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Venezuela - Annual Report 2004

Reporters without borders

The media are still sharply divided between supporting and opposing President Chávez. After many attacks on journalists at the beginning of 2003 and new threats by the government against the media, the press freedom situation gradually became less tense.

2003 began very badly for press freedom and most of the year's 75 physical attacks on journalists were during the general strike that began in December 2002 and lasted until February 2003 in a bid to force President Hugo Chávez to resign. The attacks, during anti-government demonstrations that accompanied the strike, especially targeted journalists from the privately-owned media and were mostly by Chávez supporters angry at the biggest media outlets, which actively backed the opposition movement, sometimes violating journalistic principles. In such a polarised atmosphere, some pro-government journalists took an equally partisan stance and were in turn attacked by opposition supporters.

After the strike ended, administrative and legislative measures replaced physical attacks. When it became clear the strike had failed, the government stepped up attacks and harassment of the media, launching proceedings against five TV stations for "inciting rebellion," threatening tax penalties and foreign exchange restrictions and passing a law about the "social responsibility" of the media. The new law would punish "excusing or advocating disrespect for lawful institutions and authorities" and penalties would be decided by a commission, eight of whose 11 members were named by the government.

But by the end of the year, the law had not completed its passage through parliament and the many threats by Chávez after the strike had not been carried out. During the rest of the year, tension gradually eased. Several incidents also targeted the pro-government media. The local TV station Catia TV was closed in July by order of the opposition mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peńa, and had not reopened by the end of the year despite the promises of city officials. The supreme court upheld sections of the criminal code punishing "insults" to government officials and state institutions. Several privately-owned anti-Chávez media were the target of bomb attacks, but they were small devices defused before they could go off.

The deadlock between the government and the opposition seems to have ended and the issue has become holding referendums that would constitutionally allow an elected official to be removed halfway through his term. Holding them requires a petition from 20% of registered voters and both government and opposition launched big signature campaigns in November and December to force out officials on either side, including Chávez himself.

The absence of major attacks on the media during this process showed how things have calmed down. Before the signature campaigns, the state and privately-owned media promised the Carter Center, a US foundation mediating between both sides, that they would give balanced coverage of them.

The collected signatures have to be validated by the National Elections Council (CNE), which is recognised by all. However, the premature victory announcements by each side may foreshadow a new political crisis. Chávez has already accused the opposition of "massive fraud." Because of the media polarisation, press freedom may once again be a victim.

A media assistant imprisoned

Igor Aranzazu, a technician at the TV station Venevisión, on Margarita Island, was arrested on 23 January 2003 for interfering for 90 seconds in a "cadena" (government requisitioning of air-time) for a speech by President Chávez. He said he had made a switching error which resulting in the president being shown with the sound of an opposition demonstration in the background. He was threatened with four years imprisonment for interrupting a programme "with intent to cause harm" and not freed until nearly a month later.

A journalist arrested

Fernando Malave, a photographer with the daily 2001, was arrested on 22 January 2003 by presidential palace security agents for taking pictures of the railings in front of the building. He was held for a few hours and forced to erase the shots from his digital camera.

At least 62 journalists physically attacked

Elsy Barrios, of the daily Impacto, was insulted and jostled while covering an occupation of an oilfield in Anaco (in the northeastern state of Anzoátegui) by supporters of President Hugo Chávez on 2 January 2003. She was forced to leave the scene.

Sandra Blanco, of the TV station CMT, and her crew were attacked while covering a demonstration in Caracas by the opposition Coordinadora Demócratica on 3 January. Chávez supporters threw stones at them, forcing them to leave.

Carla Angola, of the TV station Globovisión, was attacked and insulted during a live interview with supporters of Chávez demonstrating in Caracas on 3 January. The same day, Jorge Labrador, of the TV station Televén, was attacked by pro-Chávez people who insulted him and threw stones at him.

Antonio Barroso, a cameraman with the TV station CMT, was hit by government supporters on 4 January in front of the prosecutor-general's office in Caracas. He was rushed to hospital and his equipment was stolen. Two days later, at another protest in front of the office, a journalist with another CMT crew was insulted and jostled.

