The Regime Launched a General Attack on What’s Left of Free Press

Even after the PR fiasco of Univision’s Jorge Ramos detention, the official pressure against the remains of free press continues both in Caracas and the countryside. Blocking Internet, closing radio stations and harassing correspondents is the new normal.

Photo: El Heraldo, retrieved.

The detention of Univision main news anchor, Jorge Ramos, and his crew in Miraflores Palace for several hours on February 25th while interviewing Nicolás Maduro, has put once again the spotlight on the terrible state of press freedom in the country.

Ramos shared the details in an op-ed for the New York Times, closing it with a challenge: “What is Mr. Maduro so afraid of? He should release the interview for the world to see. If he does not, all he has proved is that he’s behaving exactly like a dictator.”

But even in the face of global condemnation, new cases of repression against journalists and media keep occurring: while covering the Univision crew exit from their Caracas hotel the following morning, journalist Daniel Garrido, correspondent for U.S. Spanish-speaking network Telemundo, was taken away by alleged SEBIN agents and held for several hours. He was later freed and his work materials, like those of Univision, were stolen.

According to Telemundo, this isn’t the first time Garrido’s been attacked while doing his job.

But the pressure isn’t confined to the capital. In the Venezuelan heartland, a radio station was closed days after one mayor publicly told them to change their tune or face the consequences.

The man in the center of the video is José Rivas, the chavista mayor of Tinaco (Cojedes). On February 18th, he posted this video on Instagram, threatening the station:

“To the owner of this station, I recommend that you check who you have there. I’m here and you have not opened yet but I’m here and I’m everywhere. Now you know. Put your eye on that station or the same thing that happened in Yaracuy is gonna happen to you. Be careful.

I don’t want to close down here in Cojedes. Be careful. Check your line-up of journalists. I’m just telling you that. God be with you brother. Greetings.”

Rivas was referring to fellow Rumbera Network station 106.5 FM in San Felipe, Yaracuy. Days earlier, a group of CONATEL officials and security forces took their transmission items.

More than a week after the video went public, people from CONATEL came to visit Rumbera 94.7 FM to do an inspection and ask for documents. 24 hours later, the station was shut down.

This only increases the disinformation in Cojedes, one of the ten Venezuelan states in which no local newspapers are currently available, according to a report published earlier this month by the specialized NGO Espacio Público.

With traditional media under the hegemony’s thumb, the internet is the escape valve left for news, but state-ordered blocks against websites and social networks are now more frequent.  Twitter and Soundcloud were affected for hours after Juan Guaidó released an audio message to explain his latest actions and his future return to Venezuela; and the sites of newspapers 2001 and Meridiano were blocked by CANTV as well.

For those reporting here in recent years, this kind of abusive behavior is the norm. The cases of Jorge Ramos or the journalists attacked by paramilitary groups last weekend while covering events in both borders with Colombia and Brazil are part of the larger strategy of silence put in place by the state’s communicational hegemony.