#AlertaVenezuela: October 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-Maduro Facebook pages published the most-shared posts covering a dubious claim from Maduro about Colombia

Nicolás Maduro claimed anew that Colombian President Iván Duque had prepared for and will oversee incursion into Venezuela. On Facebook, pro-Maduro pages appeared among the most engaged-with assets to share the allegation between October 10 and October 13, 2020. Pro-Maduro media outlet VTV published the most-shared Facebook post.

Maduro pointed his finger at the Colombian government during a virtual event on October 10, the last day of International Week of Anti-imperialist Struggle. The event also included the former presidents of Ecuador and Brazil, Rafael Correa and Dilma Rousseff, respectively; British musician Roger Waters; and Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s daughter Aleida Guevara March. For the event, Maduro sent a recorded video in which he said the “U.S. empire” threatened Venezuela during the “last years” with “a non-conventional war, which is economic, financial, political, mediatic, and armed as well.” After this allegation, Maduro added that, “at this moment,” Duque was training over 1,000 “mercenaries and terrorists” to sabotage the controversial parliamentary elections scheduled for December 6, for which Maduro is heavily pushing his favored National Assembly candidates while opposition leaders have proposed postponing them to ensure a fair process. Maduro did not give any details of Duque’s supposed plan. The Colombian Chancellor’s Office reacted to Maduro’s claims by describing them as “false” and stating that Maduro’s objective was “to divert attention away from his human rights violations and attacks against people and democracy.”

Maduro’s recent allegations echoed his previous claim on June 3, 2020, that Duque was training “mercenaries and paramilitaries” in Colombia. As with most of Maduro’s prior allegations, the alleged plot revealed on June 3 never materialized, giving credence to the argument that he is trying to deflect attention from his administration’s own incompetence in the face of a multi-dimensional domestic crisis.

Latin American media outlets – mostly in Colombia and Venezuela – garnered most of the interactions on Facebook around Maduro’s most recent allegations. According to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the Facebook page for Colombia-based TV broadcaster NTN24was the most engaged-with at 2,305 interactions (likes, shares, and comments). In the post, NTN24 shared a shortened version of Maduro’s video and a link to an article on its website that quoted Maduro’s claims as well as describing how the Colombian government had declared that three Venezuelans captured on September 3 were backed by Maduro “to destabilize Colombia.” NTN24 said that “Caracas” had qualified those allegations as a “tragicomedy.” In addition to NTN24’s post, regime-backed media outlets Telesur and VTV appeared as the sixth and seventh most engaged-with, at 1,235 and 1,176 interactions, respectively. Both VTV and Telesur reproduced Maduro’s claims against the United States and Colombia.

NTN24 Venezuela (red box) post was the most engaged-with on Facebook, while TV broadcaster Telesur (green box) was the regime-backed media outlet with the most engagements around Maduro’s claims against the Colombian government. (Source: DFRLab via CrowdTangle)

A query filtered by the most shared Facebook posts showed that VTV’s post garnered most of the shares, with 222. NTN24 appeared as the second most shared (170 shares), while a post by Venezuelan news aggregator DolarToday was the fifth most shared (59 shares).

VTV’s posts appeared as the first (green box) and fourth (orange box) most shared on Facebook amplifying Maduro’s claims. (Source: DFRLab via CrowdTangle)

The DolarToday post contained a link to an article on its website that quoted Maduro’s claims against Duque. The article, however, republished the text of an article on Venezuelan news outlet El Impulso verbatim.

DolarToday (top) republished an identical article, including the headline (blue boxes), lead photo (red boxes), and body of text (green boxes), from Venezuelan website El Impulso (bottom). (Source: DFRLab via DolarToday/archive, top; El Impulso/archive, bottom.)

The DFRLab found that Maduro has blocked access to DolarToday in Venezuela and also sued it in the U.S. District Court of Delaware for allegedly undermining Venezuela’s economyeven though the website also duplicates articles of pro-Maduro and Kremlin-funded media outlet RT en Español. Some of the DolarToday articles taken from RT en Español amplified pro-Maduro regime narratives, including “terrorist operations” supposedly backed by the United States in Venezuela. Because it is publishing (or republishing) articles that are both critical and supportive of Maduro, the website is likely financially motivated, using repurposed content as a means of generating clickthru revenue without regard to veracity or political orientation.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On October 7, Colombian news outlet El Espectador published “Desaparición forzada entre Colombia y Venezuela: un crimen por el que nadie responde” (“Forced disappearance between Colombia and Venezuela: a crime for which no one is accountable”). In its article, El Espectador reported on an internal report, “Desaparición forzada transfronteriza en Norte de Santander” (“Cross-border forced disappearance in Norte de Santander”), from Fundación Progresar, a Colombian nongovernmental organization that searches for enforced disappearance victims and assists their relatives in Colombia’s state of Norte de Santander. According to the El Espectador readout, Fundación Progresar identified between 300 and 350 people who have disappeared along the 421-kilometer border between Norte de Santander and the Venezuelan states of Zulia, Táchira, and Apure. Fundación Progresar did not established the period when the cases occurred, but El Espectador showed that Colombian public institutions Comisión de la Verdad and Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas dadas por Desaparecidas registered 61 cases of cross-border enforced disappearances in Norte de Santander between 1990 and 2016. According to El Espectador, most of the 61 disappearances were attributed to illegal armed groups such as Colombian narco-paramilitary group Los Rastrojos, though two of these cases involved Colombian and Venezuelan security forces members. Fundación Progresar found that Colombia’s and Venezuela’s diplomatic relations have affected the search for victims since the closure of the border in 2015. El Espectador explained that common graves – where some of the victims were allegedly buried – are located in Venezuelan territory, but that Colombian and Venezuelan authorities had not worked together to search the victims since 2015.

