Friday, February 21, 2014

Venezuelan President Threatens to Expel CNN (Updated)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro threatened to expel CNN from the country due to the network’s coverage of growing unrest.

CNN will leave Venezuela. Enough of war propaganda. If they do not make amends (then) out of Venezuela!” declared Maduro on Thursday.

He accused the U.S.-based news network of “showing the world that Venezuela is in a state of civil war” and instructed Communications Minister Delcy Rodríguez to inform CNN that "an administrative process has begun to take them off the air if they do not mend their ways."

Maduro’s remarks came during a televised event where he showed vandalized Caracas buses allegedly damaged by “violent gangs” allied to government opponents.  As a result, he threatened with taking those responsible for damaging the public transit system to court.

On Tuesday, CNN journalist Karl Penhaul reported on the air that he was held up at gunpoint by a motorcycle gang in Caracas.

“The men on motorcycles rounded on us, the next thing I knew I was staring down the barrel of a chrome-plated nine-millimeter pistol and three armed men then proceeded to rob our crew of all the camera gear, all the transition gear as well,” he said regarding the incident on Monday night.

He further claimed that the “group of armed thugs” was most likely plain-clothed police officers.

Last week the Venezuelan government removed Colombia’s NTN24 from cable TV systems and blocked the news channel’s website from being viewed.  William Castillo, the head of Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator, claimed that NTN24 was “actively supporting destabilizing efforts” by transmitting violent incidents live on the air. NTN24 CEO Claudia Gurisatti called the actions against the network a “censorship of free press, an affront to citizens’ right to be informed and an attack on freedom of expression.”

Venezuela is ranked 116th out of 180 countries in the latest Press Freedom Index report issued by media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

[Update below the page break]
Update: Venezuelan officials revoked the press credentials of seven CNN journalists including Osmary Hernandez, the network's correspondent in that country, and CNN en Español anchor Patricia Janiot.  Janiot left Venezuela on Friday and hosted her evening news program on CNN en Español from the network's Atlana studios.

"We hope the government will reconsider its decision," according to a statement read on-air on CNN en Español today.  In the meantime, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in a just, accurate and balanced manner that characterizes us as a journalistic enterprise.    

Additionally, Deutsche Welle reporter Mark Koch alleged that he and his crew were detained for one hour by Venezuelan "security forces" and forced to "erase any materials we had."   

At least six people have died since an opposition rally in Caracas on February 12th turned violent and the unrest has spread to other areas such as the western border region.  Yesterday the government announced that a battalion of paratroopers would be sent to Táchira where opposition protesters have clashed with national guard units.  Yet tensions have continued to escalate in the overnight hours:

Student-age demonstrators burned cars and tires and threw Molotov cocktails, while security forces responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds.
Especially violent and sustained clashes occurred in the western Andean cities of San Cristobal and Merida, Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported.

Amid the violence in Caracas, a protester was shot and critically wounded by uniformed agents Thursday, the newspaper said.

A video of the incident posted on YouTube showed people in the street and in surrounding apartment buildings cursing at the agents and calling them "assassins."
Other posted videos showed armed men on motorcycles riding through protester areas amid sounds of heavy gunfire, screams in the street and the banging of pots and pans by residents in apartment buildings to show their displeasure -- a practice known as "cacerolazo."
Online Sources – The Guardian; Buenos Aires Herald; UPI;; Reporters Without Borders; GlobalPost; Ultimas Noticias;;

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