20 people were killed and 46 others were injured by gunfire that day. At the end of the year, the source of this gunfire was still unknown. Although short-lived, the de facto government immediately cracked down on the news media that supported Hugo Chávez: the broadcasts of the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión were suspended, several community radio stations were searched and one of their journalists was arrested and tortured.
After the collapse of the coup attempt, many journalists felt the squeeze of the opposing forces more than ever. The term "coup d’etat" was banned in many news organisations, while "transition government" was used rather than "de facto government." President Chávez’s supporters, outraged by the continuing criticism of the president and the coverage given to the coup attempt, resumed their threats and attacks against journalists with new vigour. Protests were held outside news media, sometimes turning violent. There were four attacks against news organisations with small explosive devices, three of them against the TV news channel Globovisión, considered the most virulent of the government’s critics. Many journalists equipped themselves with bullet-proof vests or gas masks to cover demonstrations.
The government routinely condemned this violence. But no serious investigation was ever carried out and most cases remained unpunished. The state-owned and community media - criticised by the opposition for their outrageously partisan, pro-Chávez reporting - were not spared the violence either. Several of their journalists were physically attacked by government opponents or were targeted by the metropolitan police - controlled by the anti-Chávez mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peńa - when dispersing pro-government demonstrations.

A journalist killed
Jorge Tortoza, a photographer who had worked for the daily Diario 2001 for 17 years, was shot dead on 11 April 2002 as he was covering the third day of demonstrations that ended with President Chávez’s overthrow. He was at the front of the protest march when he was hit in the head by a 9 mm bullet. He died that night after an operation. An autopsy was done the next day. But a reconstruction of the events was not done until 26 April, two weeks after his death, and important witnesses had still not been questioned by investigators two months later. The Venezuelan human rights organisation Cofavic, which provides legal aid to the families of victims, criticised the lack of progress in the investigation. Cofavic nonetheless recognized that Tortoza’s was one of the few of that day’s killings to have been the subject of a reconstruction of events. It said three arrest warrants were issued in the investigation but no one had been arrested by the end of 2002.

A journalist imprisoned
One journalist was imprisoned in 2002 but it was impossible to say at the end of the year if his imprisonment was linked to his work as a journalist.
Nicolás Rivera, the presenter of a music programme on Radio Perola, a community station in the Caracas neighbourhood of Caricuao, was arrested by police on 12 April 2002 on the orders of those who had staged the previous day’s coup d’etat. He was picked up at the place where he had a night job, in a children’s institute. His family said about 30 police also came to his home at about 1 a.m., asking where the Radio Perola people were. Most of the adults present were handcuffed while the home was searched. Rivera’s wife maintained that she saw a policeman pull a bag of bullets from his jacket and then claim he had found it in the couple’s bedroom. Rivera was held at the offices of the investigative police where he was tortured before being freed on 14 April, when the coup was over. The station’s other journalists had meanwhile gone into hiding and broadcasting had stopped.
As soon as he was released, Rivera filed a complaint, and an investigation was opened into alleged torture and illegal arrest. When he went to the police on 28 June to enquire about the state of the investigation, he was rearrested and charged with firing on a crowd of anti-Chávez protesters on 11 April. Footage taken by a TV cameraman supposedly showed him firing from Llaguno bridge. His lawyer said it was impossible to recognise him, while Rivera acknowledged that he was on the bridge but said he was there as a journalist and was unarmed. He was placed in pre-trial detention in Los Teques prison. Many community radio stations like Radio Perola that broadcast just to the immediate neighbourhood were accused by the opposition of being closely allied to President Chávez.

58 journalists physically attacked
A Globovisión TV crew consisting of reporter Mayela León, cameraman Jorge Paz and his assistant Jhan Bernal was attacked on 20 January 2002 by members of the "Simon Bolívar 23 de Enero" Bolivarian Circle while covering President Chávez’s weekly address "Alo, Presidente." They surrounded the crew’s vehicle, beat on its sides and threatened to lynch the journalists if they got out. The incident stopped when soldiers intervened. Luisana Ríos of RCTV was threatened in a similar fashion. President Chávez appealed to his supporters for calm during his address.
