Opponents accused President Hugo Chavez of trying to silence his critics today after associates of Lech Walesa said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate would not attend a pro-democracy forum in Venezuela.
Piotr Gulczynski, head of the Warsaw-based Lech Walesa Institute, said Walesa decided to skip this week’s conference organised by anti-Chavez university students. He said Poland’s foreign ministry informed him that Venezuela could not guarantee his security before November 23 governorship and local elections.
Poland’s ambassador to Venezuela, Krzysztof Jacek Hinz, was quoted by the Polish News Agency as saying that Venezuela’s foreign ministry told him it “saw no possibility of making sure the visit would be given proper attention” due to the “difficult situation ahead of the elections”.
Mr Gulczynski told Poland’s TVN24 television channel it was “a sign that they do not want him (Mr Walesa) there”.
“We can safely say that the conference taking place there is not to the liking of the Venezuelan authorities,” Mr Gulczynski said. “The conference is largely organised by the opposition.”
During a brief interview broadcast on Venezuelan state television, deputy foreign minister for Europe Alejandro Fleming denied Mr Walesa was unwelcome in Venezuela. He did not address the issue of Mr Walesa’s security.
Mr Walesa has been critical of Mr Chavez in the past, calling the former lieutenant colonel a “demagogue”.
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez claimed the government did not try to facilitate Mr Walesa’s visit because Mr Chavez wanted “to silence his detractors”.
Mr Walesa led a strike in 1980 that grew into a nationwide movement against Poland’s Communist Party authorities, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. In 1989, the movement toppled Poland’s regime and Mr Walesa served as the country’s president from 1990-95.