Venezuelan Government Cracks Down On Media Reporting

CNN’s Spanish-language service in Venezuela has been shut down after President Nicolás Maduro accused the broadcaster of “meddling in Venezuelan affairs.” The closure comes as US-Venezuela tension worsens, after the US Department of the Treasury ordered sanctions against Vice President Tareck El Aisammi, accusing him of drug trafficking and links to terrorists in the Middle East. Venezuela is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis, with inflation in triple digits, as well as shortages of food and basic goods. Maduro’s government blames the US for waging an “economic war,” but opponents accuse Maduro of poor governance and bad economic management.

This latest move comes after the closure of the Colombian-based news outlet, NTN24, and a revocation of CNN press passes in 2014. Furthermore, two Brazilian journalists investigating a trafficking ring, in which Venezuelan leaders are implicated, were detained over the weekend. Opposition media outlets have also found their independence restricted by the government, such as through a restriction on newsprint supply. This order represents another restriction against the freedom of the press in the troubled country.

In an explanatory statement released on 15 February, the National Telecommunications Commission accused the channel’s coverage of being “direct aggressions against the peace and democratic stability of the country,” which is “generating an “environment of intolerance,” “defaming Venezuela,” and “distorting the truth.” The closure was announced after CNN aired a story alleging Venezuelan passports were being sold to Middle Eastern citizens. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez called the story an “absolute lie” and accused CNN of being “in the service of the military-political agencies of the United States.” CNN en Español will continue to broadcast on YouTube, and said that they “believe in the vital role that freedom of the press plays in a healthy democracy.”

President Maduro called CNN an “instrument of war” but did note that he “[didn’t] want problems with Trump.” President Trump had called on Venezuela in the preceding days to release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed last year for a 14-year sentence on charges of inciting anti-government protests in 2014. With regards to the sanctions against Vice President El Aisammi, it is unclear whether this will precipitate a change in attitude from Obama’s foreign policy of refraining from advocating for the removal of Maduro, and supporting discussions and round-tables instead. Observers note it is likely that the Trump administration will not be as amenable to the nominally socialist president as Obama had been.