Verioska Velasco and Luis Mata, of the regional TV station Promar TV, were attacked by government supporters who threw stones and sharp objects at them as they reported on an opposition demonstration on 6 January in Barquisimeto (in the northeastern state of Lara). The camera they used to film the attack was stolen. Photographer Samuel Sotomayor, of the station RCTV, was hit on the head.

Mauricio Cabal, Ruben Brito and Marcos Martínez, of the TV station Venevisión, were attacked on 7 January in Anaco by Chávez supporters who surrounded their vehicle, insulted and threatened them and then hit it with iron bars and stones. The journalists were investigating a report of an oil leak at a PDVSA state oil company factory. A soldier present did not intervene.

Men in a lorry threw bricks at journalist Katerina Caripá and cameraman Miguel López, of the TV station Telecentro, on 7 January in the northwestern city of Barquisimeto and accused them of being liars.

Government supporters attacked a vehicle belonging to the TV station Puertovisión with iron bars and stones on 7 January on the Puerto Cabello motorway (in Carabobo state, west of Caracas). Reporter Humberto Ambrosino and cameraman José Soler had just interviewed officials of the state oil company PDVSA who were on strike in protest against Chávez' policies.

Javier Gutiérrez, of the daily El Regional, was hit while covering clashes between police and demonstrators on 8 January near a PDVSA factory in Tía Juana (northwestern state of Zulia). His camera was confiscated and not returned for several days. The next day, at an opposition protest in the town, Rafael Gómez Torres, of the same paper, was beaten up by soldiers who destroyed his camera.

Victor Serra, of Televén, was insulted and hit by Chávez supporters while covering a demonstration in the western city of Merida on 9 January. They accused the station of biased reporting.

Juan José Acosta Rodríguez, of the programme "Más Allá de la Noticia" on the regional TV station Telecaribe, was beaten by police in the northern town of Nueva Esparta on 10 January. He had complained to them he had been threatened by other officers while covering a demonstration. The police chased him in a car and then one officer hit him while another threatened him with a gun.

Hector Castillo, a photographer with the daily El Mundo, received leg and knee injuries from rubber bullets while covering an opposition demonstration in Caracas on 13 January. Police fired tear-gas and rubber bullets at a crowd that tried to break through a security barrier around a military zone.

Hooded people in cars attacked an opposition march and journalists from Televén covering it in Caracas on 14 January, throwing burning objects at the TV station's vehicle, which caught fire. National guardsmen watched without intervening.

Juan Carlos Toro, of Televén, and his crew were attacked by Chávez supporters, who pelted them with objects on 14 January as they were filming an opposition demonstration from a building in Caracas.

John Merchán, Carlos Perez and technician Carlos Castro, of Televén, were threatened in Caracas on 16 January by pro-Chávez demonstrators supporters who tried to steal their antenna. The technician was attacked and when journalists tried to help him they were pushed away.

Alfredo Morales and Carlos Lathosesky, of the regional station TVS, in the northern state of Aragua, were attacked during an opposition protest in Maracay (120 km west of Caracas) on 18 January by demonstrators who beat them with a microphone cable they had snatched. Police intervened to disperse the attackers and escort the journalists to their vehicle.

Ricardo Matheus and photographer Cesar Muro, of the daily 2001, were attacked in Charallave (50 km southeast of Caracas) on 20 January by pro-Chávez demonstrators who threw stones at Matheus, stole their mobile phones and also Muro's camera.

Reporter Jorge Labrador and cameraman Franklin Molina, of Televén, were threatened by a gunman as they were looking for locations in the Los Frailes neighbourhood of Catia (west of Caracas) on 22 January. He fired in the air to frighten them and force them to leave.

Janett Carrasquilla, correspondent of Globovisión in San Carlos (northwestern state of Cojedes), was attacked and insulted on 28 January while covering a ceremony to decorate a national guard general, Luis Felipe Acosta Carles. Government supporters seized her microphone.