Rafael Garrido of the TV channel Venevisión and his crew were attacked by thugs on 4 February as they were covering the 10th anniversary of the attempted coup Hugo Chávez staged in February 1992 when he was an army officer. They tried to knock the crew off the platform from which they were filming. As the alarmed journalists rushed to leave, their assailants damaged their vehicle.
Venevisión cameraman Mauro Acosta was seriously injured while covering an opposition protest in Valencia (Carabobo state) on 7 February when a bus driven by supporters of the ruling Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) deliberately knocked him down, causing him several fractures.
José Cohén and José Antonio Peńa of the daily El Informador, Héctor Andrés Segura of the daily El Impulso and Televén cameraman Carlos Soto were attacked on 21 February by Chávez supporters who stormed into the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) campus to stop an opposition demonstration by students. Soto, the cameraman, sustained a serious head injury.
At least six photographers and cameramen were injured on 11 April as they were covering the third day of opposition protests which ended with President Chávez’s overthrow. Jonathan Freitas of the daily Tal Cual sustained a minor gunshot injury to the arm. José Antonio Dávila, a technician with the CMT television channel, was shot in the knee as he was filming the demonstration from the roof of a building. He said the shots had followed him closely as he moved. A photographer recalled that a member of the presidential palace guard had told her that day to put away her camera because orders had been given to shoot at anyone who had one. Enrique Hernández of the state-owned newspaper Venpres, Luis Enrique Hernández of the daily Avance and Jorge Recio, the assistant of freelance photographer Nelson Carrillo, were also hit by gunfire. Recio was hit in the spine, and was permanently paralysed. Miguel Escalona of the daily El Carabobeńo was struck on the head by a baseball and his equipment was stolen.
Celina Cárquez of the daily El Nacional was attacked on 23 May by a group of pro-Chávez counter-demonstrators as she was covering an opposition demonstration to demand the removal of attorney general Isaías Rodríguez. She had left the march in order to interview Chávez supporters, but they surrounded and threatened her, told her to leave the area and took her notebook.
Chávez supporters prevented journalists who had been covering a parliamentary debate from leaving the national assembly on the evening of 12 June. They shouted insults at the journalists and parliamentarians and threatened to make "blood flow" at an opposition protest planned for three days later to demand the president’s resignation. The journalists were finally able to leave thanks to the intervention of police, but stones were thrown at a vehicle of the TV channel Globovisión. As a result of this incident, the authorities decided to take special measures to protect journalists covering parliamentary debates.
Alicia La Rotta of the daily El Universal was attacked by an agent of the military intelligence directorate (DIM), Marcos Rosales, in Caracas on 20 June as she was covering a demonstration by retired military personnel to demand President Chávez’s resignation. Chávez had accused La Rotta in January of being an unprincipled hack in the service of the media owners after she wrote about alleged links between his government and the Colombian guerrillas.
Sabrina Segovia, Caracas correspondent of the Carabobo-based daily Notitarde, was attacked and threatened by two female supporters of the ruling Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) as she was covering a military parade on 5 July. Shouting, "tell the truth... don’t lie" and "the media are useless," the women hit the journalist and took her press card.
Gabriel Osorio, a photographer with the weekly Primicia, was attacked on 31 July by presumed government supporters who accused him of being a CIA supporter, took his camera and hit him, injuring his left hand.
Paulo Pérez Zambrano, a photographer with the daily El Universal, was attacked by Chávez supporters during rival protests by government supporters and opponents outside the supreme court on 1 August when the court was supposed to rule whether former military officers implicated in the April coup attempt should be tried. Other photographers and cameramen were also attacked.
Nicolas Burlaud of the French community TV Primitivi and Alessandro Bombassei of ControRadio, a radio station based in Florence, Italy, were wounded by buckshot fired by the metropolitan police while covering a pro-government demonstration on 8 August outside the supreme court, when it was finally due to rule whether former military officers implicated in the April coup attempt should be tried. The metropolitan police was controlled by Caracas mayor Alfredo Peńa, a fervent opponent of Chávez.
Cameraman Antonio José Monroy of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was shot and wounded in the leg during clashes on 14 August between government supporters and members of the national guard near the supreme court. The Chávez supporters were protesting against the court’s decision not to press "rebellion" charges against four military officers for their role in the April coup attempt.
