Information Minister Villegas and PROVEA Lock Horns over Claims of Violence

By: Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Yesterday afternoon, at the same time President Maduro was taking his oath as the next president of Venezuela at the National Assembly, human rights group PROVEA published on its web page a communiqué stating that its General Coordinator Marino Alvarado had received a phone call from Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas. PROVEA qualified the conversation as “cordial.”

 Minister Villegas expressed his “surprise” at the information published by the organization that the CDIs (medical modules that are part of the government’s Barrio Adentro program, which provides healthcare in popular sectors) the government has been claiming were attacked by opposition supporters during the protests following the April 14th elections showed no signs of such attacks. According to PROVEA, Villegas told Alvarado that there were many victims of the attacks and that he would be sending them to PROVEA to make their denunciations so that the NGO could “correct” its statements. Alvarado replied that the organization would welcome and listen to the victims and reminded Villegas that PROVEA has condemned all acts of violence over the past week.

During the days following the elections, the public news agency Agencia Venezolana de Noticias (AVN) published news of attacks on several CDIs across the country, in Carabobo, Aragua, Anzoátegui, and Zulia.

However, on April 18th PROVEA published on its web page a claim that, after reviewing the denunciations made by public media, it had not found any evidence that the CDIs had actually been attacked by opposition supporters. According to PROVEA, the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias had released information stating that 8 CDIs were attacked during the night of April 15th.  However, upon later inspection (Provea claims it looked into local news sources and provides a link to one of these sources in its press note) the modules were found to bear no signs of the “level of attack” claimed by the news agency. The organization stated that it could confirm, however, that workers of some medical centers had been verbally harassed, but it denied that the centers had been destroyed or burned down as the government claimed. The press communiqué ended with an admonition to public media: “PROVEA laments that the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias has failed to comply with the Constitutional mandate to provide timely, verifiable, and impartial information.”

In its press note PROVEA stated, “The Ministry of Communication and Information has maintained good relations [with us] that have allowed them to maintain a dialogue in difficult moments, and that is the reason for today’s phone call.” But as the afternoon of April 19th progressed the good relations seem to have soured. Minister Villegas wrote a series of tweets in which he accused PROVEA of being the “rearguard of fascism.” Here is a translation of some of Villega’s tweets during the afternoon:

“It’s a pity that PROVEA is acting as the rearguard of fascism by claiming that there ‘is no evidence’ of the excesses of the bands that attacked the people.”

“An NGO that supposedly defends human rights should have searched for testimonies of the victims of aggression of Sunday 15th instead of lending itself to the exculpation of fascists.”

“PROVEA supports the denials of violence that were unleashed after Capriles refused to recognize the electoral results.”

“PROVEA is putting its anti-chavism before its obligation to defend the human rights of the victims of intolerance.”

After these tweets PROVEA published a reply on its web page: “PROVEA holds Minister Ernesto Villegas responsible for any violation of the physical integrity and the life of the members of this organization and their families. PROVEA considers that the Minister’s messages criminalize the organization’s work in defense of human rights.”