Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s most powerful parliament figure, has lately been at the center of slander-induced attention. In April, Cabello announced that he would sue national newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual, as well as website La Patilla, for replicating accusatory news in January reported by Spanish newspaper ABC, claiming the existence of a Venezuelan military-run drug cartel. Claiming the news to be downright defamatory, Cabello has launched his own campaign to bring down the journalists behind the spreading of this news. As of today, a travel ban has been imposed on 22 Venezuelan media figures, preventing them from leaving the country.
Aftermath of slander and travel ban intensifies tensions with the U.S.
Opposition leaders and U.S. political figures have long held a stale and borderline bitter attitude toward the incumbent, who is currently the President Speaker of the National Assembly of Venezuela, very active in the armed forces, and was previously involved in Hugo Chávez’s return to political power after his 2002 coup d’état.
Reigning as the socialist party’s second-most powerful figure after President Nicolás Maduro, Cabello is not only mocking the journalists and enforcing a travel ban on them, but is also seeking to freeze their assets. Among the 22 condemned are La Patilla editor Alberto Federico Ravell and El Nacional editor Miguel Otero. The scandal originated from reports that Leamsy Salazar, Cabello’s former chief of security/bodyguard had fled to the U.S. this past winter, and is currently cooperating with the U.S. in a prosecution case that is bringing Cabello down as the leader of a national drug ring.
In Venezuela, historically a limited freedom of the press
Silenced editorial expression does not come as a surprise to Venezuelan media outlets. Throughout past decades, the government has, under Chávez’s anti-speech rulings, directly shut down several publications and news sources (though other outlets have been closed purely due to financial troubles). The flagrant censorship cast by governmental authorities over the press has routinely been used as a strategy to silence investigative reporting and, to a greater extent, to quash journalistic integrity.
Venezuela’s media sphere was, for a momentous period during Chávez’s coup in 2002, stringently anti-government. However, with this recent fiasco and newly instated travel ban, as well as ongoing hostility toward journalists who cover “unpopular” topics such as corruption, the economic crisis and widespread violence, the struggle for journalists in Venezuela continues.