#AlertaVenezuela: August 12, 2020

#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.

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Colombian and Venezuelan political leaders used anti-Maduro sentiment to politicize former Colombian president’s detention

After the detention of former Colombian President and current Senator Álvaro Uribe on August 4, 2020, political leaders in the region such as Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado warned that Colombia would become a regime like Venezuela and targeted Nicolás Maduro as responsible for the arrest as well. Machado’s claim was amplified by Colombian congresspeople supporting Uribe and appeared among the most watched videos on Facebook.

President of Colombia for two terms from 2002 to 2010, Uribe is one of the most prominent political leaders in the country and is the political mentor of current Colombian President Iván Duque. On August 4, the Colombian Supreme Court ordered Uribe under house arrest after a witness-tampering investigation that started in 2018. This is the first time Uribe – and a president in modern Colombian history – faces detention. Although Uribe is not accused of criminal charges, the Colombian justice system allows him to be detained as the investigation continues.

On Facebook, anti-Maduro leaders – including the coordinator of opposition party Vente Venezuela, Maria Corina Machado, and former Caracas governor and opposition figure Diego Arria – compared Uribe’s detention to the Venezuelan Supreme Court decision that suspended the former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1993. Moreover, Machado stated without evidence that Maduro was behind Uribe’s detention to “oust him from power.” Machado – without presenting proof – claimed Maduro had worked alongside Colombian guerrilla groups FARC and ELN, drug traffickers, Hezbollah, the Cuban regime, and “allies from Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey” to target Colombia as a means of “extending the territory” his regime controls in Venezuela.

Paloma Valencia and Maria Fernanda Cabal, Colombian congresswomen who are members of Uribe’s right-wing Centro Democratico Party, posted Machado’s video as an original post on their Facebook pages. Valencia’s post was the most watched on Facebook with 46,262 posts views between August 4 and August 9, according to a search using CrowdTangle. Machado and Cabal’s posts followed Valencia’s post as the most watched, with 29,678 and 15,714 post views, respectively.

Machado’s video posted on the Facebook page of Colombian congressperson Paloma Valencia (orange box) garnered 46,262 views in the original post and 105,350 total views in all Facebook assets it was shared. The same video in Machado’s Facebook page (blue box) amassed 29,678 views in the post, and 124,964 total views. (Source: DFRLab via CrowdTangle)

detention – taken from a broadcast on regime-backed VTV on August 4 – also appeared among the most viewed videos on Facebook. The Facebook group Que Pasa en Cali ve (“What is happening in Cali”), which identifies itself as a media and advertising agency in Cali (Colombia’s third largest city), posted a shortened version of the original August 4 VTV video, in which Maduro compared Uribe with Al Capone, as both were arrested for a “minor crime.” Additionally, Maduro claimed Uribe and Duque were related to the “mafia” after a pilot who worked for both supposedly died when an airplane loaded with drugs crashed in Guatemala in December 2019 – a claim Colombian media outlet El Espectador determined to be false in an article published on August 5. El Espectador found that Guatemala’s authorities had not confirmed the identity of the pilot who died in the accident. Que Pasa en Cali ve’s post was among the nine most watched videos on Uribe’s arrest with 5,056 views, according to CrowdTangle.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On August 7, financial media outlet Bloomberg published “Fuel rationing plunges oil-rich Venezuela deeper into crisis.” The article described how the scarcity of fuel had impacted local producers and limited transportation nationwide. According to Bloomberg, “Venezuela is back to where it was in March,” when residents in Caracas had to wait at gas stations for days or had to use the black market to fill up their cars. A source told Bloomberg that roughly 950 out of 1,570 gas stations “have been closed or are operating on a very limited schedule” in the city. Bloomberg also consulted Manolo Ferraz, a farmer from Bailadores – a region that produces 85 percent of vegetables in the country – who said that only two or three trucks come per week to carry produce to central Venezuela in comparison to three to four trucks per day three years ago. Bloomberg said Venezuela is shuttering gas stations due to “serious” breakdowns of two of the country’s biggest refineries amidst “sweeping U.S. government sanctions” that limited imports of gasoline to the country.