Anahis Cruz, of the station RCTV, was attacked, insulted and threatened with a gun by a soldier in Maracay on 28 January.

Maite Moreno and Narka Moreno, of the community station Catia TV, were attacked in Caracas on 2 February during an opposition signature campaign. Such locally-run neighbourhood stations have flourished since Chávez came to power and they were legally recognised in an August 2000 law. They often support the government.

Hooded men, apparently Chávez supporters, set fire to a vehicle belonging to the TV station CMT in central Caracas during clashes with the opposition on 2 February. Shortly before, CMT journalist Rafael Fuenmayor, cameraman Carlos Delgado and his assistant, Vladimir Bataglini, were robbed of their equipment and personal belongings.

Elsy Barrios, of the daily Impacto, was attacked by Chávez supporters in Anaco on 2 February while covering their occupation of an oilfield.

In Maracay on 2 February, about 50 Chávez supporters threw stones at a vehicle of the TV station Telecaribe in which reporter Jackson Faría and cameraman Juan José Acosta Rodríguez were travelling and beat them and tried to steal their camera.

Angel Veliz, a photographer with the daily Impacto, in Anaco, was hit by Chávez supporters who tried to steal his equipment while he was covering clashes between oil industry strikers and government supporters on 4 February. National guardsmen did not intervene and Veliz said a soldier held him while he was being hit. Journalists Victor Arias, of the daily Impacto, Daniel Olivares and Moreiba Castellanos, of the daily El Tiempo, and Milinse Castellanos, of Radio Orbita, were also attacked.

Reporter Gabriela Díaz and photographer José Ramón Chicho Bello, both of the daily El Tiempo, were detained for more than an hour on 5 February in Puerto La Cruz (300 km east of Caracas) by student supporters of ¨President Chávez. The journalists had refused to hand over film taken of clashes between students and teachers in both camps. They were freed after the intervention of the prosecutor's office and a representative of the state ombudsman. The film was eventually developed in front of the students, who wanted to ensure it contained nothing compromising.

Charmiant Corado, of Televén, and her crew were attacked in Yagua, near Valencia (Carabobo state), on 5 February after filming incidents at the entrance to a refinery being run by strikebreakers hired by the government. Their way was blocked by a van and 20 people who took their film and Corado's mobile phone and then broke a window of their vehicle and hit the cameraman's assistant.

About 60 opposition supporters stopped a vehicle of the Agence France-Presse news agency in Caracas on 21 February. Shouting "You're French, you're from [the French daily] Le Monde, you support Chávez," they rocked the vehicle and stopped its two occupants getting out. In late December 2002, Le Monde had printed an editorial saying the opposition had never been able to accept that "a junior officer of humble birth and half-Indian should disturb the lifestyle of the traditional ruling class."

The vehicle of Junior Pinto and Henry Rodríguez, of the state-run Venezolana de Televisión, was surrounded by opposition demonstrators in Caracas on 11 April, the first anniversary of the 2002 protests in which several people were killed and which led to an abortive coup. Its windows were smashed and demonstrators hurled insults and threats at the journalists and forced them to retreat.

Juan Carlos Amado, a cameraman with COTRAIN, an independent group that makes documentaries, was attacked in the centre of Caracas on 1 May while filming a clash between opponents and supporters of President Chávez during a demonstration. He was suspected by the crowd of working for the government and beaten by a member of the opposition Primero Justicia party and his equipment destroyed.

Activists of the Patria Para Todos (PPT) party, a member of the government coalition, insulted and threatened Roberto Giusti, of Radio Caracas and the daily El Universal, outside the station's office in Caracas on 2 May and accused him of being responsible for the death of Jorge Nieves, a PPT leader in the Guasdalito region (near the Colombian border). Giusti had said Nieves was an ally of Colombian guerrillas believed to be in the region.

Marta Colomina described on her programme "La entrevista" on Televén on 27 June how someone had thrown a petrol bomb at her on her way to the station that morning. She said two vehicles had tried to stop hers and four armed men had got out of one and had thrown the bomb at her car but it failed to explode.