In Venezuela on October 8, independent website Runrun.es published, “Chavismo INC: El mal sueño de Bolívar fue una refinería en Nicaragua” (“Chavismo INC: Bolivar’s bad dream was a refinery in Nicaragua”). The article outlined the failures around “Supremo Sueño de Bolívar” (“Supreme dream of Bolívar”), an oil infrastructure project agreed to by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. According to Runrun.es, the total cost of the project was projected to be $4 million in July 2007, however, by 2017, only 10 percent of the project had been completed and two of the contractors were under investigation for supposedly paying bribes on other contracts in Venezuela. Runrun.es said the Venezuelan company Castillo Max, Oil & Gas “was investigated for alleged fraud in the installation in Venezuela of equipment similar to those sold in Nicaragua,” while the Chinese company CAMC Engineering Ltd. has “a record of bribe payments to Venezuelan officials.” Moreover, Runrun.es clarified that its article was connected to the investigative project Chavismo INC, which showed that at least four Venezuelan businessmen, contractors, and organizations connected to “Supremo Sueño de Bolívar” were also linked to Chávez and Maduro. Chavismo INC includes another nine investigations made by Transparencia Venezuela, Connectas, and Alianza Rebelde Investiga (ARI).

On Social Media

The hashtag #FueraMaduro (“Out, Maduro”) trended on Twitter between October 14‑16. Anti-Maduro accounts used #FueraMaduro to ask the autocrat to leave office and to report blackouts across the country. Among the accounts with most of the followers using #FueraMaduro were those for opposition leaders and organizations, such as La Causa Radical representative Americo de Grazia and Mariana Corina Machado’s party Vente Venezuela. The accounts that used #FueraMaduro also used #TrumpProtectorDeVzla (“Trump, Protector of Venezuela”) 484 times. @MaXwell22821149 was one of the accounts that used both hashtags posting spammy content.

Official Statements

Our Country cannot survive as a Socialist Nation, and that’s what the Democrats want it to be. The USA will never become a large-scale version of Venezuela. All control is already being taken away from Sleepy Joe. He has Zero to say!!!”

– U.S. President Donald Trump on Twitter on October 12, 2020.

¡FÁCIL Y RÁPIDO! El nuevo programa de cambio de la Asamblea Nacional nos va a permitir desalojar a estos grupos de ultraderecha que tanto han maltratado al pueblo venezolano y a su propia gente. VEN ¡Vamos juntos! ¡Por la Patria! ¡Con Chávez y Maduro!”

“EASY AND FAST! The new program to change the National Assembly will allow us to evict these ultra-right-wing groups that have mistreated the Venezuelan people and their own people so much. Come on, let’s go together! For the Fatherland! With Chávez and Maduro!”

– Jorge Rodríguez, chief of the Dario Vivas National Campaign Command that supports Maduro’s preferred candidates for the National Assembly, on Facebook on October 9.

Our Team In The News

The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s report launch on Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela, as well as the recently released policy brief, The Maduro-Hezbollah Nexus: How Iran-backed Networks Prop up the Venezuelan Regime, received extensive international, national, and regional coverage in publications including the Washington Free BeaconEl Nuevo HeraldHispano PostArchy NewsyNewsbeezerNewsbreak, Germany’s Blickpunkt Lateinamerika, and Spain’s Fundación Civismo, as well as in regional outlets such as ADN CubaComite Central Israelita de Uruguay, Curacao’s Knipselkrant, Brazil’s Rio Times, Colombia’s El Tiempo and Noticias Neiva, and Argentina’s Infobae and Clarin.

Diego Area, associate director with the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, was quoted in Venezuela’s El Diario on the differences between Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, regarding foreign policy approaches to Venezuela.

Recent Analyses

From the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center: 
On October 8, the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center launched its newest paper in a series that explores illicit activities and networks in Venezuela. The paper, The Maduro-Hezbollah Nexus: How Iran-backed Networks Prop up the Venezuelan Regime, explores Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and Latin America.

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