LatinNews Daily - 10 February 2022

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VENEZUELA: Further threats against leading newspaper after ‘theft’ of HQ

On 9 February the vice president of Venezuela’s ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, demanded further compensation from national daily El Nacional following a much-criticised court ruling which handed him the paper’s headquarters in response to a defamation claim.

Analysis:

El Nacional is one of the last major Venezuelan media outlets that regularly and openly criticises President Nicolás Maduro’s administration. Its headquarters were seized by the national guard last May following a widely-condemned supreme court (TSJ) ruling that ordered the paper to pay Cabello 237,000 petros (a cryptocurrency introduced in 2018), equivalent to US$13.2m, in damages for an article linking Cabello to drug trafficking.

  • The handover of El Nacional’s offices to Cabello, which took place on 7 February, was part of a US$13.2m damages claim that Cabello won in April 2021. The case stems from an article that El Nacional printed in 2015, which was republished from Spanish newspaper ABC, in which a former bodyguard of Cabello accused him of drug trafficking. The paper’s offices were seized by the national guard in May last year in response to the court ruling, and have remained in state hands ever since.
  • Yesterday, Cabello claimed on his weekly television programme ‘Con el Mazo Dando’ that El Nacional still owes him more money to reach the US$13.2m figure. Cabello said that “because you still owe me… I think I will now go after [El Nacional’s] website.” The newspaper has been online-only since 2018 due to ink and paper shortages in Venezuela.
  • The transfer of the paper’s offices to Castillo was denounced by international press freedom lobbies, with Jorge Canahuati, the president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), slamming it on 7 February as “the robbery of the century from independent journalism.” Yesterday, Scott Griffen, deputy director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), said that “the transfer of El Nacional’s headquarters to Diosdado Cabello is a ridiculous and shocking conclusion to years of harassment and persecution against this newspaper.”

Looking Ahead: Following the court order, Venezuela’s opposition coalition Plataforma Unitaria has repeated its calls for a sweeping reform of the justice system, releasing a statement on 7 February denouncing the “judicial heist” and demanding that government-opposition negotiations resume in Mexico to discuss changes to the judiciary.

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