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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09CARACAS760 2009-06-17 21:34:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

DEATH OF A STUDENT ACTIVIST

Tags:   PGOV KDEM VE 
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1. (C) Summary: The killing June 13 of a student activist
from the opposition Primero Justicia (PJ) party has become a
highly-charged political issue. The United Socialist Party
of Venezuela (PSUV) mayor of the municipality where the death
occurred has alleged that his predecessor and political
rival, a member of the opposition Podemos party, was
involved. The opposition has unified in protest and called
on the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
(GBRV) to conduct an unbiased investigation into the murder.
The Ministry of Justice has announced it arrested a suspect
but, as of June 17, has refused to divulge the name. End
Summary.



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THE CASE


--------------------------





2. (SBU) 31-year-old PJ student activist, Jonathan Rivas,
was shot and killed June 13 in front of the tiny rural Tigre
municipality's police station in Anzoategui State, quickly
generating front-page news coverage. Earlier in the day,
Rivas had been involved in an opposition display of support
for the Globovision media outlet. After three of his fellow
protesters were arrested for spraying graffiti, he went with
a crowd to the Tigre police station to call for their
release. Counter-protesters soon arrived and a melee broke
out between the groups. Around 5pm, shots were fired from an
unknown assailant that resulted in the death of Rivas and the
injury of another protester.



3. (SBU) The current Chavista mayor of Tigre, Carlos
Hernandez, told state-owned Venezolana TV (VTV)'s "Dando y
Dando" broadcast that the fatal shots had been fired from a
car allegedly belonging to his predecessor, Ernesto
Paraqueima, who is the secretary general of Podemos (a small
leftist party that broke from its earlier coalition with
Chavez) for Anzoategui State. Minister of Justice Tarek El
Aissami contended June 15 that the author of the murder was
"plainly known" and said that the state was gathering the
evidence required to issue an arrest warrant. He asserted
that "with these results we want to demonstrate to the
country the swiftness and responsibility with which we have
acted and the disposition of the Bolivarian government to
attend to any violent act." On June 16, police raided former
mayor Paraqueima's house but did not find any criminal
evidence, according to the family's lawyer. Local press
announced the same day that police had arrested a murder
suspect, but refused to release the name.



4. (SBU) According to the PSUV Governor of Anzoategui,
Tarek Saab, the opposition protesters had also been trying to
liberate Paraqueima's father from the police station -- who
had also been arrested during the opposition protest -- and
started throwing rocks and bottles. Local press indicate
that Paraqueima himself suffered a head injury during the
confrontation, and his lawyer blamed the Tigre municipal
police for allowing the violence to continue "under their
protection" for upwards of 45 minutes.



--------------------------


OPPOSITION CALLS FOR JUSTICE


--------------------------





5. (SBU) All the opposition heavyweights gathered in front
of the Public Ministry in Caracas on June 15 to call for an
"impartial investigation" of the murder, including Ismael
Garcia (Podemos), Henry Ramos Allup (Accion Democratica),
Luis Ignacio Planas (Copei), Tomas Guanipa (PJ), and Omar
Barboza (Un Nuevo Tiempo). Mayor of Greater Caracas Antonio
Ledezma was also in attendance. They denounced the GBRV's
"campaign of harassment" against opposition political parties
and opposition governance, and the obfuscation of the Rivas
case. PJ representatives called for a nationwide protest in
front of state public ministries.



6. (SBU) PJ president Julio Borges told the press that he
wanted justice for Rivas, as well as for Zulia student
activist Flavia Araujo who died in 2007. He also added
Miranda State AN Deputy Alberto Crisafi, who died as a result
of criminal violence in 2008, to the list. PJ spokeswoman
Alicia Figueroa added that "we are tired that each time there
is an injury or death among people who protest for
democracy...the government says that we are the ones who
provoked it."

CARACAS 00000760 002.3 OF 002





7. (SBU) In his initial statement to the press, Governor
Saab had related that Rivas's mother had contacted to ask
that her son's name not be used for "political ends," and
then emphasized that Rivas was a student -- rather than
opposition -- activist. Later that day, Figueroa countered
Governor Saab's assertions that Rivas had quit PJ, contending
that he was a youth member of PJ and a founder of the party's
branch in Tigre. Borges appeared on Venevision June 16 and
echoed Figueroa that Rivas was "a founder of the party" but
said that "whether he was or wasn't a (party) militant, we're
talking about seeing justice done."



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





8. (C) Lamentably, student deaths in Venezuela are not
unheard of but this incident has generated an unusual amount
of press and political attention. The Minister of Justice
went on TV within 48 hours and the opposition has shown unity
in reacting to Rivas's death. Student leaders occupy a
uniquely esteemed position among Venezuelans all along the
political spectrum, and the death of an activist during an
anti-government protest could prove symbolic for other youth
leaders and their families, who have expressed mounting
concern to us about the possibility of pacific protests
escalating into fatal violence. Until the GBRV moves forward
with releasing the suspect's name and other details of the
investigation, it is unclear whether this will remain a
rallying point for the opposition or be overshadowed by other
news events. End Comment.
CAULFIELD