VHeadline.com :  Thursday,  September 26, 2002 —  During the past few days, representatives of the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Inter-American Press Society (SIP) have been in Venezuela to evaluate the situation of the mass media here.

I don’t know why they came.

The main front-page story in El Nacional Monday said that IPI president Jorge Fascetto sees President Chavez Frias as another Peron, Fujimori or Stroesner … and Vice-president Rangel as another Montesinos.

He and his friends came to evaluate?

Well, dear representatives of SIP and IPI, listen to all the crocodile-tear stories of the commercial media that you want to and publish the reports that you wrote before you came. But here’s a media story to which you didn’t listen, and for which the reader doesn’t have to pay. And let me warn you there are a lot more such stories in Venezuela. Little by little, they will come out, and the world will hear about them. Many have already been written in the alternative press and told by alternative radio and TV stations … it’s just that your commercial press friends are afraid to publish them.

This is the story of Nicolas Rivera Muentes about what happened to him while President Chavez Frias was not in power, and what the democratic opposition have managed to do with him since.

Nicolas is the 26-year-old father of three children (ages 4, 4 and 2). His family lives in the working class suburb of Caricuao, where he is employed as a supervisor of children under the care of the National Institute of Children (INAM).

He is also a director of Radio Perola … a community radio station in Caricuao, one of about 150 volunteers who keep the station on air. As one of the stations announcers, he had a music program called SOLO SALSA (Only Salsa).

On April 12 … the day that Mr. Carmona Estanga declared himself President of Venezuela … Radio Perola was raided by the PTJ police. There was no one there. At 9:00 p.m., the police raided the INAM offices where Nicolas worked, forced him into a vehicle and then drove him around the area for several hours.

(In Venezuela this is called “ruleteo” … a common name for an illegal police process which consists in putting person in a vehicle, driving him/her around without a definite destination while s/he is harassed, interrogated or beaten!).

Nicolas was beaten continually while he was asked for information about the radio station’s equipment and about the other volunteers at the station.  He was taken home at 1:00 a.m.  April 13.  His house was raided and, in the presence of his father, mother, wife, brothers (ages 25, 15 and 15), brother-in-law and children, Nicolas was beaten again for approximately two hours. Afterwards, he was again “ruleteado” and threatened with death if he didn’t take them to the radio transmitter.

At one moment he was taken out of the vehicle, beaten, kicked and hit with weapons. He was then taken to PTJ headquarters and again beaten. He was kept there without food or water until April 14, when the coup had already failed.  He had been charged for complicity in an intentional homicide, but the spurious charge was thrown out by another judge and he was released.

All of this information was taken from a complaint made to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS), May 10, 2002.

These actions were also reported to the local police. Not having received any response, Nicolas went to the PTJ on June 28, accompanied by his wife and some friends. He was arrested again, supposedly appearing in a video shooting a weapon, and since that time has been imprisoned as a common criminal. Friends tell me he carried a tape-recorder with him that day.

I visited with Nicolas family yesterday: His wife told me how, on the night of April 12-13, the police handcuffed her and beat her in front of the children. At one moment she noticed a policeman taking some bullets from his pocket. These were later found by the police among her children’s clothing. The police threatened to arrest her as well and to take her children away from her. As they were taking her out of the weeping children’s room, her plea to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law was “Don’t let them take the children!”

  • Other members of the family were also handcuffed and Nicolas’ father pulled by his hair.

When I visited with the family yesterday afternoon, Nicolas mother had just returned from talking to a government Human Rights official. One of her children asked her “Did you cry, Mom?” She just looked at him. There was no need to reply.

  • She told me that Nicolas had always been a dreamer, hoping for a better and more just world.
  • She was also concerned about her other children, especially the boys who are still volunteers with Radio Perola. While we were conversing, one of the boys shook my hand and went out the door.

Having finished our conversation and while walking in the direction of the bus stop, a friend turned on his portable radio: Good afternoon and welcome again to ‘SOLO SALSA.’  This is your host, Victor Hugo Rivera.  It was a voice I had heard moments before. Now it was coming over Radio Perola.  It was Nicolas’ teenage brother.

Now the whole world knows something about an authentic journalist in Venezuela that the representatives of the SIP and the IPI don’t seem to care about.  Do you?

There’s a dreamer in prison here in Venezuela … but his dream is still free.