Political violence in Venezuela escalates as Election Day, October 7, gets closer
Supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez sporting the bright red that symbolizes his populist movement clashed Wednesday with backers of the opposition candidate in next month's presidential election. . Each side essentially blamed the other for the violence.
The fight broke out at the airport in the northern city of Puerto Cabello as supporters of Henrique Capriles awaited his arrival for a rally ahead of the October 7 vote. Chavez is seeking a third six-year term as president, and polls put him ahead of Capriles.
The country is highly polarized between the two camps and last week the Carter Centre, a human rights organization founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, urged the two candidates to ease tensions so as to avert post-election violence.
In Wednesday's clash, several hundred people wearing red T-shirts blocked the highway just outside the airport and fought with some 200 Capriles backers. Reporters and photographers present at the scene were roughed, according to the Venezuelan and international media.
Capriles called off a rally Sunday in Caracas, saying armed pro-Chavez people were preparing to disrupt it. After Wednesday's violence, he also cancelled a planned walk through the streets of Puerto Cabello, but did hold a rally. He said the violence was orchestrated by Chavez.
You, the government candidate, you are the one who wants this kind of situation. You are the one who wants to sow fear said Capriles, a former state governor.
Chavez's campaign manager Jorge Rodriguez blamed police, saying they attacked pro-Chavez demonstrators. Puerto Cabello is in Carabobo state, which is governed by the opposition.
Geraldo Caso Bizama, a photographer who works as a stringer for the French news agency AFP, was roughed up during the melee by pro-Chavez people and a man took away his credentials at the airport.
They shoved me, they kicked me, and they jostled me to take away the camera, said Caso Bizama, who was on hand to cover the arrival of Capriles.
Later, men and women in red shirts and with rocks in their hands showed up, asking for the camera and eventually stripped him of it, the photographer said. Further on a tall, screaming man hiding his hand behind his back chased Caso Bizama threatening to shoot him, he said.