TV journalists Aymara Lorenzo of Globovisión and Luisana Ríos of RCTV were insulted and manhandled by government supporters on 6 September during clashes between Chávez opponents and supporters outside the Fort Tiuna military base in Caracas on 6 September.
TV cameraman Carlos Eduardo Delgado of CMT was hit by participants in a pro-Chávez demonstration on 9 September in Caracas. The demonstrators targeted journalists present, chanting "down with the sell-out media" and calling CMT an "imperialist coup-monger."
Jairo Altuve of the daily El Carabobeńo, Carlos Briceńo and Eduardo Sánchez of the daily Notitarde, Mauro Acosta of the TV channel Venevisión and Leslie Peńa of the TV channel Televén were attacked by national guard members during an opposition demonstration in Valencia (Carabobo state) to demand the president’s resignation. The journalists were beaten badly and their equipment was damaged.
Juan Hernández Soria of the daily El Tiempo, based in Puerto La Cruz (Anzoátegui state), was beaten up by a group of about 20 policemen and his equipment was stolen on 12 September while he was covering a dispute between police and criminals. His brother Augusto Hernández Soria, a journalist with Radio Anzoátegui, had reported on alleged embezzlement within the local police force.
Eight armed individuals, presumed Chávez supporters, attacked Rossana Rodríguez, Felipe Lugo, and Wilmer Escalona of the TV news channel Globovisión when they were shooting footage on Llaguno bridge in Caracas. They threatened and hit the TV crew’s driver, stole their camera and damaged their vehicle. When Lina Ron, a well-known Chávez supporter intervened, they were able to recover part of their equipment but not their video tape.
Globovisión presenter Carla Angola was kicked by demonstrator when was covering a pro-government demonstration on 18 October. The TV news channel was accused of biased news coverage by Chávez supporters.
Mauricio Muńoz, a Salvadoran cameraman working for the Associated Press in Caracas, was hit by a shot in the middle of the chest he was filming a clash between government opponents and supporters on 4 November. He survived thanks to his bullet-proof vest. In the course of the same clash, Héctor Castillo of the daily El Mundo was beaten and his equipment was stolen.
Andry Lara of the daily La Voz de Guarenas and Fernando Sánchez of the daily El Universal were covering clashes between police and a crowd of residents being evicted from their homes in Caracas on 10 November when they were attacked and injured by members of the crowd who accused them of opposing President Chávez’s "revolutionary" process.
A TV crew from RCTV was covering the occupation of the headquarters of the metropolitan police by a group of striking policemen on 12 November when cameraman’s assistant Armando Amaya was hit in the leg by a gunshot. The shooting occurred at the moment police evicted the strikers from the building.
Reporter Zaida Pereira and cameraman Eduardo Escalona of the state-owned TV channel Venezolana de Television (VTV) were attacked on 19 November in Caracas by supporters of a group of anti-Chávez military officers who had declared that they were "legitimately refusing to obey orders." The incident took place as the TV crew arrived at Francia de Altamira square where Chávez’s military critics were staging a protest and where an opposition march was due to start later in the day.
Rubber bullets were fired at Fernando Malavé of Diario 2001 and José Antonio Dávila of CMT when police dispersed an opposition demonstration in Caracas on 3 December. A rubber bullet fired at point-blank range pierced Malavé’s bullet-proof vest and injured him in the chest. Dávila was hit in the chest and neck. Luis Alfonso Fernández of the TV channel Venevisión and Aymar Lorenzo of the TV channel Globovisión were beaten by police at the same time. All four journalist had been trying to obtain some comments from police about the day’s events.
Miguel López of Telecentro, Clara Reverol and Gustavo Escalona of the TV channel Televén, Cristián Rodríguez of Promar TV, Yliana Brett of the daily Diario Hoy and Julio Torres of the TV channel Venevisión were set upon by presumed Chávez supporters as they were covering a demonstration in Barquisimeto (Lara state) on 4 December in which there were clashes between government supporters and opponents. José Rodríguez of the daily El Impulso was injured in the head and had to be hospitalised. A missile hit Martín Urteaga of the newspaper El Informador in the leg. The protestors called the journalists "traitors" and said their reporting was "biased." Police were present but did not intervene.
