The socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has arrested 11 journalists the past two days, including two teams of Spanish and French journalists “disappeared” into a political prison for 24 hours on Wednesday.
The Spanish team, working with the newswire service EFE, resurfaced Thursday afternoon after being forced into “El Helicoide,” the 1960s shopping-mall-turned-prison the Maduro regime uses to house its most prominent political prisoners. Maduro’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, issued a statement condemning international media outlets for sending journalists to cover the current wave of protests in the country that resulted in the legal ouster of Maduro’s regime, replaced as mandated by the Venezuelan constitution with the head of the nation’s federal legislature.
President Juan Guaidó called for protests Wednesday to demand Maduro, who still controls the military, allow humanitarian aid in the country. Guaidó’s tenure as interim president turned a week old Wednesday after he swore an oath of office publicly on January 23, the anniversary of the establishment of a democratic Venezuela in 1958.
Eyewitness reports state that members of the Venezuelan secret police, known by the acronym Sebin, entered the national headquarters of EFE Wednesday afternoon and whisked out three journalists: Spanish reporter Gonzalo Domínguez Loeda, Colombian reporter Mauren Barriga Vargas, and Colombian photographer Leonardo Muñoz. Venezuelan human rights observers reported that police took the three to the Sebin headquarters in El Helicoide, but did not notify EFE of there whereabouts or anyone publically regarding why police arrested them.
On the same day, Maduro forces detained French reporters Baptiste des Monstiers and Pierre Caille of the nation’s Quotidien TV. The outlet confirmed on Thursday that authorities released the reporters, who “will soon be back in Paris.”
The Venezuelan news outlet NTN24 reports that 11 journalists so far have faced similar aggression in the past two days, taken away and “disappeared” without explanation only to be abruptly released and forced to return home. Others similarly aggrieved include Chilean journalists Gonzalo Barahona and Rodrigo Pérez, both deported on Thursday, and Venezuelan journalists Maiker Yriarte and Ana Rodríguez, released after a ten-hour detention.
The arrests of the foreign reporters, however, triggered an intercontinental outcry.
Senior European Union official Federica Mogherini demanded the “immediate release” of the journalists from the continent.
The secretary-general of Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), Christophe Deloire, issued an urgent demand for the crackdown on reporters to end, calling the arrests “extremely unsettling.”
“We know the practices of the regime of Nicolás Maduro regarding arbitrary detentions,” he added. “Maduro, through various diverse forms, wages a media war against journalists and foreign reporters are regularly expelled.”
Chilean Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero added his voice to the condemnation. “This is what dictatorships do. Stomp on freedom of the press,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter demanding the release of the Chileans detained on Tuesday.
Muñoz, one of the Colombian EFE reporters, told journalists following his release Thursday afternoon that officials had agreed not to deport his team. “They told us we didn’t have a permit, but they said we could stay in the country,” he explained, so long as they did not attempt to do their jobs.
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) January 31, 2019
Mauren Barriga Vargas described their treatment at the Helicoide as “threatening” but noted that, ultimately, police let them go without enacting the beatings and torture that Venezuelan political prisoners who have survived the facility say occurs there regularly.
In an official statement confirming their release, the EFE disputes the claim that the reporters had somehow violated the law by trying to report on the situation in Caracas. “They identified themselves at the airport as journalists and were interrogated,” the president of the news organization said.
Arreaza, Maduro’s foreign minister, did not address any particular arrest directly but posted a statement on Twitter reading:
It is unprecedented and irresponsible for media outlets to send journalists without abiding by the basic demands that Venezuelan law requires, only to later make a media fuss joined by [foreign] governments. Another side to the media operation against the country.
Es inaudito e irresponsable que medios de comunicación envíen periodistas sin cumplir con los requisitos mínimos previos que exige la ley de Venezuela, para luego armar un escándalo mediático al que se suman sus gobiernos. Otra faceta de la operación mediática contra el país.
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) January 31, 2019
As Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s head of state, Arreaza is also not the legal foreign minister of the country. Interim President Guaidó has not yet announced a choice for foreign minister.
Maduro’s team rejects his removal, despite being mandated by the Venezuelan constitution, and has spent the week arguing that Western free media is helping U.S. President Donald Trump force a “coup d’etat” in the country. In a video directed to the people of the United States, Maduro claimed that any videos or photos of violence on the part of his military by peaceful dissidents was “doctored” by the United States and untrustworthy.
Evidence of Maduro violating the rights of journalists did not begin surfacing this week, however; this has been a common tactic by the socialist regime since Hugo Chávez was in power. In 2016, local reporters documented a particularly high number of attacks on journalists attempting to document that year’s widespread protests against the regime. Armed socialist gangs known as colectivos beat and robbed reporters on multiple occasions amid the protests, making sure to take cell phones away to prevent video of the violence leaving the country.
Most recently, a video caught a Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) armored vehicle attempting to run over and kill Venezuelan journalist Madelyn Palmar, who escapes only thanks to hopping over a guard rail that the vehicle cannot surpass.
The Maduro regime has targeted any civilian supporting Guaidó this week. The United Nations released a report this week documenting 40 deaths since Guaidó took his oath of office, most the product of Venezuelan soldiers and police shooting protesters death. Nearly 1,000 Venezuelans have “disappeared” or been arrested during protests, some as young as 12, the U.N. reported.