REUTERS/Christian Veron / Patricia Rondon
The Boston Globe
May 25, 2007
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's top court on Friday ordered the Defense Ministry to take control of installations of an opposition television station amid a show of military force before the station's controversial closure.
President Hugo Chavez's decision to close the RCTV television channel, which he accuses of backing a 2002 coup against him, has prompted international condemnation and several demonstrations.
Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered the military to "guard, control and monitor" some of the station's installations and equipment including transmission equipment and antennas throughout the country.
An RCTV source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said staff at the station believed troops would take over the station's Caracas headquarters.
The court determined that the government must take RCTV's broadcast equipment to ensure a smooth handover to a state channel that will replace RCTV with broadcasts promoting the values of Chavez's socialist revolution.
A Defense Ministry official said he had not seen the court decision. An RCTV lawyer declined to comment on the issue.
The decision came hours after a convoy of troop carriers, motorcycles and armored anti-riot vehicles patrolled the highways of Caracas in what authorities called an effort to deter any disturbances by opposition demonstrators.
Chavez, clad in military fatigues at the inaugural flight of Sukhoi fighter jets bought from Russia, said the country was ready for any attack by "the oligarchy," a rich, pro-U.S. elite which he says RCTV epitomizes.
"We will be on alert, we are always on alert. Whatever flares up, we will snuff it out," he said.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution against the "transgression of freedom of thought and expression" in Venezuela. A protest in Caracas on Saturday attracted tens of thousands of people.
Chavez's critics say he has sought to build a Cuban-style system in Venezuela, accusing him of politicizing the military, judiciary and oil industry of the OPEC member country.
Political analysts have often identified Venezuela's critical media as the main obstacle to Chavez following the model of his mentor -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The government has repeatedly warned that opposition demonstrators are preparing a "destabilization campaign" to spark street violence as RCTV loses its license.
"Minority groups cannot go against the will of the majority of the Venezuelan people to create uncertainty in the case of RCTV's license," Defense Minister Raul Baduel told state news agency ABN on Friday.