Venezuelans protest after Maduro's administration shuts off CNN

Reporting on fraudulent passport angers Maduro's administration

By Cody Weddle

CARACAS - A crowd was protesting in Caracas after Venezuela suspended CNN in Spanish on Wednesday. Officials shut off the news channel a few hours after they angrily criticized a report saying government workers engaged in selling fraudulent passports.

The National Telecommunications Commission announced it initiated the "administrative sanction" because of news stories that it considered "direct aggressions" against Venezuela.

The agency did not cite the passport story, but earlier in the day other government officials held a news conference to dispute the CNN story.

CNN aired a report on Feb. 6 based on a whistleblower's allegations that Venezuelan officials had been selling passports from the country's embassy in Iraq to people of Middle Eastern origin, including a few members of terrorist groups.

Before the suspension was announced, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government had requested that authorities take action against CNN in Spanish because of the "damage" it caused Venezuela. Rodriguez specifically criticized CNN's report on the allegations of passport fraud.

CNN's report identified Vice President Tareck El Aissami as one of the people responsible for the passport sales during his days as interior minister overseeing the issuance of passports.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on El Aissami this week, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.

In a statement, CNN said that it stood by its reporting and that the government's decision denied Venezuelans access to the network's news and information.

"At CNN en Espanol we believe in the vital role that freedom of press plays in a healthy democracy," the company said.

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