#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.
False claims appeared after Trump stated that he was open to meeting with Maduro
On Facebook, false claims that Nicolás Maduro would be ousted from power gained momentum after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would consider meeting with Nicolás Maduro to discuss “a peaceful exit [of Maduro] from power.” Those making the claims also suggested that U.S. security forces and a Venezuela’s dissident group would be involved.
Of the sources for the claim, Facebook page “Reporte Venezuela” was the most engaged-with on the platform after it posted a video featuring an “exclusive” statement from Maduro in which he warns of a U.S. plan to “intervene” in Venezuela. The page also posted another video about a supposed group of 7,000 Venezuelans security forces dissidents supposedly waiting in the United States to oust Maduro from power. Although the Reporte Venezuela page presented the information as if it was recent, the stories had originally appeared in the media some time ago. For instance, the Maduro regime’s claim of a U.S. plan to oust him first appeared on Maduro-backed outlet TelesurTV on April 9, 2017, and the claim about the group of Venezuelan dissidents was taken out of context from an interview with dissident colonel José Antonio Colina by Peruvian legacy media La República on January 5, 2020.
The Reporte Venezuela Facebook page has indicators of being Colombian in origin. Two videos posted the page featured an unidentified host covering his face with a mask and sunglasses and speaking in a Colombian accent. Separately, the page transparency section of the Facebook page shows it was created as “Reporte Venezuela” on March 11, 2019. It changed its name to “Reporte Colombia” on November 26, 2019, before rebranding back to “Reporte Venezuela” on April 11, 2020. It also shows that two of the five administrators are based in Colombia.
Although the Facebook page is self-described, in Spanish, as “News about Venezuela,” it does not hyperlink to an external news outlet, signifying that it is likely an exclusively Facebook-based operation. According to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the posts with the videos propagating the false claims garnered 7,971 interactions on Facebook, more than any posts regarding Maduro or Juan Guaidó published between June 19-23 to other Facebook accounts, pages, or groups, including those from Venezuelan and international media.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On June 22, news agency the Associated Press published “Sources: Venezuela wooed Texas Republican to ease sanctions.” The article revealed that the Maduro regime had “tried to recruit” former U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions “to broker a meeting” with executives from U.S. oil and gas corporation Exxon Mobil. According to AP, this plan was exposed in an email sent by an official at PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, to Sessions on June 8, 2017. AP also found the plan aimed to “lure Exxon back to Venezuela after a decade’s absence” and “to keep U.S. sanctions at bay.” AP indicated that former Miami Congressman David Rivera was also involved in the Maduro’s regime outreach to Sessions. Rivera allegedly signed a $50 million contract aimed “at improving PDVSA’s ‘long-term reputation’ and ‘standing’ among ‘targeted stakeholders’ in the U.S.” Moreover, AP revealed Sessions and Rivera were involved in organizing a call between Maduro and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, in April 2018. The AP article garnered 1,108 interactions on Twitter, according to a search using CrowdTangle. The June 22 article followed an earlier one from the AP detailing the lawsuit filed against Rivera.
In Venezuela on June 22, independent website Efecto Cocuyo published “Maduro afirma que está dispuesto a reunirse con Donald Trump” (“Maduro affirms he is willing to meet with Donald Trump”). The article highlighted statements from Trump and Maduro, after U.S. outlet Axiosinterviewed the U.S. president on June 19. According to Axios, Trump “does not have much confidence in Guaidó” as legitimate president of Venezuela. Guaidó is recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States, as interim president of Venezuela. Trump followed his comment on Guaidó by indicating a willingness to meet with Nicolás Maduro. Efecto Cocuyo further reported on a clarifying tweet from Trump posted on the morning of June 22 after media reacted to his Axios interview, in which the U.S. president said he was “with the people of Venezuela” and “would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!” Efecto Cocuyo also detailed Maduro’s response to the tweet in which Maduro said that he “is willing to meet with Donald Trump” and mentioned that he talked with former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in 2015.
On Social Media
The hashtag #DiálogoParaLaPaz (“Dialogue for Peace”) trended on Twitter on June 23, pushed initially by Maduro’s Ministry of Communications, in which the account promoted a new electoral process for the election of a new National Assembly. The accounts engaged in topics including elections, the National Assembly, and Trump. The narratives on the latter included discussions about Trump’s statement regarding a potential meeting with Maduro.
The @UN_HRC [United Nations Human Rights Council] debate on policing and race in the U.S. marks a new low for that body. Our vigorous, ongoing civic discourse is a sign of our democracy’s strength and maturity. We were right to leave this joke of a “human rights” forum comprised of Venezuela & recently, Cuba & China.
Trump ordenó a Pence, cuando preparaban el golpe de Estado, que le dijera a Guaidó lo siguiente: “Quiero que él diga que será extremadamente leal a los EEUU y a nadie más”. Un criminal sádico se encontró a otro masoquista. ¡Un momento para la historia de la humillación universal!
“While preparing the coup d’etat, Trump ordered [the U.S. Vice President Mike] Pence to tell Guaidó: ‘I want him to say that he will be extremely loyal to the U.S. and no one else.’ A sadist criminal who found another masochist. A moment in the history of the universal humiliation!”
– Samuel Moncada, Maduro’s ambassador to the United Nations, on Twitteron June 19, 2020. Moncada tweeted a screenshot of the book by Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a book in which Bolton criticizes the Trump administration, including its Venezuela policy.
On Tuesday, June 30, at 10:00 a.m. EDT, the Atlantic Council, the University of Navarra, and Transparency International Venezuela will host a virtual discussion in Spanish on how disinformation influences electoral processes in Venezuela. More information about the event, as well as registration, can be found here: Trust in elections and the problem of disinformation in Venezuela.
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