Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 20 urged the country’s general prosecutor, Luis Ortega Diaz, to investigate reports by opposition groups about water pollution in the wake of two recent oil spills, saying claims that Caracas’ water supply was at risk were false and constituted “acts of terrorism.”
Recent statements on the issue of water quality by the opposition and Henrique Salas, governor of the central state of Carabobo, site of a recent oil spill, were an “elevated act of irresponsibility which borders the criminal,” Chavez said.
One day later, Ortega Diaz said his ministry had launched an investigation into “communications circulating in some media referring to the alleged contamination of the water of the country.”
Ortega Diaz said statements regarding water pollution “must now be supported by a scientific study elaborated by a laboratory, center of investigation or team of experts.”
The authorities claim this is not an attempt to censor the press, but rather to ensure that truthful information is being provided to the public.
Claims about contamination of the water supply “scare the population, generate fear, panic and uncertainty and can generate a mass hysteria,” the general prosecutor warned.
At his urging, the courts have issued a prohibition on “communicating information related to the pollution of water that does not have a truthful scientific support.”
Following the spills in Lake Valencia, Carabobo state, and in Monaguas state, the safety of drinking water supply has become one of the top issues in the country.
Monaguas Spill-Zone was “Militarized” and Journalists Excluded
After February’s Monaguas pipeline explosion, OOSKAnews (24 February) reported allegations that clean-up activities in the region were being poorly executed and that news of the event was being limited.
“Locals in the area were hired to remove the oil from the river in buckets without the proper clothing and precautions,” a local observer said.
The spill zone “is militarized and journalists cannot go in,” she told OOSKAnews, warning that “the problem is very serious and it can last for months before the service is re-established to normal.”
Despite a Public Ministry injunction to “limit” all water-related press reports, environmentalists, scientists and political organizations in the country continue to voice concerns about water pollution. Local media have continued to run stories quoting sources who say the government is censoring the press and that the health of the population is involved.
“What the opposition wants is to privatize the water in the country,” said Environment Minister Alejandro Hitcher.
He said the country’s water quality was certified officially by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
“We guarantee to our people the potability of all our waters in our treatment plants, at the national level. All the diagnostics on the redistribution in Valencia, Naguanagua and all the [other] municipalities indicated water of perfect quality,” he added.
On March 15, the environment ministry announced that 27 million people in the country -- 96 percent of the population -- have access to drinking water, putting the country on track to surpass the UN Millennium Development Goals targets.