#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.
Maduro’s Minister of Defense highlighted political and military conspiracies against Venezuela
On February 28, Maduro’s Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino announced alleged attempts by the Colombian government to destabilize Venezuelan regime. Padrino alleged that Colombia’s intelligence agencies, along with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), had contacted around 600 members of the FANB (National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela), supposedly aiming to promote destabilizing actions against Maduro’s government. Although this narrative did not get too much traction on social media, it has become a part regime’s conspiracy narrative around intelligence agencies aiming to undermine Venezuela’s military defense.
During an interview with Ernesto Villegas Poljak, a Maduro-linked journalist and politician from PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Maduro’s political party), Padrino stated that Venezuela will go to the United Nations (UN) to denounce a supposed conspiracy orchestrated by the Colombian government to target Venezuela’s military defense. State-owned television network Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), based in Caracas, broadcast the interview, in which Padrino stated “Colombia has initiated acts of war against Venezuela […] operated by Colombia’s intelligence agencies in alliance with U.S. security agencies, such as the CIA, the FBI, and the DEA.”
Padrino started circulating the conspiracy theories around Colombia supposedly aiming to destabilize Venezuela started on February 18, 2021, after he posted an official statement from the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela to Twitter. In his post, Padrino called out Colombian President Ivan Duque for allegedly violating Venezuela’s sovereignty. The official statement included a paragraph in which the Ministry of Defense denounced Colombia’s national intelligence agency, along with the CIA, and the DEA, for aiming to recruit military personnel from FANB, using threats and bribes, to acquire sensitive military information and to disable strategic weapon systems.
The DFRLab analyzed the terms “Padrino López” and “Colombia” using the social media monitoring tool Meltwater Explore. According to the results, both terms amassed together nearly 3,000 mentions on Twitter, Facebook, news articles, and blogs combined, between January 1 and March 1, 2021.
The terms showed a spike in activity on February 18, 21, and 28. The former represents social media activity following Padrino’s initial Twitter post, and the latter, on February 28, represents how the narratives continued after the Padrino interview on VTV.
A large proportion of this activity occurred on Twitter, with nearly 2,000 posts using both “Padrino López” and “Colombia” in the same tweet, followed by content on news articles and blogs. A query using social media listening tool BuzzSumo for articles that used both terms revealed that two of the most engaged-with articles wre from state-backed news outlets, including the national news agency from Maduro’s Ministry of Communication and Information, and Lechuguinos, a pro-Maduro media outlet.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On February 28, 2021, Reuters published “Exclusive: Biden in no rush to lift Venezuela sanctions, seeks ‘serious steps’ by Maduro.” The article describes how the Biden Administration would consider easing sanctions on Venezuela when Maduro “is ready to negotiate seriously with the opposition.” According to the piece, the Maduro regime has been “actively preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” even though the existing sanctions include “enough special provisions to allow for humanitarian aid shipments to help Venezuelans cope with economic hardships and the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the article collected 727 interactions on Facebook up to March 2, including shares, likes, and comments. On Twitter, the piece had garnered 119 interactions at the time of writing.
In Venezuela, the independent news and analysis organization Caracas Chronicles published “Why Venezuela Wants a Piece of Guyana” on February 25, 2021. The article analyzes the dispute between the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and Venezuela for the Esequibo territory, which consists of 159,500 square kilometers under Guyanan control abutting Venezuela’s southeastern border. Although Esequibo is already being exploited by the mining industry in Guyana, the territory dispute has been historically used by Venezuelan politicians to improve their popularity and “has become a part Nicolás Maduro’s foreign enemy narrative,” explains the piece. According to a search using BuzzSumo, the article garnered 262 engagements on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit combined up to March 1, 2021.
On Social Media
The hashtag “ElEsequiboEsDeVenezuela” (“The Esequibo belongs to Venezuela”) trended on Twitter on February 26, 2021, gathering more than 400,000 mentions between February 26 and 27. The hashtag has trended on Twitter four times since January 2021. Twitter accounts engaged using the hashtag after Maduro’s Ministry of Communications included it as the “Hashtag of the day” more than once, with the most recent on February 26. The hashtag trended amidst the recent dispute between the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and Venezuela for the Esequibo territory, as detailed above.
Mientras exista la FANB, Venezuela no perderá un milímetro más de su territorio. Mostrar a la Revolución Bolivariana como entreguista es la más reciente y abyecta manipulación que impulsan los pitiyanquis junto a las transnacionales que zamurean la disputa del Esequibo.”
“As long as the FANB (National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela) exists, Venezuela will not lose a single millimeter of its territory. Portraying the Bolivarian Revolution as submissive is the most recent and abject manipulation pushed by the pitiyanquis [a pejorative reference to the United States] along with the multinational corporations that suspiciously take interest in the Esequibo dispute.”
– Vladimir Padrino, Maduro’s Minister of Defense, on Twitter on February 28, 2021.
Las medidas tomadas por el gobierno nacional en contra de la UE y su representante en Venezuela no hacen sino profundizar el creciente aislamiento internacional que el país tiene en un momento de tanta tensión global, primero por el coronavirus y todo lo que significa, y luego por el desequilibrio que se está observando entre las superpotencias, principalmente entre EE.UU. y China.”
“The measures taken by the national government [Maduro’s regime] against the EU and its designated representative to Venezuela only deepen Venezuela’s international isolation in a moment of so much global tension. First, because of the coronavirus and its consequences, and secondly, because of the unstable environment between global superpowers, primarily USA and China.”
– Political scientist Carlos Romero, on interview with Venezuelan digital media outlet TalCual, on March 1, 2021.
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