Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto
While most public attention in Venezuela is still on the attempt by the CLAP faction to seize control of the National Assembly, the recent announcement from Juan Guaidó regarding the future of the international news channel Telesur has gone under the radar, perceived at first glance as just a symbolic gesture.
Guaidó named a new commission to “recover” the channel, appointing newsman Leopoldo Castillo as chairman, while journalist Larissa Patiño serves as general coordinator. Castillo is better known as the former host of Aló Ciudadano, the flagship program of Globovisión between 2002 and 2013, back when the channel was openly opposed to the comandante eterno. That changed with its sale in 2013; Castillo quit on the air and the show was off the airwaves.
The caretaker President’s idea looks hard to execute, until you consider this article from AP’s Joshua Goodman.
It all comes down to American telecommunications giant AT&T, which controls the largest provider of satellite TV in Venezuela.
It all comes down to American telecommunications giant AT&T, which controls the largest provider of satellite TV in Venezuela, DirecTV (through its subsidiary, Vrio). According to AP’s report, the U.S. government wants international DirecTV channels taken off Venezuela’s grid by chavismo (like CNN en Español) to return to their programming.
AT&T now faces a catch-22:
“Comply with a Maduro regime that the U.S. government no longer recognizes and has heavily sanctioned, or go along with the opposition’s plan and risk seizure of its installations and the loss of its license on which some 700 Venezuelans depend for employment…”
As experts told AP, the actual chances that DirecTV will carry on with this plan are limited and in the scenario that it backfires, the country ends up more isolated from the world. AT&T would like to protect its assets and market share in Venezuela, despite suffering losses in recent years.
Goodman’s report also indicates that the U.S. strategy goes further and mentions the previous times Washington created media outlets to push against political foes, like Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, and Radio/TV Marti against the Castros in Cuba. A case unmentioned by AP is Alhurra, the Arabic news channel created by the Bush administration in 2004, to cover the Middle East as a counterweight to Al-Jazeera. Those three outlets are still functional under the umbrella of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, an independent government agency (they were under the State Department until 1999).
The overall plan means to replace Telesur with a brand new channel which will operate from Miami, “with support of the U.S. government.”
Leopoldo Castillo confirmed to Voice of America that the overall plan means to replace Telesur with a brand new channel which will operate from Miami, “with support of the U.S. government and the democratic governments of Latin America.”
Telesur began operating in 2005, as Hugo Chávez’s response to the way international media covered him and his “revolution.” With his passing in 2013, and the ongoing crisis that plagues his successor, Telesur has felt the crunch and former partners, like Argentina and Ecuador, no longer support the station. Even one of the people involved in its creation, Uruguayan intellectual Aram Aharorian, recognized the channel’s many faults.
Last year, Telesur’s coverage of demonstrations in Ecuador against Lenin Moreno, or the fall of Evo Morales in Bolivia, provoked its removal off the air in both countries (in Ecuador, it was quickly restored). Uruguay could leave the channel once Luis Alberto LaCalle Pou assumes as President on March 1st. He pledged it on his campaign.
The channel has also been deliberately misrepresenting Venezuela for years: Last year, I wrote about its efforts to blame the March national blackout on a cyber-attack, later saying that the U.S. humanitarian aid was poisoned, with little or no evidence to back any of this up. And even when their claims are proven false, they refuse to correct them at all.
The Telesur stand-off puts the spotlight on the alarming situation of press freedom in Venezuela. 2019 was a harsh year for journalists and outlets that don’t toe the official line… and the latest attacks against reporters in the last few days is already a bad omen for 2020.