2004-03-26 14:06:00
Embassy Caracas
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261406Z Mar 04
C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 001031 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/26/2014

Classified By: Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro; reasons 1.4 (B)
and (C)


C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 001031



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/26/2014

Classified By: Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro; reasons 1.4 (B)
and (C)


1. (C) Information Officer traveled March 10-14 to
Barquisimeto, Lara state to seek private media views on
freedom of expression and on the state's economic and
political landscape. Most private media owners and
managers maintain a low profile and present both pro-
Venezuelan government (GOV) and opposition views in this
nominally pro-Chavez state. Many media outlets avoid
confrontation because they rely on government advertising
to keep afloat, and attacks on journalists and media
installations are less frequent than in Caracas. In spite
of Barquisimeto's relatively tranquil facade, its residents
are not immune to political confrontations, high
unemployment from business failures, and threats that they
will lose their jobs if they do not toe the Bolivarian
revolutionary line. End Summary.

The Who's Who of Lara Media

2. (C) Information Officer (IO) traveled March 10-14 to
Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara state, to meet with
private print and broadcast media and solicit their views
on freedom of expression and on the economic and political
landscape. Most private media owners and managers told IO
that, because both Governor Luis Reyes Reyes and
Barquisimeto Mayor Henri Falcon are MVR activists and
Chavez confidants, they maintain a low profile and present
both pro-GOV and opposition views on their pages and in
their programs. While some media owners and editors
asserted they provide balanced coverage based on sound
journalistic principles, others admitted that economic
interests drive their decision. They noted that private
advertising had plummeted following the failure of hundreds
of local businesses and industries and many media outlets
relied on city, state and central government advertising to
keep afloat.

3. (C) Of Barquisimeto's three leading dailies, the

largest and oldest is hundred-year-old "El Impulso," with a
declared circulation around 60,000. Its owners are the
Carmona family. Juan Manuel Carmona senior is President
and his son Juan Manuel Carmona, with whom IO met, is
Executive Vice President and an architecture professor at
the Universidad Central (UCV) branch in Barquisimeto. The
family is related to Pedro Carmona, who proclaimed himself
President in April 2002. In part because "El Impulso" has
other business ventures that subsidize lost advertising
revenues, the paper regularly challenges the Chavez
government in its editorials and general coverage.
However, the paper takes a softer approach towards the
governor and mayor, courting them to obtain state and city
advertising, he explained.

4. (C) The opposition-leaning Sigala and Gomez Tamayo
families own the second oldest paper, "El Informador."
Founded in 1967, its declared circulation is 35,000. The
paper prides itself in remaining out of the political fray,
likely helped in part by Information Director Altidoro
Gimenez, who is pro-Chavez, and according to one
interlocutor, the leader of one of the city's Bolivarian
Circles. Gimenez said the paper focuses on local news of
social and economic interest. In response to IO's
provision of information on Embassy Caracas and Department
web sites and other USG materials, he expressed particular
interest in receiving material on health, education,
economic, and sports topics, as well as anything on visa
application procedures.

5. (C) Nine-year-old tabloid daily "Diario Hoy's" owners
are the Montes de Oca (father of President Rafael Montes de
Oca is Pepe Monte de Oca, a former interior minister during
the Luis Herrera Campins presidency) and Gimenez families.
Its declared circulation is 35,000. The families also own
regional television channel Telecentro (para 7). The
paper, which targets C, D, and E socio-economic classes
(working class, poor, and extreme poor),prides itself for
its objective, balanced reporting, as evidenced, Rafael

Montes de Oca asserted, by one page each dedicated to pro-
GOV and opposition views. There are no "Talibanes"
(radicals) in our paper or television station, he asserted.
Largely steering clear of contentious political debate, the
paper features sports, lottery results, and criminal
incidents. National, state, and local ads were
commonplace, the bread and butter of the paper, explained
Montes de Oca.

