CARACAS, Venezuela – The duty of journalists is to keep those who are in power in check. This continues to be difficult in Venezuela where Nicolas Maduro and his supporters harass the Venezuelan editors, writers, reporters, and photojournalists who are doing their job.
“In Venezuela, instead of critics, the regime treats independent media as traitors,” Jose Gregorio Meza, the news director of El Nacional, said in Spanish.
On May 14, heavily armed officers seized the headquarters of El Nacional, an established newspaper founded in 1943. Jorge Makriniotis, the general manager of El Nacional, said 40 heavily armed men rushed in and ushered everyone out.
“The property was seized by force,” Makriniotis said in Spanish while standing outside of the building in Caracas’ Los Cortijos area.
It was the continuation of years of harassment. As Maduro pushed for more propaganda and less independent media, El Nacional’s last print edition was published on Dec. 14, 2018 — just months after Maduro’s “colectivos” attacked the headquarters. There was a limited supply of paper.
Diosdado Cabello, a leader in the socialist party, filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper for publishing the allegations of a security chief who defected to the U.S. and accused him of narcotrafficking. It was published in 2015. U.S. prosecutors indicted Cabello for “narco-terrorism” in 2020.
Maduro’s supporters control the judicial system. The El Nacional headquarters were seized as partial payment of $13 million in damages. He had decided he wanted to turn the headquarters of the historied El Nacional into a university.
Miguel Henrique Otero, the president and chief executive officer of El Nacional, refused to allow Maduro’s supporters to buy the newspaper. He said Cabello was wrong to assume that the paper could be bought. Instead, he said, Cabello found it is built by people who stand by a set of principles and values.
Meanwhile, the newspaper’s editors have been committed to producing a high-quality digital edition. They have 5.1 million followers on Twitter, 3.1 million on Instagram, and nearly 745,000 on Facebook.
Torres contributed to this report from Miami.