Patricia Poleo, a strong Chávez opponent, was attacked on 10 July as she took part in the "Cuentamelo todo" programme on the Barinas 880 radio station in the western town of Barinas. A group of Chávez supporters hit and insulted her and the programme's guests and then damaged the studio.

Tim Flores, of the radio station FM 103.5, in the southeastern city of Puerto Ordaz, and a well-known critic of Chávez and the local Bolívar state governor, was beaten up on 10 July by two strangers who pointed a gun at him, dragged him out of his car and threatened him with further violence.

Efraín Henriquez, a cameraman with Globovisión, was hit in the face by someone who tried to steal his equipment while he was filming a pro-Chávez demonstration in Caracas on 20 August.

Rafael Leal, an assistant cameraman with Venevisión, was arrested and beaten by national guardsmen in the northwestern town of Punto Fijo on 26 September while covering the eviction from their company housing of PDVSA workers sacked after the December 2002-February 2003 strike. He was freed two hours later after being forced to sign a document saying he had thrown stones at the guardsmen and had not been mistreated in detention.

Yamile Jimenez and cameraman Jesús Molina, of RCTV, were attacked by a member of the DISIP political police on 3 November in a hospital in San Antonio (in the western state of Tachira). They had come to find out how a DISIP agent injured in an incident a few days earlier was getting on. They were threatened with arrest if they did not leave the hospital. Other DISIP agents did not intervene and instead criticised journalists as a whole.

Miguel Henrique Otero, owner of the Caracas daily El Nacional, was attacked on 28 November by government supporters who threw bottles and other objects at him near the western Caracas metro station of Carapita, where he was guiding a group of foreign reporters covering an opposition signature campaign for a referendum to force President Chávez from power. A Venevisión crew led by Gaudi Perozo was also attacked and had to flee.

José Gil, a photographer with the local daily El Siglo, and Anahis Cruz, regional correspondent of RCTV, were beaten on 30 November by government supporters when they took pictures of them barring opposition supporters from entering the main hospital in Maracay to collect signatures from patients for an anti-Chávez referendum.

Three journalists threatened

Two intruders broke into the Caracas house of Argenis Martínez, vice-president of the daily paper El Nacional, on 19 January 2003, threatened him and his wife, tied them up and called Martínez an "enemy of Chávez." They and an accomplice fled with 100,000 bolivars (65 euros).

Adreína Mujica Ańez, a photographer with the daily Últimas Noticias, was threatened by Chávez supporters while covering a demonstration in Caracas on 19 January. The next day she was threatened by a woman who said she was the wife of a member of the far-left Tupamaros group.

Nilo Jimenez, a photographer with the daily El Tiempo in the northeastern town of Puerto La Cruz, was insulted and threatened with death on 19 September by three men in the Razetti II neighbourhood, in Bolivar, where he was covering the murder of a youth. They accused of him of writing lies, threatened him with guns and stoned his car as he was leaving.

Harassment and obstruction

In early January 2003, the Spanish news agency EFE received three bomb threats after Leopoldo Castillo, presenter of the "Alo Ciudadano" programme on the TV station Globovisión, claimed the agency had said opposition demonstrations were led by "bosses." The EFE bureau chief denied this.

Dozens of supporters of President Hugo Chávez dismantled the installations of TV stations Venevisión and Globovisión in a main street of Caracas on 3 January to prevent them covering an opposition demonstration planned there.

Opposition supporters gathered in front of the Caracas offices of the state-run Radio Nacional de Venezuela (RNV) on 4 January to protest against its allegedly biased news coverage. They faced government supporters who came to defend the station. One of the radio's defenders was serious wounded by a gunshot from a passing car.

A written and audio message was sent on 5 January to TV stations Globovisión, RCTV, Venevisión and Televén and to journalists critical of Chávez warning that a "people's supreme court" had sentenced to death "all journalists and commentators" on the main privately-owned TV stations for "betraying the country." The message said the sentences could be carried by anyone who met one of the targets.

