PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — In a three-hour speech delivered to an enthusiastic audience here, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced price controls over some goods to relieve the damage caused by an eight-week general strike opposed to his leadership.
Chavez said he is also considering taxing stock trading to discourage speculation, and closing some television stations in response to what he called the “brainwashing” of the population — a move that raised concern among media advocates.
Strikes and counter-strikes between Chavez opponents and supporters have divided Venezuela in the past few months.
Chavez blamed the unrest on an elite business class that disagrees with his “popular” government.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that “tens of thousands” of supporters marched for the president last Thursday on the 45th anniversary of the overthrow of General Marcos Perez Jimenez, who led a military dictatorship there until 1958.
Strike leaders — who say Chavez is dictatorial and incompetent at managing the economy — were further frustrated by a recent court decision to block an early referendum on the president’s rule.
Chavez blamed the majority of broadcasting companies for the current crisis, accusing them of a propaganda campaign against his administration.
“The TV only broadcasts demonstrations against me from a small group that does not represent the will of the whole population. Do not be scared if I begin to close some network stations. All these companies belong to powerful businessmen who do not agree with my social policy,” he said.
The New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed alarm over previous threats by Chavez to close television stations, but noted in a January 23 press release that as the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated, “both private and state media have abandoned all pretense of objectivity and balance.”
Steve Rendall, a panelist at the World Social Forum and the senior analyst at the U.S. media-advocacy group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said that “Venezuela’s mainstream media deserves the censure of anyone who values ethical and balanced journalism. It’s had a devastating effect on democratic discourse. That said, some of the pronouncements of Hugo Chavez calling journalists liars, threatening to close TV stations, is chilling and need to be opposed.”
Though his speech was not a formal part of the World Social Forum, staged here between Jan. 23-28, about 5,000 forum attendees rallied in support of Chavez on Sunday afternoon.
Local police were called in when some demonstrators rioted after being denied access to the packed auditorium where he was speaking.