Photo: Pulso Venezolano retrieved

Swedish journalist Annika H. Rothstein found a surprise after arriving at Maiquetia Airport on April 18. While she was on the immigration stand, she was taken away by security officers and was quickly told that she was being deported immediately. Then, she was put on a flight to Paris. It was a surprise for Rothstein, who had been covering our crisis for The Daily Beast for weeks. After landing in France, she offered her account to France-based freelance journalist Sarai Suarez.

Sadly, her case isn’t an anomaly, but just the latest in a trend of foreign correspondents being kicked out of the country. Here at CC we have our share of articles about some of those incidents.

Until a few years ago, they didn’t have many problems to come here. But as the effects of the crisis affecting us are more visible than ever along with the accompanying political standoff, the hegemony is now hypersensitive to roaming media crews who could jeopardize their narrative.

Venezuela, unlike other nations in the region, does not have a (specific) journalist’s visa. Instead, those correspondents must work with a set of norms, several of them of administrative nature and prone to a functionary’s discretion.

One of the excuses that the government constantly uses to justify those actions is the alleged violation of our laws and that reporters didn’t have the visa in place to work here. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza used that argument in response to Rothstein’s deportation.

But Maracaibo journalist Jesus Urbina (who recently wrote an article here) dismissed Arreaza’s claims by indicating that both the Migration Law and Journalism Law already allowed the labor of international correspondents in Venezuela with no need for additional paperwork.

In the end, what is the true legal framework for foreign media to come here and do their work?

“Venezuela, unlike other nations in the region, does not have a (specific) journalist’s visa. Instead, those correspondents must work with a set of norms, several of them of administrative nature and prone to a functionary’s discretion,” said Humberto Márquez, a correspondent for multiple outlets. He’s the secretary of the Association of Foreign Reporters in Venezuela (APEX).

Article 17 of the Migration Law doesn’t require all foreign media workers for a workers’ permit. Instead, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MinCI) asks them to provide documentation in order to get either a correspondent credential (long-term work) or a special envoy (short-term). The former can be requested only to the MinCI while the latter can be asked for in a consulate.

According to Márquez, that credential was used for those correspondents to work in Venezuela. But that has become complicated: “Since five years ago, those credentials are not given to all those accredited.” And for those trying to obtain special envoy credentials, Venezuelan consulates don’t act with urgency, forcing them to take chances and use tourist visas instead.

The issue of administrative inaction of Venezuelan public offices isn’t isolated for journalists. A recent consequence of the migrant exodus around Latin America is that countries like Paraguay and Chile have recently admitted the use of expired Venezuelan IDs (cédulas) and passports.

But there is another catch: the Journalist Law (Ley del Ejercicio del Periodismo) establishes that foreign media reporters have to register themselves to the National Journalists Guild (CNP), under its Article 7. This was confirmed to CC by CNP’s Secretary-General Del Valle Canelón.

“The government is doing a bad legal interpretation to indicate that the MinCI’s accreditation is the only one allowed for international journalists… MinCI’s permits are for access to State’s sources and events only.”

For Márquez, these restrictions not only affect media workers but also their audiences abroad.

Even if the CNP recommends that international media still gets MinCI’s papers in order to avoid trouble, the guild insists that it is the one who should be in charge of the process. It recognizes that the State still has the prerogative of allowing people into the country, but that all journalistic-related matters inside Venezuela are legally entitled to the CNP. The guild already established its own procedure for international media outlets that want to cover the Venezuelan crisis.

Leaving technicalities aside, what’s really clear is the hegemony’s intent with this obstruction.

Canelón considers it a direct form of censorship, as Nicolás Maduro wants to stop negative coverage. The CNP is concerned with the harsh government restrictions on foreign reporters.

For Márquez, these restrictions not only affect media workers but also their audiences abroad.

“It influences the global comprehension of Venezuela’s issues and problems and joins into the trend established by governments inside and outside the region (Latin America) of putting into media outlets and especially to journalists, responsibility into matters which are supposed to be managed by states.”

In the big picture, this is one part of the larger paradigm of repression against the free press in Venezuela that we’ve witnessed in the last few years. And now, our overseas colleagues know.

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