Prosecutor-general Isaias Rodríguez said on 7 January he had made a court request to force privately-owned anti-government TV stations to stop their continuous coverage of the opposition general strike because of the danger such images posed to children deprived of their normal programmes.

Chávez supporters stole the camera of Antonio Rodríguez, of the daily El Regional, on 9 January in the northwestern city of Zulia while he was covering an opposition demonstration.

The press room at Caracas police detective headquarters was closed on 11 January after journalists reported on a press conference by a spokesman for a group of soldiers who said they were "lawfully rebelling" again the government.

President Chávez threatened on 12 January to cancel the broadcasting licences of the country's main radio and TV stations for supporting opposition attempts to overthrow the government. He said they were abusing their powers by only publicising the opposition and its general strike and that the government would no longer tolerate such "war propaganda." Chávez supporters threw stones, bottles and petrol bombs at the offices of Radio Contacto in El Tocuyo (in the western state of Lara) on 13 January after a demonstration by the opposition Coordinadora Democrática there.

Chávez supporters damaged the hallway of a Caracas building on 14 January and threatened its inhabitants for allowing the TV stations Venevisión and CMT to install equipment there to cover an opposition demonstration in the street outside.

The infrastructure ministry informed Globovisión, RCTV and Televén on 20 January that administrative proceedings would be taken against them for "inciting rebellion and disrespect for institutions and lawful authorities." Televén was also informed on 30 January and Venevisión on 5 February.

They were also accused of not keeping to programme schedules for children and inciting people to commit crimes such as not paying taxes. The charges were based on the content of opposition TV ads put out by the stations, which the ministry said it would study. The stations face a fine, suspension of programmes or loss of their broadcasting licences. By the end of the year, no action had been made on these matters.

The government suspended the sale of foreign currency on 21 January and introduced exchange control on 5 February. All foreign exchange operations would have to be authorised by a government commission, CADIVI, headed by a retired army captain who took part in Chávez' failed attempted to seize power in 1992. Chávez warned on 4 February that there would be "not a single dollar for the coup plotters." Most papers and magazines are threatened because they import their newsprint. But by the end of the year, the measure had not been used to close down any media outlet.

Radio Coro 780 Am, in the northwestern state of Falcón, was told on 22 January it would be prosecuted for technical irregularities found during an inspection on 30 October 2002. It was told it had 10 days to repair standby transmission equipment and present a technical plan to the national telecommunications commission, Conatel, which oversees government licences. The head of the radio, José Jordán Flores, said the move was "out of proportion" when there was legally still time for the station to comply with the demands of the inspectors.

The daily El Nacional reported on 27 January that protestors had staged a demonstration outside the home of Jesús Romero Anselmi, head of the state-run VTV, by banging metal pots, a form of protest used against prominent people the opposition deems too close to the government and also staged in restaurants, planes and stadiums.

Luis Felipe Oviedo, boss of Radio Class, was detained for two hours in a military vehicle by national guardsmen in San Carlos (in the northwestern state of Cojedes) on 28 January while covering an opposition demonstration.

Representatives of the local council for the rights of children and teenagers in the western city of Táchira began legal action on 30 January against the station Televisora Regional del Táchira (TRT) for relaying the programmes of Globovisión, which was accused of not respecting the rules about a minimum number of programmes for children.

The radio station Amiga 105.7, in El Hatillo (in the northern state of Miranda) was closed on 4 February by Conatel and the political police (DISIP) for tax irregularities, which its directors, Roberto Martínez and Adelso Sandoval, denied. They said that after two state inspections, they had not been notified of any irregularities and that the closure came as the station was about to broadcast criticism of a law on the social responsibility of radio and TV stations.

A group of pro-Chávez police in Caracas threatened on 6 February to use force against certain media outlets if they continued to report on their activities inside the city police force, which is considered an opposition stronghold. About 50 dissident officers had enabled the government to seize all the force's weaponry before the opposition general strike began in December 2002.

