VIO News Blog

February 2, 2009

Venezuelan Government Condemns Vandalism and Vows to Investigate

“We condemn the actions on the synagogue of Caracas… we condemn the violence whatever its source” President Chavez said Saturday, rejecting vandalism against a local synagogue. The vice president and government ministers also spoke out. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (pictured at right) said: “no matter who is involved in this criminal act of vandalism… we urge all Venezuelan people to reject these actions with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinians.” Additionally, in a statement released immediately following the attacks, the government vowed to launch an investigation and prosecute those responsible.

Communications Minister Jesse Chacon also publicly condemned the attack, according to the New York Times. The Times quotes a spokesman for Venezuela’s Jewish community who said “we feel threatened… and attacked,” as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which stated in a report that anti-Semitism “is fostered by the highest levels in the government.” Venezuela’s government, however, is strongly opposed to anti-Semitism and has taken numerous steps to ensure tolerance and religious freedom. Among these is a declaration signed by Chavez in December condemning anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination, which was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress.

Today marks ten years since President Chavez was first sworn into office. A Guardian op-ed provides a firsthand account of Chavez’s continued popular support among the country’s poor majority. Among these “countless government supporters” is one citizen who explained: “Most people who are against Chávez don’t understand this political process.” The Christian Science Monitor also describes the “legions of passionate supporters” in Venezuela. One Caracas resident says of the government: “We now feel free to say ‘It’s good, or it’s bad.’ Now, the National Guard looks at us with respect and dignity. That kind of thing has changed in the last 10 years.”

In contrast, reports by Reuters, the Miami Herald, and Time Magazine cite political polarization and feature the perspectives of Venezuela’s powerful opposition groups. The Herald makes the false claim that President Chavez wishes to be “president for life” and that his goal is to have 20 more years in office, though he himself has expressed a desire to run for one more six-year term. Time reports on the opposition student movement under the particularly misleading headline “Chavez Beats Down his Student Opposition.” It supports the claim that the Venezuelan leader is using a “heavier hand with the students” by quoting the anti-Chavez leaders. Chavez indeed asked security forces to disperse marches that disturb the public order or promote violence, but peaceful demonstrations are permitted.

Opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and Pittsburg Tribune-Review oppose a national referendum allowing Venezuelan voters to decide whether or not to end term limits for elected leaders. The Journal’s stridently anti-Chavez columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady claims, despite a lack of evidence, that government intimidation is occurring, and that elections in Venezuela are not free and fair. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review similarly claims President Chavez uses “thuggery to silence Venezuelan critics” and “threatened civil war” if the “no” vote wins, both of which are false. Venezuelan officials frequently denounce the use of violence by any and all parties ahead of the vote, and have repeatedly called for a peaceful dialogue ahead of the democratic vote.

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