Hector Rivero of La Voz de Guaicaipuro, a community radio station based in the outlying Caracas district of Los Teques, was attacked by about 50 opposition supporters on 16 December as he reported on a roadblock they had set up on the road from Caracas to San Antonio de Los Altos. The station said the protesters were led by a member of the opposition COPEI party who urged the others to kill Rivero "because he comes from of the community radios."

16 journalists threatened
It was reported on 7 March 2002 that José Domingo Blanco of the TV channel Globovisión had filed a complaint about the death threats he had allegedly received from members of so-called Bolivarian Circles, which are closely linked to the government. They reportedly threatened to try him before a people’s tribunal which they claimed to have set up to punish government opponents. Blanco is well known for his virulent criticism of the Chávez administration.

Mónica Bellot of the TV channel CMT and Pedro Guerrero of RCTV were threatened on 9 July because of their coverage of the trial of government supporters for acts of violence on the campus of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) on 21 February. They caused offence by reporting that a hearing was postponed because the main defendant, Lina Ron, a well-known government supporter, failed to turn up. Bellot claimed that she received a phone call from Ron in which Ron asked her to issue a correction and warned her to take more care in future or she could be the target of an attack.
Elianta Quintero, José Tarache and Juan Méndez of the TV channel Venevisión, Noé Pernía, César Sánchez and Wilmer Villasmil of the TV channel RCTV, Paulo Pérez Zambrano of the daily El Universal, Andry Lara of the daily La Voz de Guarenas and Alejandro Delgado Cisneros of the daily El Nacional were threatened by Chávez supporters on 2 August while covering a pro-government demonstration outside the supreme court in Caracas as the court was about to issue a ruling on the proposed trial of former officers implicated in the April coup attempt.
Vanessa Camargo of the state-owned TV channel Venezolana de Televisión was threatened on 5 September while covering an anti-government demonstration in La Guaira (Vargas state). The protesters asked her to leave. They also threatened a reporter and cameraman with the same station, accusing them of supporting the government, and damaged the TV crew’s vehicle.
Randolfo Blanco of Venevisión, Anahiz Cruz of RCTV and Gabriela Aguilar of Unión Radio were threatened on 8 December in Cagual (Aragua state) by presumed members of the ruling MVR who were trying to take over a striking tanker truck company in order to supply the area with fuel. When the journalists tried to interview the company’s owners, they were hit and were forced to take refuge inside the building. This took place on the seventh day of an opposition strike that brought the oil industry to a halt.

Pressure and obstruction
Around a hundred Chávez supporters besieged the headquarters of the daily El Nacional for several hours on 7 January 2002, chanting hostile slogans and throwing different kinds of missiles at the facade. The journalists were unable to leave. Police finally dispersed the protesters. The day before, President Chávez had lambasted the newspaper’s editorial line and had accused it of lying.
A motorcade of about 30 vehicles carrying supporters of the ruling MVR demonstrated outside the headquarters of several news media in the capital on 13 January. Called the "caravan of truth," the vehicles first pulled up outside the daily El Nacional, then outside the TV station RCTV, and than outside the daily El Universal. In each place, the demonstrators called on the news media to " tell the truth" about the government.
A small explosive device went off outside the offices of the daily Así es la noticia in Caracas on 31 January, causing minor damage. The newspaper’s management had recently been threatened by an anonymous caller because of its hostility toward the government. The previous day, the newspaper had reported alleged links between Venezuelan military officers and Colombian guerrillas. A little-known group calling itself MRT claim the attack in leaflets found on the site of the explosion.
Gerson Pérez, an activist with the ruling MVR party filed a complaint on 7 March against Ibéyise Pacheco, managing editor of the daily Así es la Noticia, accusing her of "treason" and inciting the destruction of the democratic system in the TV programme "En privado," which she presents for the privately-owned channel Venevisión. She faced up to 16 years in prison under article 132 of the criminal code.
