On April 22nd, PROVEA published a letter on its webpage from the NGO’s General Coordinator, Marino Alvarado, addressed to Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas. Alvarado asked Villegas for derecho a réplica (the right to respond) to the accusations made by Villegas against PROVEA (see our previous posts here and here). Article 58 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution grants persons “the right to a reply and to a rectification when they are directly affected by inexact and insulting information.”
According to the letter by Alvarado, Villegas first mentioned PROVEA’s questioning of the official version of opposition supporters’ attacks on CDIs (government run health centers) on April 18th during a telephone interview on the public Venezolana de Televisión with reporter Vanessa Davies. During that interview Villegas offered Marino Alvarado an “anticipated right to respond” to “come and discuss this issue in front of the cameras.”
Alvarado wrote that PROVEA accepts the Minister´s offer, but asks for the equal media conditions for a response and requests further rectifications from the Minister:
The right to reply will have to be live, in an interview with the Minister of Communication and Information in the program Contragolpe conducted by the reporter Vanessa Davies. On Saturday, April 20 2013, the state TV channel Venezolana de Televisión published news tickers questioning PROVEA´s work on Human Rights. PROVEA demands that similar news tickers, of similar duration, also be used to provide information of the work our organization has engaged in over the past 24 years. Also, we demand that you (Villegas) eliminate from your Twitter account @VillegasPoljakE the assertions that label PROVEA a “rearguard of fascism,” a “promotor of denials” (this refers to the opposition’s rejection of the April 14th electoral results), and “antichavism.”
Alvarado’s letter also reminds the Minister that PROVEA was the target of a similar “intense communication campaign” of delegitimation by the government in 1999, when the NGO asserted after the tragic mudslides in Vargas State that year the police and the army had forcibly “disappeared” several people. However, days later President Chávez admitted that such disappearances had taken place and publicly read some of the paragraphs from PROVEA’s denunciation.
Finally Alvarado argues that the use of terms such as “fascism” to refer to PROVEA puts at risk the “physical integrity and the lives” of the workers of the NGO, and therefore makes the Minister responsible for any attacks they may suffer.
On April 25, PROVEA published the answer by Minister Villegas to Alvarado’s request. Villegas claims that Alvarado will receive his “right to respond,” not under the conditions he asked for, but under “better” conditions:
I inform you that you may count, not on the same conditions under which I expressed my opinions about PROVEA on the state TV channel, but on even better conditions. You can consider yourself invited to VTV, to a live program, so that you can defend your point of view. In my place, there will be a specialist in Human Rights, militant of the left, and opposed to your political position. Therefore you will have more time than I did and the possibility of arguing and expressing whatever you like.
On the issue of the tweets published by the Minister, he argues in his letter that he fully ratifies them and claims that they are part of the “free flow of ideas and opinions.” He adds that:
My criticisms are well founded and cannot be interpreted as “criminalization” [of PROVEA]. Unless you believe that your self-definition as a Human Rights NGO gives you a carte blanche to attack—without proof—the interests of poor people and provides you with immunity from being publicly questioned for these attacks.
Finally Villegas insists in the final paragraph of his letter on the use of the term “fascist” to define PROVEA:
You favored, with your weak report, the fascists that attacked the CDIs, MERCAL, houses of the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela (all places linked to social rights of the people), and that attacked the poor people that are the protagonists of this Revolution. Whoever attacks the places that are guaranteed by social rights (…), and kills the people that were peacefully defending their social rights, are nothing more than fascists. And those that do not condemn those deaths (…) are accomplices of fascism.
PROVEA has declared on its webpage that it “considers that the answer sent by Minister Villegas does not fulfill the demands made by this organization.”