#AlertaVenezuela: January 5, 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

Colombian YouTube channel was the most viewed amplifying false claims against the Maduro regime and the U.S. elections

video posted by Colombian YouTube channel Noticias Mundiales Al Día was the most watched about Venezuela between December 28, 2020, and January 4, 2021. The video showed unsubstantiated claims on the extradition process of Nicolás Maduro’s diplomat Alex Saab, as well as amplified false claims about the U.S. presidential elections.
According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s most popular video – titled “Donald Trump llegó la hora activa plan – Joe Biden no se esperaba esto – Nicolas Maduro preocupado” (“Donald Trump activates plan, time is now – Joe Biden did not expect this – Nicolas Maduro worried”) and posted on December 28 – garnered almost 140,300 views on the YouTube platform itself and outperformed other channels, including those belonging to news outlets covering Venezuela. While it was broadly popular on YouTube itself, posts featuring URLs for the YouTube video gathered only 345 interactions on social media.

Two videos posted by Noticias Mundiales Al Día were among the five most viewed about Venezuela between December 28, 2020, and January 4, 2021, with 140,300 (green box) and 120,500 (orange box) views, respectively, according to a BuzzSumo query. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

The video showed a screenshot of an article published by Colombian legacy news outlet El Tiempo that highlighted how Maduro had designated Saab to be Alternate Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the African Union. According to El Tiempo, this is a strategy put forth by Saab’s lawyers and the Maduro regime as a means of preventing the diplomat’s extradition from Cape Verde to the United States. The video presenter read some paragraphs directly from the El Tiempo article and claimed that Maduro “would be sending gold to Cape Verde” to pressure the authorities to liberate Saab. The El Tiempo article, however, did not include any mention of Maduro’s supposed bribe to Cape Verde, and the presenter did not mention the source of that information – this appeared to be intentional, as less discerning viewers would likely assume the allegation was taken from the El Tiempo article, thereby giving the fabrication a veneer of credibility.
The presenter also discussed news, unrelated to Venezuela, about the United States. The presenter read an article from Mexican news outlet Zócalo, which is based in the Mexican state of Coahuila, that claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump had allegedly said that he would deploy “the military forces to reverse” the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The article translated into Spanish an interview with Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, that was originally posted by U.S. conspiracy and propaganda outlet Newsmax on December 17, 2020. Flynn said that Trump could use “military capabilities to rerun elections in swing states.” However, U.S. news outlet Forbes debunked Flynn’s claims on December 19 and quoted a tweet from Trump himself in which the U.S. president wrote that martial law was “Fake News.”
The DFRLab identified another four videos from Noticias Mundiales Al Día to be among the 20 most watched videos between December 28, 2020, and January 4, 2021. All videos combined content amplifying Trump’s claims of supposed voting fraud during the presidential elections with misleading claims on a foreign military intervention against Venezuela or that Maduro would be ousted from power. Noticias Mundiales Al Día posted the videos on December 28December 29January 1, and January 2. On October 20, 2020, the DFRLab found that Facebook assets showing signs of inauthentic behavior shared Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s videos that promoted content against the Maduro regime and that amplified Juan Guaidó’s call for public protests.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On December 29, 2020, U.S. public news broadcaster NPR published “Large Venezuelan migration sparks xenophobic backlash in Colombia.” In the story, NPR said that average Colombian citizens and powerful government officials have reacted with xenophobia against about 2 million Venezuelan migrants that arrived in Colombia since 2014. In particular, NPR cited Colombian President Iván Duque who announced on December 21 that undocumented Venezuelan migrants would not be vaccinated “despite concerns from refugee agencies that this policy could lead to more infections.”NPR also interviewed residents of Pamplona, a Colombian city near the Venezuelan border that receives some 300 Venezuelan migrants per day. Among those interviewed was Carlos Espitia who described Venezuelans migrants as “rats,” while another interviewee, Nelson Maldonado, claimed Venezuelans only came to his hometown “to commit crimes.” Maldonado had organized a demonstration against Pamplona’s plan to open a shelter for the migrants. According to NPR, Colombian police increased their operations to deport undocumented migrants “as the backlash grows.” The piece garnered 7,400 engagements on Facebook and Twitter combined between December 29, 2020, and January 4, 2021, according to a search using social media tool CrowdTangle.
In Venezuela on December 31, 2020, independent website Runrun.espublished “10 momentos que dejaron a Maduro pasando pena este 2020.” (“10 moments that embarrassed Maduro in 2020”). The article listed 10 events that “ridiculed” Maduro during 2020, such as the United Nations accusing him of crimes against humanity and the U.S. Department of State’s indicting Maduro and other regime members for narcoterrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and other crimes. Runrun.es also described how Maduro had ordered a failed operation to capture gang leader Wilexis Alexander Acevedo Monasterios in Miranda’s slum of José Félix Ribas, in which 13 people died. Moreover, the article said that, amid the U.S. sanctions against the regime, Maduro had found a solution to the fuel shortage by importing gasoline from Iran, turning Venezuela into an “oil power that imports gasoline.”

On Social Media

Salvador Franco, who is a Venezuelan member of the Pemon indigenous group, – or, more specifically, his name – trended on Twitter on January 3 and January 4, after human rights group Foro Penal reported that he had died in prison. Olnar Ortiz, a lawyer at Foro Penal, said that Franco died in the Rodeo II prison on January 3, after the Maduro regime did not comply with a November 27, 2019, court to transfer him to a medical facility. According to a search using social media listening tool Meltwater Explore, the most retweeted accounts using “Salvador Franco” were those for lawyer Joel García and for exiled Pemon mayor Emilio González, with 5,400 and 4,500 retweets, respectively. Both García and González blamed the Maduro regime for Franco’s death.

Official Statements

La muerte de Salvador Franco es responsabilidad de la dictadura, le negaron atención médica pese a que conocían que padecía un cuadro de salud muy delicado. Fue torturado, le habían diagnosticado anemia. Su caso demuestra que Maduro le declaró la guerra a los pueblos indígenas.”

“The death of Salvador Franco is the responsibility of the dictatorship, they denied him medical attention despite knowing that he suffered from a very delicate health condition. He was tortured, he had been diagnosed with anemia. His case demonstrates that Maduro declared war on indigenous peoples.”

– Julio Borges, Juan Guaidó’s presidential envoy for foreign affairs, on Twitteron January 4, 2021.

Ojalá con la partida de Trump se vayan sus políticas extremistas, crueles contra Venezuela, ojalá, y se restablezca el diálogo con Biden y con los Estado Unidos en función de una agenda constructiva.”

“Hopefully, with Trump’s departure, so too will his extremist, cruel politics toward Venezuela, I hope, and dialogue with Biden and the United States will be reestablished based on a constructive agenda.”

– Nicolás Maduro on Periscope on January 1.

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