Conatel called on Globovisión on 10 February to comply with the requirement to broadcast at least three hours a day of programmes for children between 15:00 and 20:00. Until then the all-news station had never broadcast childrens' programmes but had not been troubled by the authorities for not doing so. It had given continuous coverage to the opposition general strike since it began in early 2002.

Based on a tax inspection begun in November 2001, Conatel called on Globovisión on 11 February to pay more than 150 million bolivars (96,000 euros) for failing to pay 51.6 million bolivars (33,000 euros) in taxes. The total comprised 48.9 million bolivars (31,000 euros) in interest for late payment and a fine of 55.2 million bolivars (35,000 euros). The station's chief, Alberto Federico Ravell, said it didn't "owe this wretched government a cent." He said it was a political manoeuvre. Before the opposition strike began, President Chávez had said some media outlets, which he did not name, owed a lot of taxes.

A vehicle belonging to Venevisión, parked outside parliament in Caracas, was damaged on 11 February by suspected Chávez supporters as a station crew was inside covering the start of debate on a proposed law about the social responsibility of radio and TV stations.

Parliament adopted the measure on a first reading the same day. The law was meant to adapt programmes to young audiences and set categories of violent and sexual material, which could be only broadcast at certain times of the day. Failure to comply would be punishable by a range of fines from small to very large. It would punish broadcasting of "messages promoting, excusing or advocating disrespect for lawful institutions and authorities" with fines and suspension or cancellation of licences.

A national radio and TV institute, INRT, was set up to monitor its application. The institute's council would order fines but licence suspension or cancellation would be done by the infrastructures ministry. Five of INRT's 11 members are named by the president and the government, three by parliament and three by "radio and TV users" and "independent national producers," two groups supposedly representing civil society but which did not then exist. By the end of the year, the law had not yet been finally passed.

The national tax authority, SENIAT, asked the national journalists' institute, CNP, on 13 February to provide the name, number, address and other details of all its members. It did not say why it wanted them. It was the first time the CNP, which frequently denounces press freedom violations by government supporters, had been asked for such data.

SENIAT announced in early March that it was investigating whether political ads broadcast by TV stations during the opposition general strike had been free of charge, in which case the stations owed tax on donations. SENIAT chief Trino Alcides Díaz denied at a press conference that the move was political and said it would be extended to newspapers and radio stations.

Ibeyise Pacheco, managing editor of the daily Así es la Noticia, columnist in the daily El Nacional and presenter of a programme on Kyss FM, said on 11 March that many police detectives and political police had gathered outside the radio station in Caracas to arrest her. They presented no warrant to do so.

Milagros Rodríguez and Richard Perez, of the TV station Telemundo, were detained for two hours by the president's personal security force on 14 March after they filming the presidential palace as part of a report on the wedding of the president's daughter. Their film was seized on grounds that it was "strategic" material.

On 4 April, the governor of the northern state of Aragua, Didalco Bolívar, ordered the arrest of Tulio Capriles Hernández, managing editor of the daily El Siglo, for printing an ad for the opposition he said was an incitement to commit a crime. The governor is already suing him for libel for publishing reports that he was incompetent and corrupt.

The Maracaibo daily La Verdad, which often criticises the government, was put under legal embargo on 23 April at the request of the Banco Industrial de Venezuela (BIV) for non-payment of debt. The paper's boss, Juan Carlos Abudel, said the move was political.

Technicians Juan Carlos Flores, of NC Televisión, Tauso Batista, of RCTV, Herbert Fernández, of Venevisión, and Frank González, of Unión Radio, were summoned to political police headquarters on 24 June and questioned about the suspected sabotage of the broadcast of a military parade in the northern city of Valencia to mark the 182nd anniversary of independence.

Intruders broke into the offices of the community radio station Perijanera 95.1 FM, in Machiques (in the northwestern state of Zulia), on 4 July and stole equipment and a transmitter. The station, which had been burgled previously, had been receiving threats for four years. Edy Lugo, secretary of the Perijanera community foundation, said the break-in may have been linked to people in the Machiques town hall and the opposition Acción Democrática party.

