#AlertaVenezuela: July 14, 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

Pro-Bolsonaro assets removed by Facebook targeted Maduro regime with memes

Brazilian assets removed by Facebook for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” used the  economic and health crisis in Venezuela, which has been exacerbated by the Maduro regime, to promote anti-socialist sentiment in Brazil. The DFRLab also found some of the assets shared memes supporting a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. The same message had been shared before by Rumbo Libertad, a Venezuelan far right and libertarian movement whose members have appeared in pictures with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons in the past.

On July 8, Facebook announced that four separate networks had been taken down, including a network on Facebook and Instagram “focused on domestic audiences” in Brazil. The platform also attributed these assets to employees of the offices of Bolsonaro and his sons Flávio and Eduardo, with the DFRLab finding additional links to a third son, Carlos. The DFRLab also found that part of the network were active prior to the 2018 Brazilian election in support of Bolsonaro and attacking his opponents. Moreover, the assets showed behavior consistent with the “Hatred Cabinet,” a group supposedly createdto coordinate harassment and disinformation campaigns targeting politicians, public officials, and journalists critical of the government.

Many of the removed pages were dedicated to posting memes and pro-Bolsonaro content while criticizing political rivals. Some of these memes used Maduro, the Venezuelan economic and health care crisis, anti-socialist content, and foreign military intervention to generate fear among Brazilian readers that their country would becoming the “next Venezuela.” The DFRLab previously reported on this narrative, which has been observed repeatedly over the past two years, often being used to target left-wing leaning candidates in different countries around Latin America.

Screenshots showing three memes on Venezuela shared by the assets removed by Facebook supporting Bolsonaro in Brazil. (Source: Facebook)

The content also appeared on other platforms, such as Twitter and blogs, in Venezuela and Brazil. Some of the memes that appeared in Brazil also promoted hashtags commonly used by members of Rumbo Libertad, such as Roderick Navarro and Eduardo Bittar. Neither Navarro nor Bittar support Maduro or Juan Guiadó, who is recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president. A meme, for example, asked in Spanish for U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene in Venezuela with permission from “all” of the country. The same image had been shared before on Twitter by accounts linked to Venezuela.

Screenshots show Navarro using in 2014 (red boxes) the hashtag #SOSVenezuela (orange box). (Source: Anticomunismo Brasil (Facebook page), left; @rodericknavarro/archive, right)

The DFRLab previously identified that Navarro promoted hashtags on Twitter in January and February 2020 asking for Trump to intervene militarily in Venezuela. Both Navarro and Bittar have appeared in photos alongside Jair and Eduardo Bolsonaro, according to Navarro’s Instagram profile. Navarro’s accounts did not appear on Facebook’s latest takedown.

In 2018, Roderick Navarro (orange circle) posted on Instagram two pictures with Jair Bolsonaro (green circle), Eduardo Bolsonaro (red circle), and Eduardo Bittar (light blue box). (Source: @rodericknavarro/archive, top; @rodericknavarro/archive, bottom)

You can read more in the blog posts on the network supporting Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Ecuadorian and Canadian firm targeting multiple Latin American elections, including Venezuela’s 2018 elections.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On July 9, the Brazilian edition of Spanish news outlet El País published “Pobreza extrema beira 80 percent na Venezuela”  (“Extreme poverty edges 80 percent in Venezuela”). The article discussed the Survey of Living Conditions in Venezuela (also known in Spanish by its acronym “Encovi”), which states that “Venezuela is no longer a country with the same standards of living as the rest of South America.” According to the El País readout, the country is the poorest and has the second highest inequity – after Brazil – in Latin America. Encovi found 96 percent of the Venezuelan population is impoverished according to their income, and 79 percent of that total is in extreme poverty, which “means that the income received is insufficient to cover the food basket.” Luis Pedro España, lead researcher for the survey, told El País that “Venezuela has never had levels of poverty like the ones we see, not in the 20th century nor in the 21st century.” A search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo showed the El País article was among the most engaged-with publications regarding Venezuela between July 6-13, 2020. The article garnered 35,400 interactions on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit combined.

