Venezuela cracks down on the press in the midst of national upheaval
To say Venezuela is in a state of upheaval and revolution is putting it mildly. Just days after Christmas, Venezuelans are facing a 2,400% inflation rate and severely depressed purchasing power, according to consulting firm Econometrica, which places Venezuelan buying power at one fifth what it was when Hugo Chavez began the country’s Socialist revolution nearly 20 years ago.
The country is also rationing water and food is scarce for many of the impoverished, some of whom have taken to searching through garbage to find food. There have also been violent protests, culminating in a four month clash with riot police over the rule of Nicolas Maduro, the man Chavez hand picked to succeed him.
Venezuela’s National Press Workers Guild said on Wednesday that there had been 498 violations of freedom of expression in the country between January and December. They continued by saying that this figure is not appropriate for a democratic country, and went on to compare them to the figures for 2016 (360), 2015 (280) and 2014 (420).
The NPWG also noted that 70% of these violations came from state workers, and that in 2017 there were 49 media outlets closed, most notably Colombian networks RCN and Caracol, in addition to the expulsion of CNN en Español from television packages. There has also been a shutdown campaign against print media, and the NPWG notes that 20 newspapers were forced to close their publications.
The watchdog group Freedom House has taken notice of the ongoing obstruction of freedom of the press in Venezuela, and has the country rated as an 81 on its sliding scale metric of freedom of the press (0 is the highest and 100 is the lowest). They have taken into account the key developments in 2016, which include journalists facing violence, obstruction, and detention from security forces while they were covering demonstrations, journalists facing politically motivated charges and prosecutions such as David Natera Febres, who was convicted of criminal defamation in March of 2016, and Braulio Jatar Alonso who was arrested and charged with money laundering in September of 2016.
In response to all of this, and the removal of opposition parties from the ballot by Maduro, members of their Justice First party have been turning to a kind of grassroots activism which includes soup kitchens and free medical care. However, these acts are not enough to alleviate Venezuela’s issues, and experts warn that only a strong candidate with a united front behind them can challenge Maduro in the elections.