Journalists covering the humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela face arrest and detention as former President Nicolás Maduro escalates his crackdown on press freedom.
Already this year, 39 journalists have been arrested or detained, up from 22 in all of 2018, according to the group Committee to Protect Journalists. But the spike in arrests is only one example of the dangers journalists face when covering the deteriorating conditions in Venezuela.
Reporters Without Borders, which supports press freedom worldwide, calls the climate for journalists in Venezuela “extremely tense” and says reporters face harassment, “arbitrary arrests and violence.”
The Caracas-based Institute for Press and Society says Maduro “is trying to intimidate and demobilize journalists” and that “reporting in Venezuela has become a much riskier activity.”
On this 26th World Press Freedom Day, journalists face mounting danger reporting in Venezuela, where 115 news organizations have closed since Maduro came to power in 2013.
The following journalists have endured detention and harassment in their efforts to shine a light on the former Maduro regime. Though some have been deported or fled fearing reprisal, others continue their work in spite of the risks.
Luis Carlos Díaz was arrested and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officials on March 11 as he biked home from the radio station where he works. Agents searched Díaz’s home and seized phones, money and computer equipment as he watched helplessly. He was detained for 30 hours, and government officials have accused him, without evidence, of public instigation. While awaiting trial, he is forbidden to leave Venezuela or discuss his case.
Jorge Ramos, a television anchor with the American Spanish-language network Univision, was deported on February 26 following a contentious interview of Maduro. Ramos says he asked the former president about human rights violations and his denials of widespread suffering in the country. Maduro ended the interview when Ramos showed him a video of children searching through trash looking for food.
“He stood up in the middle of our conversation and his security agents confiscated our television cameras, the memory cards and our cell phones,” Ramos said in a February 27 editorial. “Yes, Mr. Maduro stole the interview so nobody could watch it.”
Elyangelica Gonzalez, a reporter for Univision and Caracol Radio in Colombia, was covering a protest in Caracas in March 2017 when Venezuelan National Guard officers attacked her. Video of the incident shows a dozen uniformed officers surrounding Gonzalez and dragging her across the ground. “I explained that I had press credentials and that I was on air, but another officer came and ripped the phone from my hands,” Gonzalez said. “The female officer grabbed me by my hair, knocked me to the ground, and began kicking me repeatedly.”
Alberto Ravell is a Venezuelan journalist who founded and led media outlets in Venezuela such as Globovisión, Televen, Angostura Radio, Radio Canaima and La Patilla. In 2011, Ravell was forced to leave Venezuela, primarily because of Globovisión’s coverage of the government and threats from Diosdado Cabello, current president of the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly.
Cabello sued La Patilla and others for defamation in 2015. In September 2018, he announced that he had won the lawsuit and demanded fines and a public retractions from all three outlets. La Patilla has not paid the fine or issued a public retraction, and Ravell has publicly accused Cabello of using his power to annihilate the independent media in Venezuela.
Though still in exile, in April 2019 Ravell was designated director of the newly formed Center of National Communication, created by Venezuela’s democratically elected National Assembly and interim President Juan Guaidó.
Joseph Poliszuk is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Armando.info, a news website dedicated to investigative journalism, and is a recipient of the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award. He leads a team of reporters who have produced major investigations revealing financial misdeeds and corruption in Venezuela and conducted transnational investigations.
Over the years, Venezuelan security forces have detained, threatened and harassed Poliszuk, most recently in the form of personal attacks from an anonymous Twitter account. In 2017, Poliszuk and three colleagues were forced to flee the country after Armando.info published a report revealing irregularities in the importation of food, implicating a businessman with ties to the former Maduro regime. Poliszuk is still in exile.
Miguel Otero, the editor of El Nacional, says limits on paper and ink forced the country’s last nationally circulating independent paper to halt printing after 75 years. Otero and his reporters have faced harassment, and he has lived outside the country for several years. He sees the shortages as an opportunity to expand the paper’s digital presence.
El Nacional is going to publish the headline “Venezuela returns to democracy,” Otero has said. “They will not be able to make us disappear.”
This article was written by freelance writer David Reynolds.