#AlertaVenezuela: May 5, 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

Kremlin-funded website claims Russia could attack United States troops on Venezuelan coast

Following a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Nicolás Maduro on April 20, the Spanish-language version of Kremlin-funded website Avia.pro, Avia-es.com, claimed Russia would support the Bolivarian Republic by sending troops to confront U.S. forces stationed in the Caribbean Sea, near the coast of Venezuela. The headline of the article, which affirmed Russia would end the blockade by force, was misleading, as the text specified that the attack would only happen if the United States imposed a naval blockade on Venezuela in the context of an anti-drugs operation. Still, the piece was significantly amplified by Facebook pages and groups supporting Putin and Maduro.
According to official sources, during the call, Putin and Maduro reaffirmed Russian-Venezuelan cooperation amid the coronavirus emergency. Both Maduro and Putin condemned the “coercive measures” imposed by the U.S. government. Putin also called on the United States to stop the sanctions and trade wars against his allies, including Iran and Venezuela, during the pandemic.
The same day the call between Putin and Maduro took place, Avia-es.com published a Spanish version of an article originally published in Russian by Avia.pro. The headline read “Russia will break blockage in Venezuela with warships and submarines.” The article, nonetheless, explained that a Russian military action could happen if the United States imposed a sea blockade: “as it can be interpreted from data provided by Venezuelan authorities, Russia is willing to provide the Bolivarian Republic [of Venezuela] the support needed if the United States wants to organize a sea blockade.” As the claim arose from an interpretation and concerned hypothetical future actions, it could not be verified by the DFRLab. 
The article was linked to a statement published by the Venezuelan regime claiming that the Russian Federation had warned “that the United States is trying to impose a naval blockade on Venezuela under the pretext of blocking alleged drug trafficking.” On April 1, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered troops to mobilize close to the Venezuelan coast after the United Statesindicted Maduro for “narco-terrorism.” But the U.S. warships are not currently imposing a naval blockade: the U.S. Naval Institute has reported no deployment of U.S. warships in the Caribbean Sea or close to the Venezuelan coast as of May 4.
On Facebook, the Avia-es.com article garnered more engagements than news outlets (e.g., NTN24Telesur, Sputnik Mundo) covering Russian and Venezuelan relations between April 20-24. A search for articles mentioning Russia and Venezuela using social media listening tool BuzzSumo showed that Avia-es.com’s article garnered 18,300 engagements on Facebook, while an article published by Colombian right-wing outlet NTN24 about planes coming from Russia and Iran landing in Venezuela was the second most engaged-with, garnering 14,400 engagements.

Avia-es.com article garnered 18,300 engagements on Facebook and was the most engaged-with story about Russia and Venezuela. (Source: @danielsuarezper/DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

An analysis using CrowdTangle showed groups supporting Maduro and Putin were the main amplifiers of the Avia-es.com story. Among the most active groups sharing it were Vladimir Putin el mejor presidente de todos los tiempos (“Vladimir Putin the best president ever”) with 1,265 engagements;Apoyo a Vladimir Putin (“Support to Vladimir Putin”) with 1,382 engagements; and Apoyo para El Presidente Nicolas Maduro (“Support to President Nicolas Maduro”) with 814 engagements. 
The Avia-es.com post was amplified not only on social media but also on websites and blogs. AnnurTv, which describes itself as “the first Arabic and Islamic Argentinian channel,” republished the article and gathered 1,100 engagements on Facebook. Two groups that shared the Avia-es.com post, including Vladimir Putin el mejor presidente de todos los tiempos and Apoyo a Vladimir Putin, also shared the AnnurTv article. Among other websites and blogs that amplified the article by Avias-es.com between April 20-24 were Diario OctubreEspejo Aeronáutico, and Movimiento Político de Resistencia.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On May 3, The Associated Press published “Ex-Green Beret claims he led foiled raid into Venezuela.” Jordan Goudreau, a retired American Green Beret, took responsibility for a failed May 3 attack to oust Maduro. That same day, Maduro regime officials announced that eight men had been killed and two captured and attributed “Operation Gedeon” to the governments of Colombia and the United States. According to AP, U.S. and Colombian officials dismissed the Venezuelan allegations. AP also mentioned a video posted after the failed attack and featuring Goudreau and retired Venezuelan army captain Javier Nieto, in which the ex-Green Beret claimed the operation “was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas.” An investigation published by AP on May 1 revealed that five people who met Goudreau described him as “an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient who served as a medic in the U.S. Army special forces.”

On May 1, Venezuelan independent media El Pitazo published “79% de hogares de Maracaibo se las ingenian para mantener dieta básica” (“79 percent of Maracaibo households manage to maintain a basic diet.”). The article discussed the results of an April 19‑26 online survey of 195 households in the city of Maracaibo that Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia (Codhez) (“Human Rights Commission of Zulia State”) undertook. According to El Pitazo’s readout, 70 percent of the families had to reduce the meal portion size, 42 percent could not eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and 20 percent ate one meal or nothing during a day.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #CubaCoopera (“Cuba cooperates”) trended on Twitter on May 1. Cuban medical mission accounts used #CubaCoopera to commemorate the International Workers’ Day and to promote Cuban medical support to Venezuelans during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Official Statements

#VenezuelaInexpugnable lanchas rápidas, mercenarios, armas de gran calibre, vehículos con ametralladoras instaladas, narcotráfico apoyando una operación: escena para asesinar a un Pueblo que sólo pide Paz, volvieron a subestimarnos, no han podido ni podrán. Nosotros Venceremos!”

“Venezuela is impenetrable. Speed boats, mercenaries, large caliber weapons, vehicles mounted with machine guns, and drug-traffickers supporting an operation: this is a scene to kill a people that only ask for peace. They underestimate us again; they haven’t managed to do it and they never will. We will win!”  – Diosdado Cabello, president of Maduro’s Constituent National Assembly and Maduro’s second in command, on Twitter on May 3. The post was in reference to the failed attempt to oust Maduro mentioned above.

We are deeply concerned about #Iran’s destabilizing behavior in #Venezuela – over the last few days, Iranian aircraft have transferred unknown support to the regime. We continue our efforts to help restore democracy and call for the Maduro regime to step aside.”

Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, on Twitter on April 30.

Recent Analyses

From the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center: 

From the DFRLab: On Thursday, April 30, the DFRLab published “How a false story about a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine spread in Latin America.” This report explains how Interferon, falsely touted as a coronavirus vaccine, goes viral across region before jumping to South Africa. In Venezuela, a post by blog Colarebo ended up being the most shared URL in tweets mentioning the Cuban vaccine. The website has a strong anti-U.S. bias and links to state-run channels from Venezuela and Russia, such as Telesur and RT.
From the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center: On Tuesday, April 28, Diego Area did an Instagram Live to discuss disinformation in Venezuela with Adrian Bono, a Latin America influencer and journalist, founder of two media outlets in Argentina.
2-minute video summary of the AC Front Page/Leaders of the Americas conversation with Juan Guaidó, hosted by the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center on April 23, is also now available.

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