Venezuelan protests continue over closure of RCTV

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Protests continue in Venezuela over the Sunday closing of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), the country's oldest and most popular TV station.

Hugo Chavez's reasons for not renewing the TV station's broadcasting license include RCTV's support of a coup d'état attempt in 2002. RCTV was not the only media station to support the coup but, they have been closed because many say that they are the most significant TV station of the opposition. Venevision which supported the coup at the time has recently had its license renewed for 5 more years, which many say is due for their change in their editorial stance.

The protests

Protests began with opposition marches over the weekend. Shortly after the closing of RCTV, large student demonstrations appeared throughout the capital city of Caracas. The protests have continued all week and have spread throughout the country. Most of the student protests have originated from universities which are not aligned with Chavez; he says that the students do not like the public universities that threaten and compete with the non-aligned schools.

Protesters threw rocks at police officers, who have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Some protesters were arrested, and many were injured. Most were students.

Spontaneous rallies by government supporters have also appeared, supporting Hugo Chavez's decision. These protests were not the same size as some of the student protests. The police and national guard have been working to make sure that these opposing groups do not clash together.

Many websites related to the opposition have been down due to either high internet traffic or, theoretically, because CanTV; a large Venezuelan Telecommunications company, will not allow access to these websites in Venezuela. There is not much evidence for the supposed intervention by CanTV and is not much more than speculation at this point. Nonetheless, many websites and blogs have reported such incidents.

Chavez's statements

Chavez has repeatedly stated that the protests are organized by opposition forces wishing to destabilize the government much like the coup d'état attempt that took place five years earlier.

Hugo Chávez has also repeatedly threatened the TV station Globovisión, which is the only significant opposition voice on television. Chavez claims that they encouraged his assassination and also helped the effort to unseat him during the 2002 coup d'état attempt.

Reactions

The closure of RCTV has been condemned in the United States and the European Union. The U.S Senate has passed a resolution expressing "profound concern of the Senate regarding the transgression and freedom of thought and expression that is being carried out in Venezuela."

U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made this statement about the incident: "President Chavez should know that efforts to suppress the media will not only ultimately fail, but are also a detriment to one of the pillars of democracy: freedom of expression." Pelosi also said in a statement Wednesday in Washington. "He should reconsider this ill-advised decision."

The press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders called the closure "a serious violation of freedom of expression and a major setback to democracy and pluralism," and urged the international community to rally in defence of press freedom.

Much like the French protests last year, students are using technology to their advantage; cell phones to communicate and video from phones is being broadcast on YouTube and other video sharing websites. Videos that have been uploaded to YouTube are considered to be the most graphic, as television stations in Venezuela fear repercussion if they broadcast the footage.

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