Killings and Threats Rattle Journalists in Venezuela

Por Venezuela Real - 20 de Noviembre, 2006, 17:17, Categoría: Seguridad/Inseguridad

SIMON ROMERO
David Rochkind/Polaris, for The New York Times
New York Times
November 19, 2006

• Nancy Cecilia Flores, 21, right, was with her father, a local columnist, when he was shot dead.
• Ms. Flores and her mother, Nancy del Carmen Mota, 48, have little hope that whoever was responsible will be found.

EL TIGRE, Venezuela, Nov. 13 — Nancy Cecilia Flores still trembles when she recalls how a gunman unloaded eight rounds into her father, Jesús Flores Rojas, a well-known journalist in this oil city.

It was 8:50 p.m. on Aug. 23. They had just returned from the pharmacy in her father’s prized possession, a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu. A young man approached as they entered their driveway, motioned for her to remain silent, then he did his work.

“He died immediately from the first bullet to enter his head,” Ms. Flores, 21, a soft-spoken chemistry major at a university here, said of her father. He was the third journalist killed in Venezuela this year, and the fifth since the beginning of 2002.

Though it is not clear that they were all related to the journalists’ work, human rights groups say, the killings and other aggression toward journalists point to a trend in which threats and intimidation have become all too common, even in what remains a flourishing free press under President Hugo Chávez.

Mr. Flores Rojas’s case has not been solved, and no evidence suggests the killing here and other incidents were orchestrated by Mr. Chávez’s government, whose political allies control this southeastern inland city. But the recent killings have heightened concern over the ability of journalists to do their jobs without retribution.

“The murder fits a pattern of falling within a gray zone in which the death of a journalist can seem as if it were a random crime,” said Ewald Scharfenberg, executive director of the Institute for Press and Society, an organization in Caracas that examines press freedom issues.

Opponents of the Venezuelan leader, particularly in the United States and the Bush administration, routinely criticize the state of press freedom under Mr. Chávez, who faces a presidential election on Dec. 3, with most polls showing him leading his opponents.

But the environment for the news media here remains exceptionally freewheeling and boisterous, even if somewhat tension filled. While the spate of killings this year has focused attention on the issue, killings of journalists in Venezuela trail those in Colombia and Mexico.

Tensions between the government and news organizations seem to have eased since the months after a short-lived coup in April 2002, which briefly removed Mr. Chávez and appeared to have had the blessing of some established news media groups and the Bush administration.

But Mr. Chávez and his policies are still pilloried daily on television, radio and in established daily newspapers in Caracas that are largely controlled by an elite at odds with his socialist-inspired policies. Meanwhile, pro-Chávez news organizations, many flush with government advertising, attack the political opposition with equal vehemence.

Beyond this vibrancy, however, is a pattern of confrontation that has become a defining feature of relations between the government and the news media in recent years. Mr. Chávez sometimes sets the tone, with senior officials repeating his assertions that his administration is under siege by entrenched media interests.

“Don’t be surprised if I say there are no more concessions to some TV channels,” Mr. Chávez said this month, signaling that his government could block some private television stations from renewing their broadcast licenses next year. His warning came after a private broadcaster showed a video of energy minister Rafael Ramírez calling on petroleum workers to support Mr. Chávez or face losing their jobs.

Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, point out that no journalists are in jail in Venezuela for criticizing the government, even though vaguely written legislation has increased penalties for defamation and extended the scope of laws relating to disrespect of public officials. Other legislation lets officials suspend broadcasting or revoke licenses if stations are deemed to condone or incite public disturbances.

“When taken together, these new rules have created an environment of self-censorship in Venezuela,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch in Washington.

Senior government officials respond angrily to groups who say press freedom is deteriorating in Venezuela. For instance, Communications Minister Willian Lara accused the Inter American Press Association of using “disinformation to attack the image of Venezuela” this year when the group expressed concern after the legislature of Bolívar State ordered the demolition of the offices of the newspaper Correo del Caroní. The newspaper, whose offices are still standing, had published articles critical of Gov. Francisco Rangel, an ally of Mr. Chávez.

Amid such tensions, the killings of journalists are unsettling to human rights groups and others here, particularly to other journalists, though it is not clear exactly what motivated many of the crimes. The number of homicides in Venezuela has surged 67 percent, to 9,962 in 2005, since Mr. Chávez took office, according to a study by Chacao, an opposition-led municipality in Caracas.

There are still questions, for instance, as to whether Jorge Aguirre, a photographer for the newspaper El Mundo, was killed because of his work. Mr. Aguirre was photographing a student demonstration in Caracas against violent crime in April when he was shot dead by a man on a motorcycle. A former police officer has been charged with the crime.

Another journalist, José Joaquín Tovar, director of the weekly newspaper Ahora, was killed in June, but apparently in circumstances involving a personal vendetta, Human Rights Watch said.

Then came the killing of Mr. Flores Rojas, a columnist for the anti-Chávez newspaper Región, based in Cumaná, a coastal city.

Mr. Flores Rojas, whose nickname was “Peacock,” a reference to his taste for fine clothing, would seem an unlikely target. A former public relations official for the opposition party Copei, at age 66 he was nearing the end of his journalistic career.