On July 7, Venezuelan independent website Tal Cual published “Venezolanos varados en el interior están solapados por los repatriados” (“Stranded Venezuelans inside the country are overlapped by the migrants returning from abroad”). Tal Cual interviewed four Venezuelans who were far from their hometowns and relatives amid the COVID-19 outbreak because of the high costs of domestic transportation. Tal Cual described how some bus terminals had been closed because of the measures put in place by Maduro to contain the coronavirus, and Venezuelans inside the country have two options: walk or pay illegal drivers (“piratas” [pirates]). According to two Venezuelans who were interviewed for the story, the “piratas” ask between $150 to $200 to assist people to return to their homes, while the minimum monthly income in Venezuela is $4.60 in 2020. Tal Cual concluded by stating that Maduro’s priority is helping Venezuelans to return from foreign countries, not those stranded inside Venezuela.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

“Diosdado,” a reference to Maduro’s second in command and president of Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, trended on Twitter between July 8-12, after he canceled the July 8 episode of his weekly TV show Con El Mazo Dando due to an “allergy.” The next day, on July 9, when Cabello confirmed that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the keyword “Diosdado” garnered most of the mentions on Twitter in Venezuela, with 122,254 tweets, retweets, and replies. Accounts not aligned with the regime falsely claimed Maduro and his wife were also infected. Accounts supporting Cabello, however, also pushed four hashtags (#OrandoPorDiosdado [“Praying for Diosdado”], #OrandoPorDiosdsdo [this hashtag has a typo, changing the “a” to the “s” in “Diosdado”], #VenezuelaConDiosdado [“Venezuela supports Diosdado”], #DiosdadoVenezuelaEstaContigo [“Venezuela is with you”]) to trend in support on July 10.

Official Statements

Si no fuera por los trocheros Venezuela estuviera totalmente controlado y sin ningún brote hoy por hoy. La mitad de los casos de Venezuela son importados y la otra mitad son de trocheros. […] ¡Vamos trocheros! No esperen que te denuncien, sal tú mismo.

“If it were not for the trocheros, Venezuela would be totally controlled and without an outbreak today. Half of the cases in Venezuela are imported and the other half are from trocheros. […] Come on trocheros! Don’t expect them to report you, do it yourself.”

– Maduro on a July 11 VTV broadcast. Maduro used the term “trocheros” to describe both returning migrants as well as those who have assisted them to cross the border from Colombia illegally. Since May 15, Maduro has accelerated his indictments of migrants returning to Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil, claiming that they are the main source of the coronavirus outbreak, while denying the increase of local transmissions or the failure of healthcare infrastructure.

Países como Eslovaquia han decidido reconocer al presidente @jguaido. El parlamento europeo fue contundente al rechazar el falso CNE y dejar claro que se requieren elecciones presidenciales y parlamentarias libres. Es importante que Europa mantenga la ofensiva con respecto a [la] crisis [en Venezuela]

“Countries like Slovakia have decided to recognize President Juan Guaidó. The European Parliament was forceful in rejecting the false CNE [Maduro’s National Electoral Council] and made it clear that free presidential and parliamentary elections are required. It is important for Europe to maintain its offensive regarding the crisis in Venezuela.”

– Julio Borges, presidential envoy for foreign affairs for the interim president of Venezuela, posted on Twitter on June 3.

Our Team in the News:

Venezuelan independent outlet El Diario quoted Daniel Suárez Pérez on his VerificadoGKConvoca, and El Universo mentioned Esteban Ponce de León, Research Assistant, Latin America, and DFRLab’s research around Facebook’s takedown of inauthentic assets that targeted elections around Latin American. The assets had posed as independent news entities.

The GuardianReutersFolha de S. PauloBBC BrazilG1Yahoo NoticiasO GloboBrazil 247Rolling StoneCorreio BrasilienseO Antagon!staBahia NoticiasJornal ExtraDiario JunioPoder 360The Next WebBrinwireRepha.frO PopularNEXOaitnewsPropmarkForumDagens NyheterGulf NewsLa diariaDiario do Centro do MundoMercoPressFocus.jor.brGazeta PrawnaLiber TateaDiario de PernambucoFolha Vitoria, and DELFI all mentioned DFRLab’s report on Facebook’s takedown of assets linked to employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons, Flávio and Eduardo.

Recent Analyses

From the DFRLab: As reported in the Top Story above, the DFRLab released two reports about Facebook takedowns of two networks related to Latin America. The first, “Facebook takes down inauthentic assets targeting multiple Latin American elections,” looked at a network of assets engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior focusing on several Latin American countries – including Venezuela – and attempting to influence local politics in the region. Facebook attributed these assets to Estraterra, an Ecuadorian public relations firm operated out of Canada, as well as political consultants and former government employees of former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

The second report, “Facebook removes inauthentic network linked to Bolsonaro allies,” analyzed a set of pages, personal accounts, groups, and Instagram accounts connected to Bolsonaro and the party that propelled him into office, the right-wing Social Liberal Party (PSL). This network undertook a significant and longstanding operation, stretching back to at least the 2018 presidential campaign, and amassed an audience of millions with content that fused political spin and disinformation with targeted online harassment.

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