Come Report in Venezuela (And Be Jailed For It)

Even if Venezuela isn’t as much in the headlines as it used to be, the hegemony still isn’t cozy with foreign reporters poking their noses around the country.

Earlier this year, right at the time when Venezuela was thrust onto the spotlight of global news coverage, I wrote about how the government decided to make it difficult (if not impossible) for foreign correspondents to work. But even now, as our political situation drastically changed and international attention waned, such pressure obstinately remains.

The following video (courtesy of the National Press Workers’ Union, or SNTP) shows three journalists released by a court, after spending the weekend detained.

Authorities caught Italian Roberto Di Matteo, Swiss national Filippo Rossi and Venezuelan Jesús Medina inside the infamous Tocorón Prison, in Aragua State, and accused them of illegally introducing equipments into the facility. The journalists said that they were allowed inside without objections.

The SNTP, NGO Foro Penal Venezolano and the local chapters of the journalists’ guild (CNP) and the lawyers’ guild (Colegio de Abogados) rushed to provide legal assistance, resulting in their eventual release last Sunday. The arrest of DiMatteo and Rossi made headlines on Italian and Swiss media, respectively. Medina works for notorious website Dolar Today.

The Foreign Press Association in Venezuela (APEX) released a written statement about the Tocorón incident, stating that they “reject the harassment and detention of journalists as a mechanism of intimidation against the press, and regret that our colleagues were deprived of their freedom…”

Later on Monday, Tocorón Prison was the stage of an armed attack against members of the forensic police CICPC, who were just passing by, leaving three agents wounded and a burned patrol car. So much for the notion that outside reporters are a bigger threat than Tocorón’s own inmates.  

This latest incident with correspondents could be dismissed as a mishap, except its not. It’s part of a continuing pattern of State harassment against foreign correspondents, which includes being summarily turned back at the airport, or spending days arbitrarily retained.

Last month, another international reporter went through a similar situation in South Venezuela. National Guard soldiers arrested Dutch freelance journalist Bram Ebus, his driver and two local human rights activists, and took them to a military base in Caicara del Orinoco. All four were released without charges the following day. Ebus made the news public through this message:

Mr. Ebus has written for different media outlets about environmental issues in Colombia and Venezuela, he recently addressed the grave consequences of the Orinoco Mining Arc for Earth Island Journal and reported on the spike of malaria in Guayana for Al Jazeera.

The writing’s on the wall: the government is still very uncomfortable with reporters going around the country and documenting a reality that shatters their narrative. After all, the sad state of our prison system and the huge implications of a mining project that could cause irreparable damage to the environment are the opposite of what they want to present, stuff like “We got a new (Chinese) satellite on space!”

And it ain’t better for local journalists either. After the uproar over the Pastor Oropeza photos, the government thinks that one arrest and more security will solve everything.

True socialist egalitarianism. In Revolution, there’s no preference: all journalists are equally dangerous, ergo, equally targeted.