CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan electoral officials have ordered off the air a political ad that depicts the murder of a young man to highlight concerns about crime.
The opposition party Popular Will, which paid for the television ad, on Thursday criticized the decision by the National Electoral Council, calling it a violation of free speech. The party supports Henrique Capriles, who is running against President Hugo Chavez in the country's Oct. 7 election.
The ad shows a young man who is set to graduate from university, and his mother filled with joy seeing him at their home in a poor neighborhood. Then the young man goes out into the street and is gunned down.
The video does not actually show the man being shot, but shows his mother's horrified reaction as she watches from the window, then her cup shattering and spilling coffee on the floor.
Afterward, as the woman holds her son's body in her arms in the street, the slogan "Security is the way" flashes on the screen. The ad can be seen on the party's YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/UKDsZltiTYY .
Electoral council president Tibisay Lucena announced the decision on Wednesday, saying the ad apparently violates electoral law and was taken off the air as a precautionary measure while officials carry out a probe.
Lucena insisted the electoral council is not acting as a censor, but simply upholding campaign rules.
Party leader Carlos Vecchio told reporters that the ad "reflects the reality of the country." He called it a matter of free speech and accused the electoral council of acting as a "censor."
Chavez's campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, said the advertisement violates a broadcast law that includes provisions regulating violent content.
Capriles has made crime a top issue in the campaign and has pledged to improve police forces and reduce violence.
Venezuela's official murder rate stood at 50 per 100,000 people last year, making it one of the most violent countries in Latin America and the world. Murder rates have more than doubled since 1998, when Chavez was first elected.
In polls, Venezuelans regularly cite violence as their top concern.
"Venezuela has the highest homicide rate of any country in South America, and the murder rate has gone up substantially in the last decade of Chavez's rule. So the crisis of citizen security would be an obvious and legitimate issue for the opposition to focus on," said Cynthia Arnson, an analyst at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
"That said, overt depictions of violence for political gain manipulate people's deepest fears and sharpen the polarization that Venezuela needs to overcome - and that the opposition has for the most part taken pains to avoid," Arnson said Friday.
The dispute over the ad also reflects opposition complaints of a pro-government bias within the National Electoral.
Four of the five members of the council are either Chavez allies or perceived as favoring the president. The National Assembly, where Chavez backers have long held a majority, appoints the council members, who include a former congresswoman from Chavez's party and a former minister in his Cabinet. Rodriguez, the council's former chief, is now Chavez's campaign manager.
Lucena has insisted the electoral council is independent and balanced. It has previously announced probes into alleged campaign violations by both camps, including accusations that the state TV channel has run campaign ads of its own accord.
The council also has largely ignored opposition complaints that Chavez is hogging campaign airtime and abusing his presidential authority by regularly forcing all Venezuelan TV and radio stations to interrupt programming for his marathon speeches.
But the council's officials have taken issue with Capriles' frequent use of a baseball cap emblazoned with the colors of Venezuela's flag, saying it violates regulations that prohibit the use of the colors in electoral propaganda.
Capriles has defied the council by continuing to wear the cap, insisting that he is respecting campaign rules.
The yellow, blue and red caps have become hot-selling items at Capriles' campaign events.