Judge Carlisa Rojas on 20 March ordered the government to ensure the safety of Así es la Noticia managing editor Ibéyise Pacheco, who had filed a petition stating that she was being threatened and harassed by government supporters. The petition was filed after the state-owned news agency Venpress put out a report the week before accusing her, Patricia Poleo of the newspaper El Nuevo País and José Domingo Blanco of Globovisión of being linked to drug trafficking. The managing editor of Venpress submitted his resignation after the report went out.
Patricia Poleo, managing editor of the daily El Nuevo País and one of the leading figures in the opposition press, filed a complaint on 21 March because of death threats against her daughter. She said she had received anonymous phone calls saying her daughter could become "the first victim of the fifth republic." Her father, journalist Rafael Poleo, said he had received similar calls.
The government used its powers under article 192 of the telecommunications law to requisition all radio and TV stations to broadcast its own addresses about 30 times on 8 and 9 April for an average of 15 to 20 minutes each time. Vice-President Diosdado Cabello said this was necessary to "defend the right of Venezuelans to accurate news." The government used these powers during an opposition general strike that was getting extensive coverage by the privately-owned news media. To sidestep the requirement, the TV channels began during the day of 9 April to broadcast their own news at the same time as the government addresses by splitting their screens.
The government ordered the suspension of broadcasting by the privately-owned TV channels at around 4 p.m. on 11 April, shortly after they refused to carry a speech by President Chávez exclusively and used split screens to broadcast live pictures of a major opposition demonstration being broken up at the same time as the president’s speech. President Chávez had demanded that the TV channels run his speech at precisely the moment the crackdown on the protest began. Chávez said the complete suspension of broadcasting was necessary because the TV stations were waging a "campaign of defamation" and were "inciting violence" and because of their "irresponsibility." Only the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión was allowed to continue terrestrial broadcasting. The privately-owned stations continued, however, to broadcast via satellite and cable. Personnel from the military intelligence directorate (DIM) surrounded the headquarters of the TV channel CMT for several hours on the evening of 11 April. Terrestrial broadcasting was finally reestablished at around 10 p.m. when part of the army went over to the opposition and overthrew the president.
Members of the metropolitan police, which was controlled by the pro-opposition mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peńa, prevented staff of the pro-Chávez, state-owned TV channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) from continuing its broadcasting on 12 April, the day after president’s overthrow. An national guard officer accompanied by members of the metropolitan police tried to carry out a raid of the state-owned news agency Venpress the same day. VTV resumed broadcasting on the evening of 13 April after Chávez supporters regained control of the situation.
The premises of three community broadcasters viewed as fervently pro-Chavez - Radio Perola, TV Caricuao and Radio Catia Libre - were raided by police on 12 April on the orders of those who had staged the coup. Police surrounded the premises of a fourth community broadcaster, Catia TV, the same day.
Several dozen Chávez supporters demonstrated outside the headquarters of the TV channel RCTV at the end of the afternoon of 13 April, throwing stones that broke windows, as rumours circulated of the ousted president’s return to power. Chávez supporters also demonstrated outside Globovisión et Venevisión, forcing them and RCTV to broadcast statements by their leaders. None of these TV channels had broadcast any footage of the demonstrations for Chávez’s return or the occupation of the presidential palace by Chávez supporters during the day. Only cable subscribers had been able to see these events by means of international news channels such as CNN. The management of the major daily newspapers, El Nacional and El Universal meanwhile said they had to evacuate their offices for security reasons.
The harassment of Luis Alfonso Fernández of the TV channel Venevisión began on 13 April. "That day changed my life. 13 April marked the start of a terrible campaign of persecution, including a visit by the DISIP [a military intelligence agency] to my family’s home and many telephone death threats," Fernández said. Two days before, his crew had shot footage of Chávez supporters firing from Llaguno bridge in Caracas. They were accused of firing on an opposition march and killing several demonstrators.
No news was broadcast on 14 April by the privately-owned TV channels except the 24-hour news channel Globovisión, which just used the reports of the international news agencies. Almost no dailies appeared on the stands. Editors said this was for security reasons. Nonetheless, they updated their online editions, using the news agencies. As soon as he returned to power at dawn, Hugo Chávez said in a speech that there would be no witch-hunt and "no violations of the freedom of expression or freedom of opinion."