Regional TV Seeks a Local Niche

6. (C) Of Lara's two prominent regional television
stations, Promar, which maintains a close news-sharing
affiliation with national 24-hour news station Globovision,
has suffered the most from attacks by GOV sympathizers,
according to Promar President Jorge Kossowsky. In December
2002, armed Chavez sympathizers attacked Promar facilities
with three explosive devices and several volleys of
ammunition (IO observed a number of bullet holes in
Promar's the front windows). Since then, Promar had
constructed a bunker-like steel-plated facility in front of
its installations to buffer any future attacks. According
to Kossowsky, Promar had determined a "fifteen-minute
rule," whereby the television station needed to defend
itself from an attack for fifteen minutes before security
forces could arrive on the scene. Despite the occasional
run-ins with the government, Promar gets some government
advertising; Governor Reyes and Mayor Falcon appear on
Promar programs and the channel covers their events.
Kossowski expressed interest in increasing the Promar's use
of USG programming and suggested that a 24-hour USG channel
would be beneficial for Promar and other regional stations.

7. (C) Lara's second largest television station,
Telecentro, which is owned by "Diario Hoy's" Montes de Oca
and Gimenez families, covers Lara, Yaracuy, Portuguesa,
Cojedes states and parts of Falcon and Trujillo. The
owners pride themselves in the station's balanced
reporting. Governor Reyes Reyes, pro-opposition Yaracuy
Governor Lapi, and Mayor Falcon have weekly programs on
Telecentro. Daily program, "Contrapunto" (counterpoint),
includes the views of pro-GOV and opposition participants.
State and local government ads are ample. UNICEF recently
awarded a prize to the station for its excellent children's
programs, said Montes de Oca. The worst enemy of the
opposition had been the biased national private media,
whose extreme stance against Chavez had served to fuel his
regime rather than discredit it, opined Montes de Oca
senior. The media should focus on the facts and restrict
its opinion to its editorial columns, he added.
Telecentro's biggest challenge was monetary; the channel
found the cost of access to international news feeds, such
as CNN, Reuters, or BBC too expensive for its budget. IO
gave the station details on access to Worldnet and AETN

The Challenges of Cable TV

8. (C) Media firm Intercable, with 70 percent U.S.
investment (Hicks News) and the remaining investment
primarily Argentine and Israeli, is struggling to survive
in the state as it expands its operations in Caracas and
other parts of Venezuela. Intercable President Mario
Seijas (who is also president of the National Radio and
Television Chamber and former Vice Minister of Agriculture
during the Ramon Velasquez government) noted that
Intercable's primary challenges are to obtain dollars from
the GOV exchange control agency, CADIVI, to pay its debt
and to compete with local and foreign cable firms, about
220 who operate illegally and who are not subject to
stringent U.S. IPR and other laws. (Note: Seijas claimed
that Colombian narco-dollars funded many of these illegal
firms. End Note.)

Frank Discussion with Radio Chamber

9. (C) In IO's meeting with thirteen members of the Lara-
Yaracuy Radio Chamber, including President Victor Ferrer

(O.K. FM 101.5),the members explained that representatives
from 33 of 36 licensed radio stations in the two states
belong to the Chamber. The 17 illegal stations and three
licensed pro-Chavez stations members did not participate,
explained Ferrer. An ironic touch was that, while licensed
stations were forced to broadcast President Chavez's and
other GOV nationally televised "cadenas," the illegal
stations, most of which were pro-Chavez were not. Illegal
stations were also exempt from paying taxes and licensing
fees, he added. Typical programming on some of the illegal
"community" stations, many which Ferrer alleged received
support from telecom regulatory agency CONATEL, included
instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails and to seize
a company's installations.

10. (C) Chamber members highlighted their frustration in
maintaining good relations with Governor Reyes Reyes.
Ferrer noted that during the only meeting the Chamber had
held with the Governor, Reyes Reyes had taken the
opportunity to blame the media for the rise in crime and
kidnappings and for provoking political violence.
(Comment: Intercable President Seijas told IO that the rash
of kidnappings in Lara had abated late last year after five
kidnappers were killed during the rescue of the daughter of
a wealthy rancher. Among the dead were two policemen, who
were reportedly the ringleaders and had a list of targeted
ranchers and their families, alleged Seijas. End Comment.)
Though attacks on radio stations were rare, two incidents
occurred in December 2002, one on FM 106 and the other on a
station in Lara's second largest city, El Tocuyo. To date,
the authorities had not investigated these cases. Ferrer
added that the lack of access to dollars through CADIVI
posed another challenge, but despite these threats and
limitations, the radio stations were determined to operate.

