In Venezuela, Only Government News is Fit to Print

Today is a big media day in Venezuela. Today, Friday, March 11, 2016, the news is all about the news and it’s as if the Bolivarian government was taking a page out of President Obama’s playbook to make a whole movie. Yet while the U.S. president can only go after individual whistleblowers (and boy does he ever! with more whistleblowers serving more jail time under Obama than all previous presidents combined) in Venezuela the government shuts down whole newspapers.

There are, of course, other differences between a capitalist national security state like the U.S. where some checks and balances remain as echoes of liberal democratic moments of national history and an authoritarian socialist-wannabe centralized command state like Venezuela under the Bolivarians. In the U.S. the government can’t destroy a newspaper by simply shutting off the flow of newsprint since a newspaper can always buy materials on the open market. It just lets the Market make the news, which, of course, means allowing mainstream media to dumb-down the public by feeding it a steady diet of Justin Bieberesque pablum until it is unable to digest real food.

In Venezuela, where the government has increasingly gained a monopoly on all imports (and in the Venezuelan petrostate, nearly everything is imported), it can manage its media domination by rewarding clients and cutting off newsprint to critics. As I write, the Valencia newspaper, El Carabobeño notes that, due to the government refusal to deliver newsprint, that daily will cease to publish in one week. Another regional daily, La Mañana, from Falcon State, announced the same day that it would also have to shut down for lack of newsprint.

This, and the usual networks of patronage to “community media” that toe the government line, is the “normal” way of achieving “media hegemony” in “socialist” Venezuela. The struggle between the government and the independent press is ongoing and the Bolivarians have been in this asymptote of news hegemony for a few years. But then it always has other means of silencing its critics, and that’s where it comes to resemble Obama’s National Security State.

In the wee hours of this morning David Natera Febres, publisher of Correo del Caroní, the newspaper that broke the story on massive corruption in the state-owned Ferrominera Orinoco steel plant, was sentenced by Judge Beltrán Javier Lira to four years in prison and a 201,249 bolívar fine. There also exists the possibility that the government will shut down the independent paper. The Correo has some of the best reporting on labor conditions and corruption in the nationalized “Basic Industries” of Guayana, Venezuela’s industrial belt. Their stellar reporters, Damian Prat and Clavel Rangel, have done a great job covering the ongoing story of the 28 desaparecidos (disappeared) miners, feared to be murdered and cut up by the chainsaws of the El Topo (the Mole) gang with the suspected collusion of the Intelligence Police (SEBIN) and other national police and military forces.

Is it just a coincidence that the sentence against David Natera Febres comes a week after the disappearance of the miners? The government’s hesitance to deal with the issue was evident from the beginning when the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) governor Francisco Rángel Gómez adamantly denied anyone was missing. Left opposition National Assembly members from Causa R (Radical Cause) Américo de Grazia and Andrés Velásquez have been on the case from the beginning, demanding an investigation. De Grazia pointed out the obvious: that the gang removed the truckload of bodies and body parts of the miners past three military checkpoints, making official collusion in the massacre a near-certainty.

Without Correo de Caroní and its great investigative reporting, we may never know what links there are to the mega-gangs controlling the gold mines of Bolívar state, and the government. But then that’s just the point, isn’t it?

Clifton Ross can be reached at clifross1(at) His most recent book, Home from the Dark Side of Utopia (2016, AK Press) is a memoir of his experiences among revolutionary movements in the Americas, including the Bolivarian process of Venezuela. Read other articles by Clifton.