By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- Pressure is growing for action against La Piedrita (Little Stone), a shadowy group of thuggish pro-government activists, after days of disorder at the Caracas Metropolitan Mayor's Office, now under opposition control.
The mayor's office has been under siege from the day when opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma first tried to enter the building after winning the election last November.
On that occasion, violent men, some of them reputedly bearing firearms and claiming to be municipal workers smashed windows and damaged other property, shouting that they weren't going to work for a scumbag like Ledezma: They also threatened employees trying to get to work.
Since then, if anything, things have gotten a whole lot worse at the mayoral offices in Edifico Banco Latino in downtown Caracas. The offices are now said to be physically occupied by a group of 30 or more men with guns.
To date, the authorities appear to have done nothing to rein in this clearly illegal act. Ledezma has seemingly opted for patience and non-aggression, despite being barred by the National Guard from holding council meetings at the old Supreme Court.
This mystifying action is also under question, given that the city council regularly held meetings at the same building for eight years, when the capital was under the control of parties loyal to President Hugo Chávez.
La Piedrita has achieved notoriety after a string of tear gas attacks and other violent action against targets including the Vatican Embassy, a television station owner's home, and the headquarters of Globovisión, the private sector television station noted for its critical attitude towards Chávez.
The group has been linked with Lina Ron, a volatile hard line supporter of the president. She was most recently at the center of a mob that laid siege to the cultural center, El Ateneo, when an opposition party held its anniversary ceremony there earlier this month.
El Piedrita is suspected of having been involved in that rough house, too. And again, the security forces stood by on one side.
The opposition party Acción Democrática (AD) has added its voice to the mounting chorus for action to rein in La Piedrita and a flock of other small groups of similarly dubious disposition.
AD Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup pointed to the takeover at the mayoral offices, and said this wasn't the only example of "political delinquency" by government supporters.
Active service officers from the Metropolitan Police had taken over the Caracas Prefect's premises, he said. Ramos Allup claimed all this was happening with the active support of the government, and he warned that political parties shouldn't be surprised if they came under attack, too.
Repressive action would increase in line with the "fear of the president of the republic" during the run-up to the February 15 referendum on his proposed constitutional reform aimed at allowing repeated re-election, Ramos Allup predicted.
Globovisión Director General Alberto Federico Ravell went to the State Prosecutors Office on Monday to ratify a formal denunciation against state-run Channel Eight for broadcasting an illegally tapped recording purportedly of him having a telephone conversation.
Ravel argued that the recording was illegal. This would appear to be the case unless whoever made it had previously acquired a court permit in order to make it. Under the law, if Channel Eight broadcast the video knowing it had been made without the necessary authorization, it could be argued to have been a willing accomplice in committing a crime, legal observers said.
Ravel drew a contrast between the quickly moving legal action against Globovision and the slow pace of the courts in other cases such as that centered on the infamous suitcase containing $800,000 in cash found at Buenos Aires airport.
He also pointed to an admission before a court in Miami by the German company Siemens that it had made corrupt payments in Venezuela, among other countries, as well as the contents of a computer belonging to Raul Reyes, the late leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Files extracted from the computer are said to have included data indicating that Reyes had received financial and political support and had been in contact with several prominent members of the government including former Interior and Justice Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín.