#AlertaVenezuela: March 24, 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

Maduro, again, blames returning migrants for the spread of COVID-19

Venezuela’s de facto leader, Nicolás Maduro, once again blamed Colombia and Venezuelans returning from Colombia for the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela. On March 21, Maduro announced that Venezuela would adopt a “radical quarantine” for two weeks among a surge in COVID-19 cases, which he also attributed to the new variant that originated in Brazil.

In his televised speech, Maduro said that the first wave of COVID-19 in Venezuela happened because of “Colombia’s trocheros.” He has previously used the term as a pejorative in reference to both Venezuelan migrants returning from Colombia to Venezuela amid the pandemic and to Colombians who have helped them in the crossing. “Trocha” is a Spanish word used to refer to illegal paths between the countries, used by many to avoid the restrictions imposed by the regime at official border crossings on those that were returning.

In the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, after Colombia adopted strict lockdown measures, many Venezuelans lost their sources of income and decided to return to their country of origin. In June, Maduro said that Colombia was sending infected Venezuelans back to their home country to infect it deliberately. Official regime Twitter accounts have also referred to “trocheros” as “bioterrorists.”

“The first wave of contagion in Venezuela was caused by the Colombian ‘trocherismo’, and now we are facing a new wave that has the Brazilian variant, which is more infectious, as a fundamental cause,” Maduro said in this speech. Maduro’s communications ministry later amplified the statement on Twitter. (Source: MPCCI/archive)

Maduro claimed that the second wave of COVID-19 that Venezuela is seeing now is due to the Brazilian variant. He harshly criticized what he called the “Trumpist Brazilian right-wing” and the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro. According to Maduro, Brazil “is now the biggest global threat because of Bolsonaro who, amid the collapse [of Brazil’s health sector], instead of asking for help from other sectors, encourages people not to social distance, not to wear masks.”

From the outset of the pandemic until March 23, Venezuela has registered 151,894 COVID-19 cases and 1,502 deaths, according to the government. The number, however, is questioned by experts and the opposition.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On March 22, Bloomberg published “Scion of Billionaire Family Hunts for Cheap Assets in Venezuela.” The article detailed how the Cisneros family – the “billionaire family [that] brought the Studebaker, Pepsi-Cola, and department stores” to Venezuela – has been making high-risk operations amid Maduro’s economic measures based on free-markets reforms. According to Bloomberg, the Cisneros family moved its assets to the United States during Hugo Chávez’s tenure, but the new generation is targeting the Venezuelan market “to buy on the cheap.” The article showed that 3B1 Guacamaya Fund LP, a fund co-founded by Eduardo Cisneros – the grandson of patriarch Diego Cisneros – has already used about $60 million out of $200 million “to snap up Venezuelan businesses” during 2020. The piece garnered 1,600 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined as of March 23, according to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo.

In Venezuela, independent website Runrun.es published on March 18, “COVID-19 en Venezuela: la pandemia de la opacidad” (“COVID-19 in Venezuela: the pandemic of opacity”). One year after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Venezuela on March 13, 2020, Runrun.es published an analysis of the Maduro regime’s reporting on the state of the country vis-à-vis the virus compared to the records kept by independent organizations, health experts, and members of the opposition to Maduro. The piece showed, for instance, that while the Maduro regime reported that 27 health personnel died as of March 8, 2021, the nongovernmental organization Médicos Unidos de Venezuela (“United Medics for Venezuela,” better known by its Spanish acronym MUV) reported 354 deaths related to that group. The article gathered 203 interactions on social media, according to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo.

On Social Media

The keyword “FARC” (the Spanish acronym for the Colombian dissident guerrilla group “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia”) trended on Venezuelan Twitter between March 21 and March 23. “FARC” trended on March 21, when Maduro security forces were deployed in the Venezuelan state of Apure and attacked a base camp of two guerrilla leaders, aliases “Farley” and “Arturo,” who apparently split from the FARC in Venezuela. Among the most retweeted accounts using “FARC” were those of the directors of Venezuelan activist network Fundaredes, such as Juan Francisco García Escalona and Javier Tarazona, who reported on the military deployment in Apure and who said that the Maduro regime operated alongside FARC leaders to attack a dissident group of FARC.

Official Statements

Lamentable se confirma la presencia de minas antipersonales en la zona que ocasionaron la muerte de un oficial superior de la GNB y heridas a 2 sargentos, tras enfrentamientos en Apure. Venezuela deja de ser un país libre de minas antipersonales #ConvencionDeOtawa.”

 “Unfortunately, the presence of antipersonnel mines in the area that caused the death of a high-ranking GNB [National Bolivarian Guard] official and wounded two sergeants after clashes in Apure is confirmed. Venezuela is no longer a country free of antipersonnel mines #ConvencionDeOtawa.”

– Rocío San Miguel, president of human rights organization Control Ciudadano, on Twitter on March 21, 2021.

Primero el Presidente del país que ha generado más guerras y genocidios en el mundo califica de asesino al Presidente de Rusia. Ahora el presidente de la oligarquía más sanguinaria y violenta de América, llama asesino al Presidente de Venezuela. El efecto espejo se viraliza.”

“First, the President of the country that has generated more wars and genocides in the world calls the President of Russia a murderer. Now the President of the most bloodthirsty and violent oligarchy in America calls the President of Venezuela a murderer. The mirror effect goes viral.”

– Jorge Arreaza, Maduro’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Twitter on March 20.

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