The U.S.-backed right-wing opposition in Venezuela is consistently described as “peaceful,” protesting non-violently against the leftist regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who mainstream media throughout the Americas and the world consider an autocrat, or dictator who is hell-bent on accumulating more power.
However, the Venezuelan opposition has proven themselves to be anything but peaceful, especially in recent weeks. Late last month, a mob of around 40 opposition protesters were caught on video beating 21-year-old Orlando José Figuera, then dousing him with gasoline and lighting him on fire after he was accused of being a “Chavista infiltrator.”
While the young man suffered first- and second-degree burns on more than half of his body and survived more than six knife wounds to the stomach, the U.S. and its allies in Latin America have remained silent.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) May 23, 2017
Now, two independent U.S. journalists have been threatened with a similar fate after traveling to Venezuela to report on the protests: Abby Martin and Mike Prysner of the Telesur-affiliated Empire Files, a documentary and interview video series. Although the Empire Files is hosted on Telesur, the program is independently produced by Prysner and Martin.
The pair has traveled through Venezuela’s capital, talking to eyewitnesses. Martin wears protective gear, including a helmet as a measure against the violence that has rocked the city in recent years.
The trouble began when influential members of the opposition, including José Carrasquero, accused the pair of infiltrating protests to gather intelligence for the Venezuelan government. Soon similar accusations spread throughout the opposition’s leadership, leading opposition sympathizers to call for violence.
Opposition prof in Venezuela makes life threatening, totally false accusations that we're infiltrating protests to gather gov "intelligence" https://t.co/UMo7baCwUH
— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) May 31, 2017
Journalists who work for elite-owned media and are sympathetic to the opposition, such as Manuel Malaver, also repeated baseless accusations against Martin and Prysner.
— Érika Ortega Sanoja (@ErikaOSanoja) June 1, 2017
Twitter users who identified themselves as members of the Venezuelan opposition – namely @nyoli05 and @mrsmalkovich – called for the pair to be burned alive. More calls to violence soon followed, with others calling for Martin and Prysner to be lynched.
— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) May 30, 2017
— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) June 1, 2017
Martin and Prysner have received support from Telesur, as well as Venezuelan Minister of Information and Communication Ernesto Villegas. Telesur promised to investigate the threats made against the pair.
Venezuelan journalists have been targeted as well, including Elizabeth Ostos of El Pitazo, who was attacked by protesters on the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas while reporting.
— Lucas Koerner (@lm_koerner) May 31, 2017
The allegedly peaceful Venezuelan opposition has been a major recipient of U.S. aid. After former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998, the U.S. gave between $50 to $60 million to the nation’s right-wing opposition. Such donations have grown in recent years, with former President Barack Obama sending $5 million to the Venezuelan opposition in 2014 to “support political competition-building efforts.” A Senate bill recently introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) would give the opposition an additional $20 million if passed.
As Roberto Lovato, a journalist who covers the drug war and social movements in Latin America, told Vice News: “There’s absolutely some organic movement against the government. […] But if you don’t factor in the millions of dollars that’s been spent on destabilizing the government and prop up opposition leaders, it’s not the whole story.”
However, if the Venezuelan opposition continues to call for the deaths of journalists and continues to employ violent tactics, the narrative may become harder to control, despite their – and their benefactors – best efforts.
Feature photo | Journalist Abby Martin interviews Venezuelan opposition protesters. Photo | Facebook