By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Student activist Julio César Rivas, 22, who was arrested by police on Monday, was ordered to be held in custody at El Rodeo I jail pending trial on charges alleging violent conduct during an Opposition march against the recently promulgated Education Law on August 22.
Rivas, who is a student at the privately-run Universidad Alejandro Humboldt, was charged with inciting civil war, instigating crime and disobedience of the law, damaging public property, using “generic arms” and criminal association. No date was set for a trial.
Similar charges have been brought against Caracas Prefect Richard Blanco, a senior official appointed by Opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma. He was arrested after an incident involving a police officer in plain clothes who had been taking photographs of protesters on the same march.
Prosecutors allege that Blanco attacked the officer. But his defence counsel argues that the officer had come under challenge from some of the marchers and the Blanco had intervened to save him from harm.
A group of students gathered in Plaza Francia in the distinctly up-market district of Altamira in central Caracas Thursday to protest against Rivas’ incarceration, which they condemned as “political persecution.” One of them said prosecutors existed only to go after those who “dissented from the government.”
Students have drawn a parallel between the custody order levied against Vivas and 11 Metropolitan municipal workers who were arrested on violence charges on the same march.
Metropolitan Procurator Rubén Ortiz said the government had adopted a series of “disproportionate measures” since President Hugo Chávez appointed Jacqueline Faría as city “head of government” over the head of elected Opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma.
Ever since, state funding, municipal assets and powers including controlof the Metropolitan Police and the fire brigade have been transferred from Ledezma’s Metropolitan authority to Faría’s rival city bailwick.
The government, Ortiz said, was bent on putting Ledezma behind bars. The mayor has become a symbol of Opposition resistance after staging a six-day hunger strike to pressure the government into releasing funds so he could pay his employees.
On Thursday, Metropolitan workers called on Public Defender Gabriela Ramírez to guarantee the right to work. Fear is afoot that municipal employees deemed to be sympathetic to Ledezma – and perhaps even if they aren’t of any political persuasion – will be sacked and replaced by pthers deemed loyal to Faría.
In Zulia, Opposition Governor Pablo Pérez denied that he had any connection with “paramilitary” groups, as Vice President Ramón Carrizalez alleged earlier this week. Táchira State Governor César Pérez Vivas, who also hails from the Opposition, has been similarly accused.