#AlertaVenezuela is leading the way in identifying, exposing, and explaining disinformation within the context of one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest crises in recent history, where the fight for control of the information space will continue to pose a challenge for the region.
Without evidence, pro-Maduro media claim Colombia stole migration funds
As thousands of Venezuelans who lost their livelihoods to the COVID outbreak return to their home country, pro-Maduro outlets claimed the Colombian government had stolen funds meant to support these Venezuelan migrants. The outlets also amplified Maduro’s claims that the regime is supporting returned Venezuelans with “everything they need,” going against independent media reports that showed that migrants are having trouble accessing food and public services.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 Venezuelans have returned to their hometowns since the first week of April, with a majority of them returning from neighboring Colombia, which hosted an estimated 1.6 million Venezuelan migrants as of December 2019. International organizations estimate that 4.5 million Venezuelans left the country in the last 5 years due to the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis.
Quarantine measures adopted by President of Colombia Iván Duque against the COVID‑19 outbreak since March 14, 2020, have cut deeply into the income of Venezuelans who worked informally (i.e., in jobs that do not generate taxes, such as street merchants or off-book restaurant workers) in Colombia. The Colombian government stated that supporting Venezuelans through the crisis has been difficult, especially because Colombia has received only 3 percent of the funds promised by the United Nations in response to the migration crisis. Many Venezuelans returned to their home country by foot, walking thousands of miles with children and disabled people.
On April 14, Venezuelan pro-Maduro blog Lechuguinos claimed – without evidence – that the Colombian government stole the money from international organizations to support Venezuelan migrants in the country. Lechuguinosadded that Venezuelans were sleeping in the streets and in parks because of corruption. To support this claim, the blog posted – without any credits or description – a picture showing Venezuelans sleeping in the street. The photo, however, was taken by the Colombian media outlet El Heraldo on October 28, 2017, well before the COVID outbreak. Lechuguinos’ post garnered 900 engagements on Twitter and Facebook combined, according to a CrowdTangle query.
One day before Lechuguinos’ post, on April 13, the Colombian government asked for more support from international organizations to assist migrant populations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
There have been reports of Colombia not supporting Venezuelans; for instance, nongovernmental organizations have claimed the Colombian government neglected to include Venezuelans migrants in social assistance programs during the coronavirus outbreak. Other Venezuelan independent outlets, such as Caraota Digital and El Pitazo, however, published articles showing Colombian nongovernmental organizations and public workers delivering food to Venezuelans living in Colombia or waiting to cross the border in Norte de Santander, a state bordering Venezuela.
The Maduro regime has also been accused of not supporting returning migrants, despite the regime’s claims. On April 12, Venezuelan state-backed television channel VTV published an article in which Nicolás Maduro claimed Venezuelans returning to the country received “everything they needed,” such as food and COVID-19 tests. In a video clip – which garnered more than 31,000 views – attached to the article, Maduro can be seen saying that the country welcomed Venezuelans back from Colombia with “respect and love.”
Venezuelan independent outlets Tal Cual and Efecto Cocuyo, however, cited local nongovernmental organizations and international institutions, such as Provea and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), claiming regime members did not support migrants or even discriminated against them.
According to a Tal Cual publication on April 16, Venezuelans organizations working in the border region reported a lack of access to public services and food for the Venezuelans arriving in the state of Tachira. The organizations also reported migrants were victims of “stigmatization and criminalization campaigns” by regime members.
In the article, Tal Cual quoted a tweet by Maduro’s Minister for the Prison Service Maria Iris Varela, who described migrants as “disguised fascists and participants in a coup d’état [against Maduro]” that do not deserve a home or support by the regime. Varela’s tweet, published on April 15, reached 2,300 retweets and 2,700 likes.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On April 18, Argentinian media outlet Infobae published “Nicolás Maduro: ‘Me gustaría vivir en Argentina.’” (“Nicolás Maduro: ‘I would like to live in Argentina.’”). The article reproduced an interview with Maduro produced by Argentinian radio station AM 750. In the interview, Maduro claimed the regime had defeated COVID-19 with “quarantine” measures and that 150,000 people suspected of being infected with the disease had been tested. Maduro also announced that parliamentary elections were not happening in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maduro also attacked the U.S. and Brazilian presidents, in part claiming that U.S. President Donald Trump was a “cowboy loco [crazy cowboy] who has something personal against him.” Maduro also referred to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as “corona-loco” [a pejorative expression using two words “Coronavirus” and “crazy”] and described him as an “irresponsible” president who has killed dozens of people. The article was the most engaged-with piece about Venezuela on social media between April 13-20, 2020. It garnered 100,900 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined, according to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo.
On April 16, Venezuelan independent media Efecto Cocuyo published an article about the detention of 12 media outlet workers – and two of their relatives – who covered the COVID-19 outbreak in Venezuela. The article mentioned a report by Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (known informally as Ipys-Venezuela) [Press and Society Institution], a nongovernmental organization that researches freedom of speech and information access in the country, monitored arbitrary detentions in the country since the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. According to Ipys-Venezuela, the first two detentions occurred in Caracas on March 16, when two journalists and two of their colleagues were detained over 15 minutes by Maduro regime forces. Arnaldo Sumoza and Eduardo Galindo Peña are the journalists most recently detained, having been held on April 14 and 15, respectively; they are also the only two journalists still in jail.
On Social Media
The hashtag #AtenciónMédicaDeCalidad [Quality Medical Care] trended on Twitter after Maduro’s Ministry of Communication used the hashtag for the first time. According to the ministry’s tweet, Venezuela’s healthcare system is prepared to assist Venezuelans promptly during the COVID-19 crisis. According to opposition leaders, international institutions, and mediaoutlets, however, the healthcare system in the country is in a precarious condition.
Plan de EEUU de cambio de régimen en Venezuela, procura el despojo de nuestros bienes y activos, además de derrocar al gobierno legítimo del Pdte @NicolasMaduro. Para ello conformó una estructura de crimen trasnacional organizado encabezada por
@jguaido. [¡]La justicia llegará!”
“The U.S. plans a regime change in Venezuela to dispossess our goods and assets, as well as to overthrow the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro. To do this, the U.S. created a transnational criminal organization headed by Juan Guaidó. Justice will prevail!” – Delcy Rodriguez, Maduro’s vice president, on Twitter on April 17, 2020.
Llamo a la conciencia de los líderes y gobernantes de las naciones para que mantengan la cuarentena como única defensa de la vida en medio de la Pandemia. Clamo por la salud del mundo; si se cura Alemania, España, Italia y EE.UU, se cura la humanidad. ¡Es tarea de todos!”
“I call on leaders and heads of state to maintain the quarantine as the only way to protect lives during this pandemic. I call out for the world’s health: if Germany, Spain, Italy, and the United States recover, humanity also recovers. This is a task for everybody!” – Maduro, posted to Twitter on April 15.
On Thursday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m. EDT, join the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center for a live discussion between Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as interim president of Venezuela by more than 50 countries, and independent journalist Maria Elena Salinas on Venezuela’s COVID-19 response and strategies going forward. The conversation will be in Spanish with simultaneous English translation. This is the second conversation as part of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s Leaders of the Americas series.
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