VENEZUELA REPORT - February 2002

From: IFJ/LA Regional Office

Dear fellow unioners, we cordially greet you and wish your success in all your professional and syndicate activities.

As you will have learned through the international informations, the complex political, social and economical situation of Venezuela has deepened during the beginning of this year 2002. Especially economically the resent fiscal actions implemented by President Hugo Chavez Frias' government allow to foresee a greater recession, a raise in the cost of life and the loss of jobs, as well as great difficulties to comply with the agreements made with the government workers and, therefore, greater conflicts.

The worsening of the economical crisis, expressed through an devaluation of the currency superior to 20 % (12-02-02) comes in a time when, simultaneously and for several months, there exists a permanent confrontation between the president and the areas of industry, unions, religious, educational, agricultural and communication media which, far from toning down, seems to announce new and greater clashes in the weeks to come.

Since December, 2001 to date the opposition to President Chavez has grown ostensibly. The approval of 49 law-decrees, through an enabling law ("Ley Habilitante"), without any consultation to the sectors involved, led to summon to a strike by the industry management to which the largest variety of sectors most varied sectors joined up, until it reached 90% of paralyzation of the country. The executive strongly refused to revise or declare some laws in adjournment and he is maintaining such refusal.

On January 23, this year, on the commemoration of the 44th year of the deposition of the last dictatorship, the civil society took the streets in an demonstration that gathered more that two thousand hundred people from all social classes, who have started to demand, each time more vehemently, the renunciation of the president. Additionally, there are clear signs that the Armed National Force in their majority rejects the president's project, thus mounting to the national uncertainty.

All this situation has been framed in a strong clash between the official sector and the communication media, and a reiterative and forceful attack by President Chavez against the Venezuelan journalists, that has caused irate verbal and physical aggressions of exalted groups partial to government, against journalists of various communication media, thus placing their physical integrity at great risk.

Although there have not been injuries to regret, some colleges have been hit and in one occasion they were thrown excreta to. Also, in some occasions people identified as belonging to the executive surrounding have attempted to snatch their working instruments, according to proofs supplied by audiovisual media. Heavy objects are thrown against the media's vehicles and frequently their tires are emptied. In his speeches the president points out, generically, that the Venezuelan journalists have no respect for ethics, that they are paid for lying and manipulating and that they are utilized indiscriminately to serve the scandalous, sensationalistic and mercantilists interest of the communication media owners. Of course, we firmly reject this absolutely immoderate and inconsiderate statement from the Head of the State to the social communicators. As a counterpart, the President makes use of the State communication media, where his opposites have no opportunity, and centralizes with almost daily frequency, all the audiovisual media in the country an utilizes them to transmit even the acts of his political party, as on February 4th, at ten years of his frustrated military uprising. Chávez usually makes allocutions of about 3-5 hours long.

These constant aggressions have stigmatized the image of the journalist, of the man who collects the news in the street, to the point that the only fact of carrying his working instruments (recorders, photograph or television camera, etc.), generates aggressions by the mob led from the government party. This situation was publicly denounced and rejected by a Manifesto presented to the country by the National Syndicate of Press Workers (SNTP) last January 23, and subscribed by over five hundred professionals of the social communication. We opportunely sent copies of this Manifesto to all the unions of the region.

This situation has been aggravated by the aggressions against the news paper "El Nacional" (01-07-02), in front of which about a hundred militants of the government party protested in a menacing manner, and the hurling of an explosive artifact against the news paper "Así es la Noticia" (01-31-02), both property of the editor Miguel Henrique Otero. Likewise, attacks and harrying occurred against the television channel "Globovisión" (01-20-02) and radio reporters. At requests of the attacked media, an intervention of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), who issued preventive measures in favor of the news papers El Nacional, El Universal, Así es la Noticia, and the television channels Radio Caracas Televisión and Globovisión. Some days latter the reporter of the IACHR, Doctor Santiago Canton, traveled to Venezuela with the objective of doing a survey. During the private meeting, Doctor Canton received a report from the SNTP and the Venezuelan National Association of Journalists (CNP). The emissary from the OEA witnessed the intolerance of the government militants, and was forced to interrupt the press interview, where he was presenting his preliminary information about the job done in Venezuela.

At the moment, the claim of the Venezuelan journalists is for the president to stop his verbal aggressions, as they find that his words induce to the daily harassment in the streets, situation that had never been faced by the journalists of this country. President Chavez insists that the loss of his popularity, that at the beginning of his term had reached almost 80% and now is near 20%, is due to the manipulation of the communication media. The president refuses to acknowledge the actual unfavorable results of the same surveys that in the past showed his great popularity.

In order for the IFJ and the unions of the region to keep their attention on the situation of Venezuela and that they, eventually, can state their solidarity regarding the above said, we are sending you this report and remain willing to extend any information that you may request.

Fraternally,

Gregorio Salazar

Regional Coordinator IFJ/LA