#AlertaVenezuela: August 25, 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.

Top Story

Google suspended YouTube channels and Gmail account of VTV, the Maduro regime’s “most important” TV outlet

On August 20, 2020, Google suspended three YouTube channels belonging to Maduro regime-funded media outlet VTV and the Gmail account associated with them. The three channels had amassed over 408,100 subscribers and posted almost 69,000 videos by the time they were suspended. The same day, Google also suspended two YouTube channels for Cuban TV programs, but they were available again by August 21.

VTV started as a private television channel on August 1, 1964, and became a state channel on September 1, 1974. According to its websiteVTV has been “an opinion and information channel” to spread “the State’s policy” since July 15, 2008. VTV is Nicolás Maduro’s preferred avenue for broadcast addresses, which the outlet itself used to claim a self-described position as the “most important” Maduro regime TV outlet. Analysis by Cadenómetro, in its project to count the total hours Maduro appears on Venezuelan television and radio, determined that Maduro appeared for an average of 27 minutes daily in televised addresses between January 3, 2013, and January 24, 2020, and that he had appeared for an average of 43 minutes daily in VTV broadcasts between April 4, 2013, and January 31, 2020.

Cadenómetro showed that Maduro’s appearances in televised addresses (green box) and on VTV (yellow box) specifically lasted 27 minutes and 43 minutes on average each day, respectively. (Source: DFRLab via Cadenómetro)

VTV published an article on August 20, explaining that Google had terminated its YouTube channels: Multimedio VTVVTV Programas Completos, and VTV en Vivo. According to VTV, it allegedly received an email from YouTube in which the company said it had received a complaint against VTV for violating its community guidelines; the outlet also claimed that it had received a notification that its Gmail account “cannot be recovered due to export laws infringement.” After this notification, the Gmail account associated with the YouTube channels was also suspended. VTV denied in the article that its content “infringed on any of the policies of the social network.”

YouTube suspensions against the Maduro regime have happened before. The platform made a similar decision on October 1, 2017, when it suspended a video of Maduro supporting Barcelona protesters during the referendum on Catalonian independence in Spain. At Maduro’s request, the video is again available to an audience limited by age. Meanwhile, Maduro has previously leveled claims of bias on YouTube’s part. For example, on August 16, 2020, Maduro claimed during a VTV broadcast that he had watched political ads for Juan Guaidó on YouTube while the platform had prohibited ads from the regime.

According to a search using social media analytics tool Social Blade, VTV’s YouTube channel Multimedio VTV had the biggest audience of the three channels suspended as of August 20. Multimedio VTV amassed 314,000 subscribers and posted 58,589 videos. Created on February 7, 2011, Multimedio VTV garnered 126,326,468 views in its lifetime. A rank of most influential YouTube channels based in Venezuela by Social Blade placed Multimedio VTV as 33rd of 250 channels.

VTV Programas Completos, another of the suspended channels, had 87,900 subscribers and 15,064,406 cumulative views for its 10,375 videos. VTV Programas Completos was created on August 23, 2014. Finally, VTV en Vivo, the third of the channels, was created on May 11, 2018, and had garnered 6,190 subscribers. According to VTV, its Multimedio VTV channel contained “information capsules” of its reporters and transmissions from the TV channel, whereas VTV Programas Completos featured uploads of full-length VTVprograms and VTV en Vivo was a 24-hours livestream of the main TV channel (which, consequently, meant that the channel did not have any uploaded videos at the time of its removal). VTV opened a new YouTube channel on August 20, which had accumulated just 93 subscribers and posted 59 videos as of August 24.

Screengrabs of Social Blade showed the subscriber volume and total views for each channel’s videos, with Multimedios VTV’s readout at top, VTV Programas Completos in the middle, and VTV en Vivo at bottom. (Source: DFRLab via Social Blade)

YouTube also suspended two Cuban media channels. The YouTube channels Mesa Redonda and Cubavisión internacional have over 29,000 subscribers and 3,736 videos. Both channels contain TV programs by Televisión Cubana, some of them on international topics related to Cuba. Televisión Cubanaposted an article on August 20 suggesting that YouTube had tried to censor the announcement of new tests of Soberana 01, a supposed vaccine that Cuba is developing for COVID-19. On August 21, pro-Cuban regime media Cubadebate said that both channels were available once again, and YouTube sent a notification explaining the channels had not infringed on its Terms of Service.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On August 21, Colombian media El Tiempo published “La evidencia del nexo entre compra de misiles, Nicolás Maduro e Irán”  (“The evidence of the nexus between the purchase of missiles, Nicolás Maduro, and Iran”). The article revealed that Colombian intelligence as well as the intelligence agencies of three other countries (the article does not specify which) had evidence that the Maduro regime is buying Iranian missiles. El Tiempo published its article after Colombian President Iván Duque claimed on August 20 that his security forces had this information “a couple of months ago.” According to El Tiempo, Maduro and Iran’s exchange includes dollars, Venezuelan gold, Iranian fuel, medicines, and some food, as well as long and short-range Taer-2 missiles. El Tiempo said that a woman – who was married to a Cuban citizen – is the person in charge of the negotiation of the missiles. El Tiempo stated that the weapons would be housed on the Venezuelan islands La Orchila and Margarita. According to El Tiempo, Maduro’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza and Maduro’s Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino both denied Duque’s claims.

