CARACAS, Venezuela – A Venezuelan archbishop and Catholic institutions have joined the nation’s political opposition in criticizing the government’s shutdown of an independent television station.
Archbishop Roberto Luckert Leon of Coro, vice president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, called the decision to close Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV, “the gravest political error” committed by the Venezuelan government.
Archbishop Luckert said that the station, transmitted over Channel 2, would be missed in all parts of Venezuela because of its popularity. He also said the closure had no legal basis.
“It occurred to the president to close Channel 2, he announced it and he shut it, and then afterward came the legalisms to try to justify the unjustifiable,” the archbishop said May 29.
Archbishop Luckert also harshly criticized the Supreme Tribunal of Justice’s ruling permitting the new government station to take over use of RCTV’s antennas, transmitters and other equipment.
“That demonstrated that (the justices) are at the service of the regime, of whatever the president says,” he added.
Archbishop Luckert said RCTV’s closure “doesn’t hurt only the oligarchy, but also the people.”
The Venezuelan bishops’ conference issued a statement calling on people protesting RCTV’s closure to act peacefully; the statement urged the government to respect human rights.
“The rights to peaceful demonstration, to work, to free expression of ideas, to information, to hold meetings, to private property and any other human rights cannot, under any pretext, be curtailed,” the statement said.
RCTV, Venezuela’s oldest and most popular private television station, stopped transmitting in late May after the government refused to renew its broadcast license. The government’s decision, which leaves most of the nation’s television airwaves in the hands of broadcasters controlled by or allied with the government, was widely criticized by international observers, including the U.S. government.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist and harsh critic of the United States, is a close ally of communist Cuba, where no independent media are allowed and religious practices are restricted.
The popular television station’s demise triggered widespread protests, some of them violent, by university and high school students across much of the country. Opposition politicians accused the police of violating protesters’ rights.
While the student protests were led by public university students, students from private universities also participated. The council of Caracas’s Catholic University Andres Bello issued a statement May 30 “repudiating the disproportionate use of public forces to repress peaceful demonstrations.” The statement also offered the services of the university’s human rights center, as well as the use of university facilities, “for dialogue and reflection.”
Since the RCTV shutdown, Chavez announced that the government is investigating Time Warner Inc.’s Cable News Network and local television station Globovision for allegedly advocating violence toward Chavez and lying.
The Catholic Church and the Chavez government have clashed repeatedly since Chavez was first elected president in 1998. Church leaders repeatedly have accused Chavez of restricting human rights and concentrating unreasonable powers in the president’s hands. Chavez has called the Catholic Church hierarchy elitist.