Venezuela's second-in-command of ruling party threatens only daily newspaper critical of Maduro

El Nacional stands defiant to journalistic duty despite pressures

By Cody Weddle, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

CARACAS, Venezuela - An old tear gas canister sits on top of journalist Jose Gregorio Mesa's desk in the newsroom of El Nacional in Caracas. He said it's a reminder of the types of stories that now dominate headlines in Venezuela.

El Nacional has been making headlines. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters continue their efforts to silence dissent. But despite many obstacles, the newspaper is the only remaining critical daily in Caracas. Their competitors were either forced to shut down or to reduce their operations to weekly or monthly publications. 

"As time has gone by, the situation has been getting more complicated, not just in terms of the direct attacks, but through indirect pressures," Mesa said in Spanish. 

Mesa also said the Maduro administration's policies have made it difficult for the newspaper to stay in business. By controlling the currency exchange, the government made it difficult for the newspaper's management to access U.S. dollars to buy ink and irons.

El Nacional's editor-in-chief Patricia Spadaro said officials also moved to silence the newspaper's digital version by blocking user's access. She also said an unresolved libel suit also means authorities might have an opportunity to shut it down any day. 

Officials have also used a tolerance law that officials who support Maduro say is meant to punish anyone who incites hate. 

"This attack will not shut us up, the web is a fortress, it has not self-censored," the newspaper's managing editor, Miguel Henrique Otero, wrote in Spanish in May. "This measure is a further threat against freedom of expression."

Venezuela's second-in-command Diosdado Cabello filed a lawsuit against El Nacional, La Patilla and Tal Cual over a report published in 2015. He also filed a lawsuit in the United States against Dow Jones & Company, the owner of The Wall Street Journal over the same report and the newspaper ABC in Spain, the first to report it

Both the European Union and the United States sanctioned Cabello, a former army lieutenant, accusing him of drug trafficking, money laundering and embezzlement. Otero said the judicial system in Venezuela answered directly to the ruling party. 

Cabello wrote on Twitter that the lawsuit included stock holders, directors, the editorial and owners. The fear of ending up in jail prompted El Nacional reporter Henrique Otero and La Patilla reporter Alberto Federico Ravell to leave the country. 

The newspaper isn't planning to shut down operations without a fight. 

"We have a commitment, because we are journalists," Spadaro said in Spanish. "This is a space that we have to defend since there are a few windows of freedom."

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