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Chavez and terrorism

by Francisco Castillo

The Venezuelan situation is once again the focus of international attention as a result of the events which took place at Plaza Francia in Altamira on December 6, 2002.

The United Nations has not yet accepted a single definition of terrorism, but there is a consensus that terrorism is a method that produces anxiety about repetitive actions of violence, is carried out by (semi-) clandestine individuals, groups or states (the actors), for reasons which can be idiosyncratic, criminal or political, and where - unlike murder - the direct targets of this violence are not the main targets. As a general rule, the immediate human victims of the violence are chosen at random (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a specific population, for the purpose of sending a message. Communication processes which are based on threat and violence, between the terrorist organization, the victims (who are in danger) and the main targets, are used in order to manipulate the main target (the audience), thus turning it into the target of terror, target of demands or target of attention, depending on whether the objective being sought is intimidation, coercion or propaganda (Schmid, 1988, United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes).

It is clear that the actions of Joao Gouveia, who was caught in flagrante delecto and who confessed to having shot against a group of citizens, can and should be defined as a terrorist action, because, although he stated that his main target was Venezuelan television, specifically Globovision, indicating that this station had kidnapped and raped him, he attacked several other innocent people in order to achieve his objective. Little does it matter whether his action is individual or belongs to a group known as the "circles of terror"; in both instances, it would be defined as terrorism because his victims were chosen in one sense, at random, among those present at Plaza Francia, and in another sense, selectively, because they were precisely, people who were taking part in a peaceful protest against the current government.

Extremely significant evidence has surfaced, linking terrorist Joao Gouveia to groups who sympathize with the National Government and most specifically, to Mayor Freddy Bernal; however, instead of making a clear cut and firm condemnation of terrorism and ordering an exhaustive investigation of these presumed relationships, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez Frias, acting as President of the Republic, has dedicated himself to defending the terrorist and confessed assassin Gouveia, and even suggested some exculpatory hypotheses, based on psychiatric reasons and on grounds of mental insanity.

On Sunday December 8, during his weekly radio program "Alo Presidente", while the funerals of the victims were taking place, much to the delight of the cabinet ministers present, he used a family tale for the purpose of jocularly casting doubts on the intellectual authorship of the terrorist acts, thus eluding his responsibility as a Head of State, in condemning all acts of terrorism! In prior statements he defined as "patriots" those armed individuals who were caught on an amateur video film in the areas surrounding PDVSA - La Campiña, and concluded by saying that the film was "doctored" or that the person who appeared in the video couldn't possibly be that "gentleman" Gouveia, because at the time he was on a flight from Lisbon.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has clearly declared that States have, not only the right, but also the obligation to condemn terrorism, in order to protect themselves and their populations, in a manner that respects human rights and the right to due process. Joao Gouveia's right to due process, as well as his human rights, must be protected, however, he must also be tried. It is imperative that an impartial and exhaustive investigation, lead to the imposition of the legal sanctions which apply, not only to he who was detained in flagrante delecto, but to all those who participated with him in this act of terrorism and, that these terrorist groups or "circles of terror" be disarmed in order to ensure the safety of the civilian population. If this terrorist has links to the government, we are in the presence of one of the gravest situations that one could imagine: state-sponsored terrorism.

However, regardless of whether there is proof of a link between terrorist Gouveia and the Government, we have yet to see a clear-cut, overwhelming statement by the President, as Head of State, condemning this act of terrorism, nor have we seen any announcement concerning an investigation, nor steps being taken for the purpose of disarming those who were seen in the amateur video, in the areas surrounding PDVSA - La Campiña, and who can also be described as terrorists.

Actually, quite the opposite is true; the "circles of terror" continue to be viewed complacently by the highest government officials; During the evening of December 9, while the Minister of the Interior and Justice spoke of peace, the media was being surrounded and intimidated by individuals wearing ski masks and hoods (typical terrorist behavior); in major cities of the interior, things went even further as television and radio stations and newspaper printing shops were attacked and destroyed. The following day, the Vice President was saying "those who advocate the departure of President Chavez are coupsters and terrorists, who use that kind of language in order to terrorize the population, but there is an overwhelming response by the people of Venezuela, who expressed themselves, for example, Monday night, all over the country"; such is the government's double and contradictory discourse which fuels the continuous actions of the "circles of terror".

The government has failed to speak out or take action in the face of the events which took place on September 11, 2001. The same applies to the many excesses and misdeeds which have been carried out by the "circles of terror". These inactions place the government of Hugo Chavez Frias squarely against the international community, who has declared war on terrorism, no matter where it comes from.


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