CARACAS – President Hugo Chavez denied on Friday that students mounting anti-government protests this week in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities have been subject to torture or “brutal repression.”
Demonstrators have been confronted by Venezuela’s militarized police, the Guardia Nacional, as well as by Chavez supporters, two of whom were fatally shot Monday in the western city of Merida.
Eight student protesters detained Wednesday in Barquisimeto filed a formal legal complaint alleging that they endured physical and psychological mistreatment while in custody at a Guardia Nacional barracks.
The students’ attorney, Guillermo Palacios, said the eight detainees were threatened that they would be jailed alongside common criminals if they refused to sign statements attesting to the good treatment they received from the Guardia Nacional.
The wave of protests was spurred by the Chavez government’s decision to temporarily suspend Radio Caracas Television Internacional from the country’s cable television system for alleged regulatory infractions.
During a nationally broadcast speech on Friday, the leftist president said many of the accusations about “brutal repression” of demonstrations was based on photographs of Guardia Nacional officers holding claw-like implements.
Those tools, Chavez said, are used to drag piles of burning tires from the streets, “not to beat anyone.”
“But then comes all the slander in the press of the rich, the television of the rich, the radio, and that’s repeated in the world,” the president said. “Many people believe that it’s true, that we use hooks to stab people in the back.”
In earlier comments, he dismissed the student protesters as “puppets” of a “fascist right that wants deaths.”
The two government supporters killed in Merida were “machine-gunned from a bus,” Chavez said Thursday, adding that one of two soldiers shot in the same city was in critical condition.
The Miami-based Venezuela Awareness Foundation said Friday that authorities in the Andean nation have responded to the student protests in a “disproportionate manner.” EFE