The CNP Keeps an Eye on Freedom of Expression

11. (C) According to Colegio Nacional de Periodistas
(CNP) Lara branch President Nolberto Herrera, a confessed
ex- Chavez militant, most Lara media outlets avoid direct
confrontation with the state and city governments, largely
out of monetary interests, as state and local governments
are the primary advertisers. Even so, occasionally the
state and local government would accuse private media of
waging a disinformation campaign against the Chavez regime
and his state and local government supporters in Lara.
That said, journalists usually had regular access to the
governor's and mayor's events, which enabled the media to
provide more balanced reporting. Threats against
journalists were more sporadic and less aggressive, e.g.,
graffiti against journalists or brief detentions and
inspections at police and military checkpoints, than those
occurring in Caracas, with a few exceptions (paras 6 and
8). In response to the state and local government's
passive-aggressive approach to local media, many
journalists wore bulletproof vests and practiced self-
censorship to avoid outright confrontation with the
government, explained Herrera.

12. (C) According to Herrera, government administrative
actions against the media were also less common in Lara
than in Caracas. The one prominent legal case was Lara
former state security chief (Ret.) Major Arnaldo Certain's
2002 defamation suit against "El Impulso's" managing
editor, Jose Angel Ocanto. During the March 11 meeting
with the CNP, news arrived of the local court's ruling in
favor of Ocanto for lack of evidence. "El Impulso's"
Carmona told IO that Ocanto had not accused Certain of
corruption and that he had merely compiled information from
a number of sources that linked Certain with acts of
corruption when Certain was director of Maiquetia
International Airport.

A Bit on Lara

13. (C) Located in central-northwest Venezuela and with a
population of around 800,000, Barquisimeto is the fourth
largest city in Venezuela. With a total population of over
1.5 million (according to 2001 census; current estimates

range from 1.8 million to over 2 million),Lara is the
fifth most populated state in the country. Lara serves as
a commercial, communications, transportation, and migration
crossroads for central and western Venezuela. Its economic
activities include small and medium manufacturing
industries, agriculture, and meat and dairy production.

Commercial, Industrial and Unemployment Woes

14. (C) Barquisimeto's wholesale foodstuffs center,
MERCABAR, serves as a distribution hub for western and
central Venezuela. Its industrial base has not been so
fortunate, however. Once a thriving center for small and
medium industries, the city's three industrial zones were
now on the verge of collapse, according to Chamber of
Commerce president Lino Palencia. He said that Lara's
unemployment was over 20 percent, and 40 percent of the
employed work in the informal sector. With the closing of
over 65 percent of the companies, many laborers had moved
to the informal sector to eke out a living. Others were
still working in the formal sector but only part time, he
explained. According to Radio Chamber members, high
unemployment and underemployment levels were exacerbated by
the government's hiring of thousands of temporary laborers
and teachers, who received no benefits and whose employment
continuity depended on their loyalty to the national,
state, and municipal governments. Workers were told that
if they signed the presidential recall petition, they would
lose their jobs, alleged Ferrer.

15. (C) The owner of a once-thriving foundry told IO that
he had reduced his employee pool from 45 workers to 10 in
the past two years. Yet he was fortunate to have an
industry that had survived; about two thirds of the firms
in his industrial park (Industrial Zone 1) had shut down,
he said. He described the zone as a ghost town, roads were
so rutted that the only access was by four-wheel drive;
electrical service was sporadic and one of the most
expensive in Venezuela. Leading U.S. firms, including
Nabisco and Proctor and Gamble, were also downsizing,
according to Chamber of Commerce board members. Proctor
and Gamble had reduced its presence and Nabisco was down to
half-day operations in comparison to three full shifts a
few years ago.

Lara: Laboratory for the Revolution

16. (C) A large number of Lara residents traditionally
supported leftist ideologies, according to "El Impulso's"
Carmona; thus initial support for Chavez was
understandable. With its governor and all nine mayors
belonging to pro-Chavez parties, Lara had become one of the
Chavez revolution's principal laboratories, opined Carmona,
a view echoed by a number of the other media interlocutors.
Over 350 Lara residents had already returned from social
worker training in Cuba; another 120 had recently departed
for Cuba, he said. Flights departed from the air base to
and from Cuba on a daily basis; the governor traveled
regularly to Havana. According to Carmona and Seijas,
about 3,500 Cubans were present in Lara; the Cubans worked
as medical practitioners, sports trainers, social workers,
and security advisers.

