Conflicting versions of campaign confrontation show media polarization in Venezuela

By Isabela Fraga

Conflicting versions of a violent confrontation between supporters of President Hugo Chávez and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles demonstrate the polarization of the press in Venezuela less than a month from the elections. Five journalists were injured in the clash on Wednesday, Sept. 12, in Puerto Cabello, Carabobo, according to the National Union of Venezuelan Journalists.

The skirmish took place at the Bartolomé Salom airport and left 10 injured and three vehicles burned, reported El Universal. The attacked journalists were photographers Geraldo Caso (France-Presse), Yorvis Weffer (El Expreso) and José López (El Carabobeño), the reporter María López (El Carabobeño), and cameraman Jaime Pinzón (DAT TV).

State-run media blamed Capriles supporters for the violence, "the attack happened before Capriles' visit to Puerto Cabello, when militants from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela demonstrating in support of candidate Chávez were surprised by the attack," reported Agencia Venezolana de Notícias' website. Puerto Cabello Mayor Rafael Lacava also accused the opposition governor of Carabobo, Henrique Salas, of "having a group of mercenaries to cause confusion and attack those that wanted to debate," reported El Universal.

El Universal, a private newspaper often critical of the Venezuelan president, published a report in which political analysts called the acts of some groups to impede the opposition a "fear strategy."

The same newspaper also reported that "groups linked to the government" attempted to impede the arrival of Capriles in Puerto Cabello but "despite the violence the event happened." Capriles blamed Chávez backers of planning the violence during his arrival at the airport, reported the newspaper El Carabobeño.

Less than a month from elections in Venezuela, the media landscape is littered with accusations, attacks and threats. Representatives from international organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists claim that Chávez's attacks on private media weaken the press. On the other hand, state journalists have also suffered attacks at the hands of Capriles supporters.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.