In Venezuela, independent media Tal CualLa Nación, Correo del Caroní, La Mañana, Yaracuy al Día, and El Impulso published a joint research report on August 20. Titled “Fallas de conectividad: el otro viacrucis de los servicios públicos en el país” (“Connectivity failures: the other ordeal for public services in the country”), the article described the failures of telephone and internet infrastructure in over 10 Venezuelan states. The media outlets based their investigation on interviews with public service users and a poll by Observatorio Venezolano de Servicios Públicos (also known in Spanish by its acronym OVSP). According to the OVSP poll, 51 percent of internet users have connectivity problems on a daily basis, and most of those respondents “subscribed to CANTV and Inter.” CANTV is a state-owned company and is the largest telephone and internet provider in Venezuela. OVSP also found the cities with the most connectivity problems are Barquisimeto and Barinas, with 59.2 percent of the respondents saying they have connection issues each day. The media also found that some CANTV users have been waiting over a year for their internet connection to be repaired, and Venezuelans have, for weeks, been using cellular data instead to connect to the internet.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #MaduroPágaleAlMagisterio (“Maduro, pay teachers”) trended on Twitter between August 19 and August 20, pushed by accounts belonging to teachers, unions, and other organizations supporting Venezuelan teachers. The most active Twitter account using #MaduroPágaleAlMagisterio was @DeliaDreams, whose profile bio self-described its operator as a Venezuelan teacher and historian. @DeliaDreams was also among the first accounts to use the hashtag on August 19, alongside @VillarrealLourd and @Mirandaprofs. The accounts asked Maduro to pay previous months’ salary to teachers and to increase by 280 percent their current monthly salary of $4.00. Schools in the country have been closed since March 16 because of the coronavirus outbreak. The accounts also asked for better conditions before resuming a regular class schedule in October, which the Maduro regime has been pushing.

Official Statements

He dado la orden a Conatel de instalar en todas las escuelas y liceos del país capacidad de internet. Fue correcto parar todas las clases. Ahora estoy diciendo que teniendo más conciencia, mejores mecanismos de protección, todo más avanzado a nivel de la ciencia, pudiéramos ensayar en octubre una modalidad mixta de clases presenciales con clases online. Vamos a analizarlo.”

“I have ordered to Conatel [National Telecommunications Comission] to install internet in all primary and secondary schools in the country. It was correct to suspend all classes. Now I am saying that having more awareness, better protection mechanisms, and above all, a more advanced level of science, we could try in October a mixed method of on-site classes with online classes. We will evaluate it.”

– Nicolás Maduro to VTV on August 23, 2020.

En esa zona por donde pasó Guaidó nosotros combatimos con ese grupo. No porque ese grupo vaya y combata con el gobierno de Maduro. Sino porque usa esa zona como un corredor de exportación de coca y porque masacra a las poblaciones campesinas e indígenas de ahí. Entonces, cuando los Rastrojos están de nuestro lado, nosotros los combatimos. Y cuando se pasan al lado venezolano, ellos los combaten. Entonces, le puedo decir: (el ELN y Maduro) estamos combatiendo un enemigo común.”

“In that area [the Colombian border] where Guaidó passed by, we fought with that group [i.e., Colombian criminal organization Los Rastrojos]. It was not because that group fights with the Maduro government, but because it uses that area as a corridor for coca exports and because it massacres the peasant and indigenous populations there. So, when Los Rastrojos is on our side, we fight them, and when they go over to the Venezuelan side, they fight them. So, I can tell you: (ELN [Colombian guerrilla group] and Maduro) we are fighting a common enemy.”

– Pablo Beltrán, negotiator for ELN, to BBC on August 20.

Our Team In The News

The August 13 launch event – as covered in last week’s newsletter – for the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center report on Venezuela and the Maduro regime’s illicit activities was widely covered by media outlets both in the United States and Latin America, including: Washington Examiner, Defense Systems Journal, InfoBaeDiario Las AmericasEl Nuevo HeraldEl ImpulsoLa PatillaNegocios en MiamiReporte ConfidencialQué Pasa en VenezuelaVOAInforme 21SuNoticieroEl CarabobeñoEurasia ReviewPuizoPeriódico CubanoCE Noticias Financieras, and Panampost, among others.

Diego Area, associate director and Venezuela lead at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center talked to VOA about the themes around the report. Area was also interviewed by EVTV Miami about Maduro’s web of illicit activities.

Upcoming Events

El Faro Dialogues, with Crisis Group, is hosting DFRLab’s Luiza Bandeira as part of a panel discussing the social media environs in #Brazil and #Venezuela, among other Latin American nations. She will also discuss the political polarization in the two countries. The event will not be recorded, so please tune in live at 12:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, August 27.

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