Caracas city officials went on 10 July to the Lídice Hospital and in the presence of police closed down the community-run station Catia TV, which is housed there, and the station went off the air. After strong national and international protests, the city agreed on 18 July to hand back the premises and apologised to the station. But by the end of the year, the station had not been returned to its owners.

The supreme court on 15 July upheld sections of the criminal code punishing "insults," rejecting a March 2001 petition that they violated the national constitution and article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to seek, receive and disseminate information. Some of the sections provide for criminal punishment for insulting government officials and state institutions.

A parcel bomb exploded on 21 July near the offices of Unión Radio in Caracas, scattering leaflets threatening journalists and the media and signed by an unknown "Bolivarian Liberation Front." Nobody was hurt in the small blast. Some of the leaflets threatened Marta Colomina, of Unión Radio and Televén, who is a fierce critic of President Chávez.

A bomb was thrown at the studios of Television Regional del Tachira (TRT) in San Cristobal (near the Colombian border) on 5 August. It too contained leaflets signed by the Front. They denounced "media terrorism." The bomb caused no damage or casualties. An enquiry was opened.

Pro-Chávez supporters demonstrated outside the main Caracas offices of Globovisión on 9 August protesting against the station's editorial stance and against several of its journalists, including presenter Orlando Urdaneta. The protesters included members of two pro-government organisations.

Fifteen armed police in Barquisimeto stopped the vehicle of Miguel Henrique Otero, managing editor of the daily paper El Nacional, as he left a press conference on 13 August, forced him and his two daughters to get out and searched it and the passengers' baggage for half an hour. They gave no reason and presented no warrant. Otero said it was a bid to intimidate him for the stands taken by the paper.

Police defused a home-made bomb on at the fifth floor of a building in Caracas on 24 September. The offices of the correspondent of the Valencia daily El Carabobeńo were on the floor below and on the other side of the street were the offices of the daily El Universal. Both papers oppose the government.

Dozens of people hurled stones and bottles at the windows and doors of the radio station Horizonte 1260 AM, in the northern state of Yaracuy, in the early hours of 27 September, causing significant damage. It was not known who the attackers were. The station had given balanced coverage of opposition and government activities and had never received any threats.

Conatel officials went on 3 October to the offices of Globovisión and seized equipment needed to cover events live. Antenna on the hills above the city were also seized. Conatel chief Alvis Lezama said the station was suspected of using unauthorised frequencies. Globovisión boss Alberto Federico Ravell said it was an attack on freedom of expression and that without live coverage the station could only operate at half-speed. Conatel announced on 9 December that the station was being fined 582 million bolivars (372,000 euros) and that the seized equipment would not be returned. The station appealed to the supreme court.

A grenade was thrown at the offices of Conatel during the night of 3-4 October, causing some damage. Information minister and former Conatel director Jesse Chacón said it had been thrown by two men on a motorbike and that the attack was a response to the previous day's seizure of the Globovisión equipment, which had sparked a violent demonstration in front of Conatel offices.

Five people broke into the studios of the community radio station Parroquiana 90.1 FM, in San José de Perijá, near Machiques (near the Colombian border) on 11 October. They interrupted broadcasting, destroyed equipment and threatened to burn down the premises before setting upon presenter Antonio Bencomo and producer Luz Mely Morán. The station's chief, Hersilia León, said two officials of the opposition Acción Democrática were among the attackers. The station had criticised them for using the town's public buses for their personal ends.

Political police in the northeastern state of Anzoátegui prevented journalists on 13 October from covering the eviction from company housing of PDVSA workers sacked after the opposition strike earlier in the year. José Sequea, correspondent for the dailies El Progreso and La Prensa, was detained after he crossed a police barrier and took photos with his digital camera. He was forced to erase them.

Government supporters invaded the radio station AM Mundial Zulia, in Maracaibo (near the Colombian border) on 11 December and prevented the broadcast of the programme "Para estar al dia" presented by Rafael Mejias, who had said he favoured a referendum to force President Chávez to resign. He also regularly criticised the local pro-government mayor.



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