On August 10 in Venezuela, independent website Efecto Cocuyo published “Diputado Olivares asegura que muertes por COVID-19 van por 439” (“Representative Olivares affirms COVID-19 deaths reached 439 cases”). The article discussed a COVID-19 report by National Assembly Representative José Manuel Olivares, who also leads Juan Guaidó’s Health Experts Commission, in which he said that 439 people died of COVID-19 between March 13 and August 9, which contradicts the Maduro regime’s official count of 223 deaths over the same period. According to Olivares, some Venezuelans have to wait for 20 days to know the results of their COVID-19 tests. Efecto Cocuyo said that while Venezuela has two laboratories authorized for testing, other Latin American countries, such as Peru and Chile, have between 19 and 113 laboratories.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #YoVotoXVenezuela (“I vote for Venezuela”) trended on Twitter on August 7 and August 8. Accounts aligned with the opposition movement Soluciones para Venezuela used #YoVotoXVenezuela to promote parliamentary elections on December 6, 2020. On July 1, Maduro’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council, or CNE) set the election day, but a majority of the coalition aligned with Guaidó has since claimed that it will not participate as the elections will not be “free, fair, and auditable.” Soluciones para Venezuela is aligned with Mesa de Diálogo Venezolano, an opposition coalition created by Maduro and other minority opposition organizations in 2019. Claudio Fermin, president of Soluciones para Venezuela, was among the 15 most active accounts using the hashtags with 52 retweets. Fermin retweeted posts inviting Venezuelans to vote and claiming the transparency and security of the elections will be guaranteed.

Official Statements

[El grupo guerrillero ELN] Es una estructura criminal de la peor calaña, dedicada al narcotráfico, el secuestro, la extracción ilícita de minerales y la extorsión. A asesinar. Sabemos que desde hace muchos años esa organización cuenta con el apoyo y el auspicio del régimen de Nicolás Maduro y se lucra del crimen en Venezuela y acá en Colombia.”

“[The guerrilla group ELN] is a criminal structure of the worst kind dedicated to drug trafficking, kidnapping, illegal mineral extraction, and extortion. And murder. We know that for many years this organization has been supported and sponsored by the Maduro regime and has profited from crime in Venezuela and here in Colombia.”

– Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, in El Tiempo on August 7, 2020.

Hoy fallece el preso político Erick Hechegaray, quien estaba en el Sebin. Ottoniel y Juan Guevara fueron trasladados de emergencia por presentar síntomas COVID. En el DGCIM suspendidas las visitas hace 3 meses. La muerte camina entre 350 presos políticos a causa de la pandemia.”

“Political prisoner Erick Hechegaray, who was in the Sebin [detention center for political prisoners], died today. Ottoniel and Juan Guevara were transferred with urgency after presenting COVID-19 symptoms. DGCIM [Maduro’s military counterintelligence agency] suspended the visits to prisoners three months ago. Death walks among 350 political prisoners because of the pandemic.”

– Iván Simonovis, Guaidó’s Security Commissioner, on Twitter on August 7.

Our Team in the News

Diego Area, associate director and Venezuela lead at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, spoke with El Mercurio about the upcoming Venezuelan elections and the opposition’s recent refusal to participate.

Recent Analyses

From the DFRLab: On Friday, August 7, the DFRLab published “A glimpse into RT’s Latin American audience.” The article showed an analysis of more than 43,000 news articles published by Kremlin-funded media RT en Españolbetween January 2019 and July 2020. The investigation found that, although the United States (“EE.UU.”) was the most co-occurring keyword included in subheadlines, the keyword “Venezuela” received, on average, more interactions. According to the DFRLab’s analysis, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia amassed nearly 50 percent of the traffic. In the case of Venezuela, the audience has grown from January 2018 to June 2020, from 9.8 percent to 14.33 percent of the visitors.

Upcoming Events

On Thursday, August 13, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center will host a conversation from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EDT on countering illicit activities in Venezuela. This public conversation will also launch an Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center policy brief by contributing author Douglas Farah that investigates the origins of the Maduro regime’s criminal activities and its connections to regional and international players. Register here.

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