By Petros Elia
Latin American Herald Tribune
CARACAS -- Police fired tear gas to chase off thousands of students demonstrating in the capital Friday, a sixth day of protests against President Hugo Chavez for forcing cable and satellite TV providers to cut opposition channels as well as to publicly voice their concerns surrounding the government’s electricity rationing plan for the capital.
Over two thousand students marched to the headquarters of the nationally owned electricity company (Corpoelec) in Caracas, where they were met by a barrage of metropolitan police that opened fire on them with tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving three wounded. The students had earlier changed the course of their march in order to avoid any possibility of confrontation.
Protesters in two other parts of Venezuela, Barquisimeto and Valencia, were also confronted by police and the National Guard. Two students were arrested and “several” retained injuries having been hit with rubber bullets.
Chavez warned that he will not let opposition sectors of Venezuela “burn” the country and warned that “if they continue down that road then [he] will be forced to take radical measures”, although he did not specify what these could be. These words were spoken on the backdrop of six consecutive days of opposition marches that have already left 2 dead.
The Youth of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela has urged the government to investigate the death of one of these victims. A 15 year old who was allegedly killed by “opposition party members” last Monday, in the western state of Merida.
Chavez accused students of trying to stir up violence as a means of destabilizing his government and warned that “a right-wing lead coup is impossible in today´s Venezuela. Only a left-wing rebellion that will deepen the revolutionary changes will be possible.”
''There are some attempting to set fire to the country,'' Chavez said in a televised address Thursday. ''What are they seeking? Death.''
He has called on all Mayors and Governors to enforce their authority but “without means of repression” and has banned any further marches from taking place without prior authorization.
More protests have been sparked in the capital surrounding the uncertainty of a large shopping centre in the centre of the city that Chavez has ordered expropriated. Over a year ago, Chavez announced his intentions to take the newly completed, multimillion dollar mall in the downtown Caracas area known as Candelario, but as of yet it has remained empty despite often conflicting announcements that it would be converted into a centre for socialist business and conventions, a hospital, and a school.
While charging that the government is trying to curb criticism, the students also used their demonstration to call attention to electricity shortages plaguing much of Venezuela and other pressing domestic problems like double-digit inflation.
The government claims that electricity and water rationing plans are necessary due to the damage done by El Niño, which has reduced rainfall and water levels in the country. Cuts have already taken effect in other parts of the country leaving large swathes of this oil rich nation without electricity for up to 6 hours at a time.
University students have taken to the streets daily since Sunday, after government pressure led cable TV services to drop Radio Caracas Television International, which has long been a critic of Chavez's socialist policies, as well as six other channels. The government says four have been permitted to return.
Marcel Granier, executive president of 1BC , claims to have complied with the legal norms to allow RCTV to return to cable but the government is maintaining its national broadcaster status and blocking it from returning.
The government says RCTV was removed for refusing to comply with a new rule requiring media outlets to televise mandatory programming, including Chavez's speeches.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted today at the Organization of American States a document outlining the apparent violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela.
Tomorrow morning at 10.00am, the National Union of Press Workers will convene to discuss the recent the issue of freedom of expression in Venezuela further.
Sunday, too, will see gatherings in Caracas, from the Alliance of Freedom of Expression, NGOs, students and various directors of Social Communication Schools in Venezuela.