#AlertaVenezuela: January 26, 2021

#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

Anti-Maduro YouTube channel claimed, without evidence, that Nicolás Maduro had been ousted from power

video on anti-Maduro YouTube channel Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela garnered thousands of views after misleadingly claiming that Nicolás Maduro had been ousted from power and that Maduro’s diplomat Alex Saab had betrayed the regime after confessing to U.S. authorities. The YouTube channel, which states its location as Colombia, is connected to a Facebook page promoting the slogan “Venezuela libre” (“Venezuela Free”), an implied reference to Venezuela’s lack of freedom under the Maduro regime.
On January 19, Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela falsely claimed in the title and thumbnail of its video that Maduro “fell.” However, the video presenter did not refer to this claim and, instead, discussed how Saab had provided the U.S. authorities with an affidavit that revealed “Maduro’s secrets.” To support his claims, the video presenter quoted news articles and deliberately took them out of context. YouTube describes this type of behavior as a “deceptive practice” – which includes, among other things, using misleading thumbnails and manipulated media – in violation of its guidelines.

The title (red box) and thumbnail (blue box) of Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela’s video suggested Maduro’s downfall. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

The DFRLab identified the sources of the information that Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela used in the video and found the claims to be fabricated or taken out of context. On January 17, 2021, Spanish news outlet El País and Venezuelan Armando.infoposted an article describing a network – headed by Saab – to distribute Venezuelan oil using businesses in Mexico, Russia, and United Arab Emirates to avoid the U.S. sanctions against the Maduro regime. On January 19, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions against individuals and organizations linked to the Maduro regime. The OFAC designation also confirmed El País’ and Armando.info’s findings against Saab.

El País and Armando.info said that the investigation was based on a litany of evidence (including emails, invoices, payment receipts, etc.) instead of the supposed affidavit Saab allegedly provided to the U.S. authorities, as Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela suggested.

On January 17, Bloomberg and Swiss media also reported that Swiss prosecutors identified bank accounts containing some $10.1 billion connected to “public funds in Venezuela.” Although previous media reports showed that Saab’s global network used European banks, including in Switzerland, the Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela video connected the recently discovered Swiss bank accounts to Saab and his alleged affidavit, despite the fact that no reputable news source has similarly made this connection. It appears as if the two cases – Saab’s network of illicit trading and the recently unearthed $10.1 billion in Swiss accounts – were unrelated.

According to a search of 920 videos with content related to Venezuela using BuzzSumo between January 17 and January 25, Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela’s video was the third most watched, with over 118,000 views. The most watched video belonged to the Spanish YouTube channel BENIMADand commented on, among other things, the Venezuelan political and humanitarian crisis. BENIMAD’s video garnered 266,000 views, followed by a post by Chilean TV channel Chilevisión, which garnered 140,700 views. Chilevisión reported on a Venezuelan couple that attempted to squat in a house in the Chilean city of Chillán.

Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela’s video (green box) was the third most watched video on YouTube to use Venezuela-related keywords in its thumbnail, title, and description. However, on social media, the video only garnered 90 engagements. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela joined YouTube on May 19, 2017, and has posted 1,542 videos that have garnered almost 55 million views. A search of the videos published since September 2020 shows that at least two videos use thumbnails containing labels that say Maduro was overthrown and showing fake images showing Maduro in prison. Those videos, posted on September 29 and September 30, 2020, garnered 247,000 and 112,000 views, respectively.

Videos posted on September 29 and September 30, 2020, using images of Maduro being arrested (green boxes) that social media accounts and websites have used as memes since 2014 (orange boxes). (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo, top left; BuzzSumo, top right; Google, bottom left; Google, bottom right)

In its “About” section, Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela describes itself as a newspaper that presents exclusive news and is linked to the Facebook page MundoTV. This Facebook page is self-described as a “News Company” that posts breaking news about the Maduro regime. The Facebook Page Transparency section shows that MundoTV was created on September 18, 2019, using the name “Venezuela Libre,” a slogan that also appears on the page’s profile picture and in Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela’s videos.

The slogan “Venezuela Libre” appears on the Facebook Page Transparency section, in the page’s profile picture, and in Noticias de Ultima Hora Venezuela’s videos. (Source: Facebook, top; YouTube, bottom)

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On January 19, Reuters published “Biden will recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, top diplomat says.” The piece said that Antony Blinken, U.S. President Joe Biden’s newly confirmed secretary of state, had revealed during his confirmation process that Biden’s administration would continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. According to Reuters, Blinken also announced that Biden would seek more sanctions on the Maduro regime and supports “free and fair elections” to oust Maduro from power and restore democracy in the country. According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, Reuter’s article was the most engaged-with in the English-speaking world with 33,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter combined between January 19 and January 25.
In Venezuela on January 24, independent news outlet Armando.info published “Lo que Maradona se llevó de Venezuela” (“What Maradona took from Venezuela”). Armando.info described that as a result of soccer player Diego Maradona’s “revolutionary militancy” supporting Chavismo, Maradona amassed at least $4.5 million between 2015 and 2019, when “hunger ruled” Venezuela. The article said that Maradona worked as a lobbyist for Italian company Casillo Commodities to acquire public food contracts before Cuba and Venezuela. Moreover, Armando.info explained that the Maduro regime had asked Maradona to use his personal brand to promote the Bolivarian Revolution. According to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the article garnered almost 10,300 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined between January 25 and January 24.

On Social Media

The name of James Story, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, trended as a keyword on Twitter between January 23 and January 24. Among the most retweeted accounts using “James Story” was that of Guaidó’s ambassador to the United States Carlos Vecchio and Venezuelan opposition activist and lawyer Lester Toledo. Both Vecchio and Toledo quoted a January 22 interview with Story, given to Venezuelan local newspaper El Tiempo, in which the diplomat said that U.S. money to assist with Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis had been stolen.

Official Statements

En Venezuela lo que hay es un régimen democrático, constitucional, de derecho y de justicia. Más poderoso que muchos otros que dicen ser democracias. Ahora con la nueva Asamblea Nacional instalada y las leyes que va a aprobar, lo que va es a ampliar la democracia.”

“In Venezuela, there is a democratic, constitutional, legal, and just regime. More powerful than many others that claim to be democracies. Now, with the new National Assembly installed and the laws it is going to pass, democracy is going to spread.”

– Nicolás Maduro in a VTV broadcast on January 24.

Desconocemos si hay algún estudio científico publicado en relación a ese producto. Hablar de una nueva droga sin términos científicos, produce lo que hemos visto hoy que es un poco de incertidumbre.”

“We don’t know if there is any scientific study published concerning that product [Carvativir]. Talking about a new drug without scientific findings will produce what we’ve seen today, which is a bit of uncertainty.”

– María Graciela López, president of Sociedad Venezolana de Infectología, in an interview with Efecto Cocuyo on January 25. Graciela said that there is no public evidence to support the idea that Carvativir, a drug that Maduro promoted as a cure for COVID-19, is not a “miracle” or 100 percent safe medicine.

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