#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.
After Brazilian city ran out of oxygen, Venezuela’s offer to help resulted in positive mentions of the Maduro regime on social media
Venezuela’s offer to send oxygen to hospitals in the Brazilian city of Manaus, which is struggling with a severe shortage of oxygen, made headlines in Brazil, the largest country in Latin America. Hospitals in Manaus, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, ran out of oxygen on January 14, 2021, after COVID-19 cases spiked. On the same day, Nicolás Maduro’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, announced on Twitter that the Maduro regime would make oxygen available to the neighboring country.
The final sentence of the tweet – “Latin American solidarity before all else” – appeared to be a reference to Brazil’s far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, a fierce critic of the Maduro regime who, like roughly 50 countries in the world, does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
Bolsonaro has been strongly criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, as he has downplayed the danger of the virus, recommended the use of ineffective medicines, and rejected calls for stronger social distancing measures. Additionally, his supporters have objected to a lockdown measure in Manaus, and his Minister of Health, Eduardo Pazuello, said that the non-adoption of “early treatment” – a term used by the government to refer to medications they claim work but which have been proven to be ineffective – caused the crisis in the city.
Maduro tweeted about the offer to Brazil on January 17, and the hashtag #VenezuelaConBrasil (Venezuela is with Brazil), pushed by Maduro’s Ministry of Communications, reached the trending topics in the country on January 18.
Maduro’s move, however, can be attributed not only to solidarity but also to a geopolitical effort to appear as a country that provides help, rather than one that needs help. Despite being in a complex humanitarian crisis, Venezuela has provided international aid on other occasions – most recently, it provided aid to Bolivia on January 6, 2021, after a deadly storm hit the state of Sucre.
Civil society organizations and the Maduro regime’s opposition criticized the regime’s decision and denounced it as a propaganda effort. Ángeles de las Vías, a nonprofit organization comprised of volunteer paramedics in Venezuela, posted on Instagram that on January 14 – the same day of Arreaza’s announcement – the organization had assisted a COVID-19 patient who had been rejected admittance to at least four medical centers in Caracas because of a scarcity of oxygen. The patient died on January 16. During the last five years, nongovernmental organizations and the Maduro regime’s opposition have been decrying the shortage of medical supplies and medicines in Venezuela’s public hospitals.
Julio Borges, an ally of Juan Guaidó, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that “Maduro wants to pose as the leader of the poor, needy, of those infected with coronavirus, when in fact he’s a corrupt dictator who has managed to destroy Venezuela, once one of most prosperous countries in the Americas.” Yet, the criticism of Maduro’s behavior did not gather as much engagement as articles about how his regime had offered to help Brazil. News about Venezuela being the only country to offer help were the most engaged-with mentioning the case, according to a search using the social media listening tool BuzzSumo. The top result was published by independent website UOL and featured a quote from the Governor of the State of Amazona saying that, every time that there are environmental issues with the forest, there is international mobilization in countries such as the United States and Germany – implying that the lack of assistance now is because other countries only engage around the Amazon rainforest and not other problems. Moreover, the Governor said that, now that people need help, Venezuela had been the only country to offer aid.
On Facebook, some of the most popular posts also highlighted that Venezuela had offered help to Brazil, while Bolsonaro had criticized the regime and welcomed Venezuelan migrants with violence and xenophobia. Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president of Brazil, published the most engaged-with post on Facebook in which he thanked Maduro’s “gesture of Latin American solidarity.” Other posts by anti-Bolsonaro influencers and politicians, such as Quebrando o Tabu and Marco Maia, followed Lula’s post as the most engaged-with and displayed similar sentiment to Lula in criticizing Bolsonaro while highlighting Maduro’s offer.
By January 18, trucks carrying 136 thousand liters of medical oxygen had reached the border with Brazil and were waiting for authorization to cross. Venezuela’s state-owned steel company SIDOR (Siderúrgica del Orinoco Alfredo Maneiro), located in Puerto Ordaz (1,500 km from Manaus), donated the oxygen. Located in the middle of the Amazon forest, Manaus is only connected to other Brazilian states by one highway, air, or fluvial ways.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On January 14, Deutsche Welle in Spanish published “Oficiales iraníes y cubanos entrenan a militares en Venezuela para ‘manipular’ a la sociedad” (“Iranian and Cuban officials train military personnel in Venezuela to ‘manipulate’ society”). The article discussed an investigation by CASLA Institute, a Czech center devoted to the study of Latin America, that revealed that Venezuelan military personnel had been trained by Cuban and Iranian officials on means to “control Venezuelan society” through political propaganda, torture, manipulation, and strategic communication campaigns. DW described that, since 2018, the CASLA Institute “has accused” Maduro of committing crimes against humanity with the collaboration of Cuban officials. The piece gathered 4,781 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined as of January 18, according to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle.
In Venezuela on January 17, independent website Runrun.es published “‘¿Y si soy yo el que sigue?’ Miedo y desesperanza en el personal de salud venezolano al llegar a 309 colegas fallecidos por COVID-19” (“‘And what if I am next?’ Fear and despair in Venezuelan health personnel as they reach 309 colleagues killed by COVID-19”). In the article, Runrun.es said that health personnel represent one-third of the people who have died from COVID-19 in Venezuela, a total of 309 deaths between June 16, 2020, and January 12, 2021. Runrun.es interviewed health personnel across the country, including Freddy Pachano, a pediatric surgeon based in Zulia, the state with the highest number of health personnel COVID-19 fatalities with 70 deaths. Runrun.es’ article gathered 78 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined as of January 18, according to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle.
On Social Media
The Maduro’s Ministry of Communications promoted #LeyAntibloqueoPorLaPaz (“Anti-blockade Law for Peace”) as its “Etiqueta del Día” (“hashtag of the day”), a long-term daily campaign by the regime to push pro-Maduro hashtags to trend on Twitter. The Maduro’s “Anti-Blockade Constitutional Law for National Development and Guarantee of Human Rights,” approved on October 9, 2020, appears to be a move to evade the economic sanctions imposed mainly by the United States. On January 17, when #LeyAntibloqueoPorLaPaz reached the trending topics, pro-Maduro @ChrisBelisario was the first Twitter account that used the hashtag to promote Maduro regime Vice President Delcy Rodríguez’s visit to Cuba. @ChrisBelisario said that Rodríguez presented the “benefits” of the law to the Cuban regime.
Gracias al modelo que hemos construido en estos años de Revolución, ha sido posible enfrentar la agudización de la guerra económica criminal y la aparición de la Pandemia del Covid-19. Jamás podrán acabar con el estado de bienestar social, que ha sido agredido ferozmente.”
“Thanks to the model that we have built during these years of Revolution, it has been possible to face the exacerbation of the criminal economic war and the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will never be able to put an end to the social welfare state, which has been fiercely attacked.”
– Maduro on Twitter on January 17, 2021.
Vamos a estar en la línea de fuego, por esta línea de hostigamiento que tenemos y el temor es que se profundice con el inicio de funciones de la Asamblea Nacional, ya que la misma genera leyes y reglamentos para continuar neutralizando el trabajo de la sociedad civil independiente.”
“We [the independent civil society] are going to be in the line of fire, due to this line of harassment to which we are exposed. Our fear is that it will deepen with the beginning of the National Assembly’s functions because it generates laws and regulations to continue neutralizing the work of the independent civil society.”
– Rafael Uzcátegui, general manager of Provea, on an interview with Tal Cual on January 16.
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