He rarely engaged in fierce criticism of regional officials, focusing instead on issues like an absence of traffic lights at a busy intersection in this dusty city of 130,000 surrounded by oil fields about 200 miles southeast of the capital. In one column, he questioned how a city councilman had acquired the money for a new Ford Focus.

Authorities have different views of the killing. Ernesto Paraqueima, the mayor of El Tigre and an official with Podemos, a party in Mr. Chávez’s coalition, said in a telephone interview that he viewed the incident as a “social crime that had been converted into a political crime.” Mr. Paraqueima emphasized that he doubted that any public official was behind the killing.

Lisandro Zapata, an official with the Criminal Investigations Police in Caracas who is in charge of the investigation, said his detectives were still poring over Mr. Flores Rojas’s work in search of leads. Mr. Zapata said he was almost certain that “an individual or a group of individuals” had planned the killing.

While the case remains unresolved, as if by coincidence, the gunman who is believed to be responsible for the killing, Luis Torres Pinto, was killed in a confrontation with the police several days later.

Ms. Flores said she identified the body of her father’s killer, but remained convinced he had been working for someone else. After killing Ms. Flores’s father, the gunman did not take any money or belongings or try to enter their home. He pointed his gun at Ms. Flores but did not shoot.

“The style of execution in this case and the subsequent elimination of the killer indicate that an intellectual author of the crime may remain at large,” said Mr. Scharfenberg, of the Institute for Press and Society.
Less than three months after her father was killed, Ms. Flores said she was disappointed that investigators had no further leads. Her mother, Nancy del Carmen Mota, 48, said in an interview: “I’ve given up hope of the real killer ever paying for this crime. That doesn’t happen in this country.”

Artículo relacionado:

 New York Times and QUESTIONABLE JOURNALISM in "Killings and Threats Rattle Journalists in Venezuela"


New York Times Publishes yet Another Pro-Chavez Article
Alex Beech'
November 19, 2006

Simon Romero who pens the latest article on Venezuela for the New York Times, includes words, sentences and clauses in his writing that need to be analyzed, since the overall effect diminishes the impact of the killing of journalists in Venezuela.  Notice the following sentences or clauses in "Killings and Threats Rattle Journalists in Venezuela":

1.  "Mr.  Flores Rojas's case has not been solved, and no evidence suggests the killing here and other incidents were orchestrated by Mr. Chávez's government, whose political allies control this southeastern inland city.  But the recent killings have heightened concern over the ability of journalists to do their jobs without retribution." [it is the second time that Romero insists that "no evidence suggests...Mr. Chavez's government.  He's determined, throughout the piece, to absolve the Chavez government of any responsibility.  Hence, the following:]

2."Opponents of the Venezuelan leader, particularly in the United States and the Bush administration, routinely criticize the state of press freedom under Mr.  Chávez, who faces a presidential election on Dec.  3, with most polls showing him leading his opponents.  [notice the crucial clause, "particularly in the United States and the Bush Administration", implying that it is opposition from the US government, and not from Venezuelans themselves, which is driving criticism of the Chavez government regarding press freedom.  The article all but eliminates the Venezuelan opposition as a strong and determining critic of the government.]

3."But the environment for the news media here remains exceptionally freewheeling and boisterous, even if somewhat tension filled.  While the spate of killings this year has focused attention on the issue, killings of journalists in Venezuela trail those in Colombia and Mexico." [The news media does continue to criticize the government, but under a constant threat of attacks, and even death.  The most troubling aspect of this paragraph is that it seems to say, "hey, things aren't so bad.  Not any worse than Mexico and Colombia.  What's the big deal?]

4.  "Tensions between the government and news organizations seem to have eased since the months after a short-lived coup in April 2002, which briefly removed Mr.  Chávez and appeared to have had the blessing of some established news media groups and the Bush administration."
[This paragraph demonizes the "established news media, the private media, and brings the focus back on the US government.]

5.  "Mr.  Chávez and his policies are still pilloried daily on television, radio and in established daily newspapers in Caracas that are largely controlled by an elite at odds with his socialist-inspired policies." The shining words in this paragraph with Marxist undertones is "elite" and "socialist-inspired".  This is the old and tired implication that the conflict in Venezuela is between the rich and the poor, that an elite controls the media, and therefore manipulate what the masses think.  What is "socialist-inspired" about Chavez's government?  There's more capitalism than ever, benefitting the very wealthy who learned to play by Chavez's own game.  "Socialist-inspired" is NOT spending money to buy votes and support.

6.  "Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, point out that no journalists are in jail in Venezuela for criticizing the government,".  Yes, that's because those who have been threatened, such as Patricia Poleo, have fled the country.  Others have simply been killed, even when there is "no evidence" that the government is responsible.

7.  "The number of homicides in Venezuela has surged 67 percent, to 9,962 in 2005, since Mr.  Chávez took office, according to a study by Chacao, an opposition-led municipality in Caracas." [The key word here is "opposition-led", which diminishes the credibility of the numbers through the implication that the "opposition" conducted the study.] This article is a prime example that "objectivity" is a delusion when it comes to journalism.  Its aim is to diminish the significance or impact of the deaths of our Venezuelan journalists.  Mr.  Romero needs to be taken to task for his reporting.





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