The situation gradually returned to normal on 15 April with the reappearance of the print media on the stands and news bulletins on television, except RCTV and Venevisión. Fearing for their safety, many journalists and cameramen with these two TV channels did not turn up for work. In response to a cameraman’s question during a press conference, President Chávez called on his supporters to put an end to the attacks and threats against journalists. He also urged the news media to reconsider their hostility towards his government.
Iris Valera, a parliamentarian from the ruling MVR, urged the government on 15 May to withdraw the broadcast licences of news media implicated in what she called "the conspiracy" against President Chávez. Two days earlier, on the anniversary of his return to power, the MVR had organised a demonstration at which a petition circulated calling for the withdrawal of the licences of the news media that were "conspirators."
Around 40 members of Boliviarian associations protested outside the daily Así es la Noticia in Caracas on 15 May, taking issue with the publication that day of a photomontage showing Vice-President José Vicente Rangel with the defence minister, Gen. Lucas Rincón. Police prevented them from forcing their way inside.
On 23 May, former RCTV news producer Andrés Izarra told a national assembly commission of enquiry into the events of 11-14 April that the RCTV management instructed him to ignore demonstrations by Chávez supporters during the coup attempt. "We were told no pro-Chávez material was to be screened," Izarra said. "The line demanded by the RCTV management resulted in practice in the deliberate omission of news relating to the ruling party and the pro-Chávez movement even if we had it available, and even if we had information on unrest and protests in support of the president... The government’s allies were banned from appearing on screen." He said he had resigned for this reason on 13 April. In Izarra’s view, the state-owned TV channel Venezolana de Televisión "committed the same sin as the privately-owned channels" by limiting itself also entirely to government statements.
Iris Varela of the ruling MVR announced on 11 June that she had filed a complaint against TV presenter and El Nuevo País managing editor Patricia Poleo for violating article 57 of the constitution banning "the use of anonymity and war propaganda to panic the population." She accused Poleo of fabricating a video recording broadcast a few days earlier in which supposed military personnel threatened a new coup against the government and declared war on the Bolivarian Circles. An investigation was launched into the authenticity of the video and "the supposed participation of military personnel and civilians in reprehensible acts against the nation’s security." On 9 June, President Chávez had threatened to sanction news media carrying "terrorist propaganda."
The vehicle of José Angel Ocanto, editor of the daily El Impulso, based in Barquisimeto (Lara state), was set on fire on 6 July, in what may have been linked to Ocanto’s recent criticism of President Chávez and Lara governor Luis Reyes. The governor said it was not arson and that "cars sometimes [catch fire] of their own accord."
A group of Chávez partisans burst into the premises of Radio Tricolor in Barquisimeto (Lara state) on 11 July and insisted that staff broadcast a statement of support for the president. A major opposition demonstration that day in Caracas had made the president’s supporters fear the possibility of a new coup attempt.
Presumed members of pro-Chávez Bolivarian Circles armed with sticks, stones and bottles demonstrated outside the headquarters of the local daily El Siglo in Maracay (Aragua state) on 25 July, hurling missiles at the building. The newspaper’s managing editor, Tulio Capriles Hernández, accused state governor Didalco Bolívar Graterol, a Chávez ally, of instigating the protest and criticised the slowness of the police to intervene.
A policeman confiscated the camera of El Nacional photographer Alejandro Delgado Cisneros and three rolls of film on 1 August as he was covering rival demonstrations by government opponents and supporters outside the supreme court on 1 August, his newspaper reported. Vehicles belonging to the TV channels Venevisión, RCTV and Globovisión were damaged in the course of clashes. The incidents took place as the court was supposed to issue a ruling as to whether former military officers implicated in the April coup attempt should be tried.
Johann Merchan, Orlando Chong and Johnny Verdu of the TV station Televén were chased by government supporters while covering a pro-government demonstration on 2 August. They were forced to hide, and then to disguise themselves in order to escape their pursuers. Later while covering clashes between demonstrators and police, a member of the opposition-controlled metropolitan police grabbed their camera and confiscated the videotape on which they had recorded the clashes.
Thousands of people awaiting the arrival of President Chávez at a demonstration on 19 August to mark the second anniversary of his reelection chanted slogans attacking the press when the Venevisión and Televén TV crews arrived to join their colleagues in the press area.
