Venezuelan lawmaker warns opposition to steer clear of Chavez strongholds

El Nacional newspaper published a photo of what it said was the weekend shooting at Maria Corina Machado's campaign event.

Story highlights

  • Lawmaker: Opposition candidate Machado's event provoked gunfire
  • Freddy Bernal, a close Chavez ally, says the ruling party has no need to resort to violence
  • Machado accuses the Venezuelan government of being complicit with criminals
  • A pro-democracy advocate says the government should condemn the attack

As a Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate said she would demand an investigation of a weekend shooting at a campaign event, one ruling party lawmaker had a different take: The candidate should have seen the violence coming.

Rep. Freddy Bernal, a former Caracas mayor and close ally of President Hugo Chavez, told El Universal newspaper that Maria Corina Machado and other opposition candidates should steer clear of Chavez strongholds.

"They know that they're not going to have any votes there. They know that nobody votes for them there, that they are not wanted. So what are they going to do there?" Bernal said, according to the newspaper.

The Caracas-based daily published his comments two days after gunshots sent Machado and her supporters scrambling at an event Saturday. Machado's campaign told CNN en Español Monday that the opposition candidate plans to file a formal complaint with investigators Tuesday.

A video purporting to show the shooting on YouTube shows the candidate addressing residents and reporters shortly after she threw the first pitch in a softball game. Thirty seconds into the roughly 50-second clip, several gunshots ring out; people scatter. Some board a bus while a voice in the video shouts: "Go, go, go!"

Separately, El Nacional newspaper published a photo of what it said was the shooting, showing two people on a motorcycle. Wearing a red T-shirt, the man on the back is pointing a gun at a bus.

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the images, which were also posted on the candidate's website.

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Speaking to CNN en Español shortly after the attack, Machado blamed "criminal gangs" for the shooting and accused the government of providing some groups with weapons.

"The government has absolutely lost control and, in many cases, has been complicit with the criminal gangs," she said.

Venezuela's information and justice ministries have not responded to CNN's requests for comment on the shooting.

Bernal told El Universal that Machado's visit to the neighborhood in eastern Caracas -- a Chavez stronghold and one of the city's most dangerous areas -- was a "provocation."

But he said the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela has no need to intimidate opponents with violence.

"We have no reason to do that. We are training people, working and educating them, in peace, democracy and tranquility," he said, according to the newspaper.

"We will not resort to provocations, because we are winning this game," he added, arguing that Chavez has a clear lead in polls. "Chaos, provocation, destabilization and violence are convenient for the opposition."

Machado, a 44-year-old representative in Venezuela's National Assembly, is one of several presidential candidates who will participate in a primary election next year. The winner will be the unity opposition candidate to run against Chavez.

Roberto Abdul, president of the board of directors of Sumate -- a Venezuela-based pro-democracy organization that Machado helped found -- said Saturday's shooting was a troubling sign of Venezuela's security problems.

"Violence against any citizen is condemnable. Political violence also must be condemned. ... I think that the government, given that (Machado) is a federal lawmaker, should respond," he said, noting that Machado had stepped down from her role as a leader of Sumate when she became a lawmaker and is no longer affiliated with the organization.

Candidates from all political parties should be able to campaign safely, he said.

"If they think that the opposition doesn't have support, that's even more of a reason that they should be allowed to freely campaign," he said. "We cannot by any means allow the use of violence to be a (campaign) mechanism. ... They don't have control of the violence, or they are controlling it selectively."