By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- Argument continued to rage over Globovisión, the private sector, 24 hour news channel, amid suspicions that the government was out to pave the way to closing it down once and for all. A shadowy group of President Hugo Chávez' supporters also made their mark at a hospital.
Marcel Granier, president of media corporation 1BC, which owns Globovisión, said that the dispute wasn't about a fight in or between the media. What was at issue was the rights of "people who think democratically," he said in an interview aired on CNN.
The democratic forces in the country didn't hesitate to respect the right of people to exercize "self-determination," he argued, but allies of the president did. Granier also invoked memories of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), which Chávez closed down two years ago by refusing to renew its broadcasting licence.
RCTV's equipment was confiscated and, unconfirmed reports at the time claimed, this was handed over to one of several small pro-Chávez stations in the capital. RCTV now broadcasts its programs including news, but is restricted to cable and satellite service.
Granier claimed that Chávez was lying when he said RCTV's licence had not been renewed. Granier's point was that the licence hadn't actually expired, a view the was expressed as the station was shut down. One unconfirmed report had it that RCTV's licence actually still had as much as 20 years to run when Chávez made his move.
In the meantime, RCTV's efforts to get the ban on its broadcasting on airwaves lifted was going nowhere, Granier continued, offering the consoling thought that at least the private media in Venezuela had the support of the United States Congress and the European Parliament.
Legal action brought by RCTV was stalled at the Supreme Justice Tribunal, he explained. Old timers at RCTV say they don't expect movement at Venezuela's highest court in the foreseeable future. "If there is, it'll be against us," one told this reporter.
Meanwhile, the InterAmerican Human Rights Court called on the government to provide information about instances of "aggression" against Globovisión. As examples, it cited "administrative procedures" launched by officials against Globovisión after it broadcast statements by Carabobo State Governor Henrique Salas Feo, who hails from the Opposition.
The IHRC also wanted to know about the activities of La Piedrita, a shady and widely suspected hardline Chavista group that claimed responsibility for an attack in which a tear gas grenade was thrown at Globovisión headquarters. The group is believed to be based in west Caracas and to have been responsible for several other incidents involving firearms and threatening behavior.
The group is the leading suspect in a string of similar attacks, but the authorities as yet appear unable to take action against it, even though its leader and several other senior members have been identified in the press.
After months of seemingly lying dormant, La Piedrita apparently and suddenly leapt out of the woodwork on Wednesday. A group of about 30 armed men who were believed to belong to the group ambushed an RCTV news crew who were filming inside the Lidice Hospital in Caracas.
Doctors at the hospital earlier this week called for the National Guard to be deployed there around the clock to safeguard patients and staff. The camera crew had evidently taken its cue from this and had been filming for a program about insecurity when they were interrupted shortly after noon and prevented from leaving with their material.
The hospital authorities called in the Metropolitan Police – but, it was said afterwards, the cops didn’t want to know anything about the incident. The officers refused to escort the camera crew out of the building, instead saying they should take refuge inside. The crew eventually left unharmed at about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The whereabouts of the gunmen weren’t clear, except that it was said they’d left after making their message more than clear. It was also suggested that members of the “Sucre Collective” – another shadowy chavista group which is said to be equally prone to the use of violence – had been with La Piedrita during the attack against the camera crew.
Earlier, Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Assaimi had opted for a mixture of irony and critique as his theme of the day. A certain media organization, he said, had become a "public health problem" with its tendentious news items generating worry and uncertainty among the public.
The minister didn't mention Globovisión by name, but it didn't require a media studies degree to work out to whom he was referring. El Assaimi also made one of his relatively rare references to crime, in this case against a government supporter. He vowed that the murderers of Junior Hermoso would be apprehended, and he named a suspect.
Hermoso was mown down last Saturday as he manned a stall on the sidewalk. He and the stall were there to help people sign up as new members of the president's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
At the same time, National Assembly Deputy Iris Varela, a fiery individual who rarely resists an opportunity to rip into anyone she feels is against the president, waded into the row about Globovisión. And not for the first time, she wanted it both ways.
Varela first said that she wasn't in agreement with any media organization being shut down. But then she went on to say that she wanted to see the law being applied and the state insuring that it was respected. The state, she said, was obliged to guarantee the mental health of the people, and Globovisión was underming that.