Four Molotov cocktails were thrown into the car park of the regional television station Promar TV in Barquisimeto (Lara state) on 13 September, causing minor damage. Promar TV offers a combination of Lara state news and the national service of the 24-hour news channel Globovisión, which is known for being critical of the Chávez government.
Some 200 members of a group calling itself the Alliance for a Brave People (APB) demonstrated outside the headquarters of the state-owned TV station Venezolana de Televisión on 6 October, accusing it of "politicised" reporting. The demonstrators stressed that their protest was peaceful and that they did not intend to attack employees or prevent them from entering the building.
A group of government supporters on 16 October burst into the courtroom in Barquisimeto (Lara state) where El Impulso editor José Angel Ocanto was being tried on a charge of libel. Armed with sticks and pistols, they shouted, "Death to Ocanto" and "Coup-hungry news media." Ocanto said he feared for his and his family’s lives. He had previously reported receiving threats and his car was burned on 6 July (see above).
A small explosive device went off outside the studios of a radio station affiliated to the Unión Radio network in Caracas on 19 October, causing minor damage. Station manager Sergio Gómez said the attack may have been prompted by statements by President Chávez criticising the press.
About 50 motorcyclists opposed to the Chávez government gathered outside the headquarters of the state-owned TV channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) on 23 October for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the channel’s pro-Chávez editorial line. Nonetheless, VTV journalist Vanessa Davies claimed that some of the motorcyclists fired at the building.
A small explosive or incendiary device, just a Molotov cocktail, according to the fire brigade, was thrown from a passing car at the headquarters of the TV news channel Globovisión in a Caracas suburb on the night of 18 November. No one was hurt but it started a fire that gutted three vehicles. National guards had been protecting the building at the time. It was the third attack against the TV station in 2002. Security had been stepped up after the first attack, on 9 July, when an army grenade was thrown at the building. A tear gas grenade was thrown at the TV station in the second attack on 31 July.
Two security guards were shot and wounded when around 20 government supporters attacked the offices of El Siglo in the city of Maracay (Aragua state) on the night of 5 December. Managing editor Tulio Capriles Hernández said the protesters threw stones, sticks and a tear gas grenade at the building. Police were present but reportedly did not intervene. The same group attacked the daily El Arangueno shortly afterwards, painting graffiti on its facade and breaking windows. El Siglo was unable to appear the next day.
Groups of 200 to 300 pro-government demonstrators together with leaders and elected officials of the ruling MVR protested outside the headquarters of the privately-owned TV stations Venevisión, RCTV, Globovisión, Televén and Meridiano TV in Caracas on 9 December, shouting, "terrorists", "tell the truth" and "shut them down." The prevented anyone from going in or coming out, but no journalist was attacked or hurt. Neither the police nor national guard intervened.
Government supporters staged hostile demonstrations outside the offices of news media in the provinces on the night of 9 December. The news media included the TV station Falconía TV in Punto Fijo (Falcón state), the dailies El Diario and El Arangueno in Maracay (Aragua state), the TV station Promar TV and the daily El Informador in Barquisimeto (Lara state), the TV station TAM and the radio station Circuito Líder FM in Mérida (Mérida state), the TV station TVO in Puerto La Cruz (Anzoátegui state), the TV station TVG in Puerto Ordaz (Bolívar state) and the dailies El Correo del Caroni in San Félix (Bolívar state) and Ultima Hora in Acarigua (Portuguesa state). In some cases with as many as 500 participants, the demonstrations dispersed peacefully for the most part. However, in protests outside the TV station TRT in San Cristóbal (Táchira state), TVS in Maracay (Aragua state) and Globovisión Zulia in Maracaibo (Zulia state), demonstrators forced their way into offices and broke windows, equipment and cameras. Accusing the opposition of plotting a new coup d’etat, interior and justice minister Diosdado Cabello said: "The people took to the streets tonight to defend their values and their constitution."
On 18 December, university students thought to be members of a pro-Chávez group stole live broadcast equipment installed by the privately-owned TV channel Televén in a Caracas square to cover an opposition demonstration. The three Televén journalists present, Johann Merchán, Edwar Martinez and Carlos Castro, had to leave the square but were not attacked.



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see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report