17. (C) FM radio station owner Gelly Del Moral, whose
daughter is married to one of Governor Reye's assistants,
and who had a particularly contentious interview with then
President-elect Chavez in December 1998, recounted an
incident that sheds light on the complexity of Lara's
political loyalties and affiliations. Police detained and
then jailed former Social Movement Party (MAS) Mayor
Macario Gonzalez for his participation in an anti-GOV
demonstration in early March. He told Del Moral that,
contrary to his fears the other prisoners would attack and
perhaps try to kill him, they welcomed him with open arms,
urging him to continue his fight against the Chavez regime.
Meanwhile, as Del Moral attempted to persuade the police to
release Gonazlez, several of the officers, even some with
"the stern semblance of chavistas," approached her and
confided that they opposed Chavez and respected her
journalistic efforts to challenge the government.

Political Inclinations

18. (C) Despite the prominence of Chavez loyalists in the
state and local governments, media owner Kossowski opined
that only about 10 to 12 percent of Lara's population was
die-hard pro-Chavez. He estimated that an additional 20 to
25 percent supported Chavez out of self-interest.
Unequivocal opposition support was probably less then 20
percent; the remainder of the population favored a regime
change but it was not convinced that the formal opposition
under the Democratic Coordinator (CD) had either the
leadership or the agenda to offer the population a viable
alternative that was neither chavista nor elitist. "El
Impulso's" Carmona decried the passive stance of most of
Lara's opposition, commenting that their idea of
participating in a march was at home seated comfortably in
front of a television, glass of scotch in hand.

19. (C) Local support for Governor Reyes Reyes had also
declined, according to Carmona; only around 44 percent of
the population favored the governor. Mayor Falcon's
support was around 68 percent, estimated Carmona, largely
because the mayor had beautified Barquisimeto; mere
cosmetic touches, but visible to the public eye. (Comment:
A July 2003 University Fermin Toro poll (1,470 respondents;
3.5 percent margin of error) conducted in the greater
Barquisimeto area, produced similar results to Carmona's
assertions. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said they
would vote against President Chavez in a recall referendum;
31 percent would support Chavez; and 9 percent were
undecided. About 59 percent either did not support or had
nothing positive to comment on Governor Reyes Reyes. Over
70 percent of the respondents either supported or had no
negative comment on Mayor Henri Falcon. End Note.)

Students - A New Force to Reckon With

20. (C) According to a number of interlocutors, almost 20
percent of Barquisimeto residents are students at one of
the city's eleven institutions of higher learning.
Barquisimeto has surpassed Merida as the country's leading
university city. (Note: Merida's Binational Center
Director estimates that about 26,000 students study at
Merida's principal university, the University of the Andes
(ULA) and that the city of Merida's population is about
250,000. End Note.) "El Impulso's" Carmona and Promar's
Kossowsky underscored what they termed the reawakening of
the city's university population following the late
February early March opposition and student demonstrations
and the especially brutal crackdown -- including assault,
unlawful detentions, torture, and murder -- on students in
Caracas and in Carabobo, Merida, Tachira, Zulia, and other
states. Following these incidents, students approached the
local media and requested a forum to express to views
against alleged GOV brutality. According to Carmona,
Kossowsky, and other media owners, media outlets were now
printing student articles and interviewing student leaders
on talk shows. "El Impulso's" March 8 editorial was
titled, "Youth's Triumphant Return," in recognition of
student protests against the National Electoral Council's
(CNE) alleged theft of the Venezuelan people's right to
conduct a recall referendum against President Chavez.
Venezuelan university student participation in Venezuela's
political process would turn the tide in favor of the
opposition, predicted Carmona.


21. (C) Notwithstanding its relatively tranquil facade,
Lara's media and other sectors have not been immune to
political confrontations and tensions. On March 15,
Molotov cocktails were lobbed at pro-opposition Democratic
Action Party (AD) headquarters in Barquisimeto.
Retaliatory threats against government workers who signed
the presidential recall petition are also commonplace.
According to the Radio Chamber, Reyes Reyes has threatened

to fire 18 state-run electrical company (ENELBAR) mid and
upper-management employees, who had signed the recall
petition unless they retract their signatures. Though
nominally a pro-Chavez state, much of the loyalty in Lara
appears to be merely "employment-deep," driven in part by
economic interests rather than a commitment to Chavez's
Bolivarian revolution. With a large and increasingly
active university student population, recently awakened to
the country's political crisis and by the targeting of
students by GOV security forces, student partnership with
the private media suggests Lara's days of relative calm may
be numbered. End Comment.