Guide for International Correspondents Arriving in Venezuela
1. Venezuela used to be a “normal” country. It had elected leaders, an independent judiciary, and various parties alternated in power; presidents changed every five years; supermarkets were full; there were no shortages; and the country not only exported electricity to its neighbors, it was the world’s largest exporter of gasoline (petrol).
2. Venezuela’s problems were, as everywhere else in Latin America, about poverty levels, inflation, unemployment, corruption, etc. Comparatively speaking, however, Venezuela was in much better shape than its neighbors. Venezuela was home to millions of immigrants. Venezuelans did not emigrate.
3. For the past 15 years one party has not only controlled all branches of government, including the judiciary, but it has taken over 70 percent of the country’s radio stations, nationalized most TV networks, and muzzled the remaining ones. Newsprint is rationed, so newspapers print but a shadow of their former editions.
4. Strict foreign exchange controls are in place. Thus, no businessman dares opine against the government lest his dollar allocation be cut.
5. The Venezuelan opposition has made massive demonstrations over the last 15 years. Millions have been on the streets, dwarfing even the Ukrainian or Egyptian demonstrations at times (such as in 2002-2003). This has not produced results in the polls due to massive ballot stuffing and voter intimidation.
6. The Venezuelan government is extremely media savvy. Think Goebbels rather than Brezhnev. You will be fed very good propaganda.
7. Every time the opposition calls for a demonstration in Caracas, the government calls one of its own. The purpose is to control the center of the city so that the opposition cannot mass supporters from East and West. Note the thousands of buses around the government demonstrations. These are used to bus government employees from all over the country. The opposition demonstrators do not need buses. They are all local.
8. Travel to the provincial cities and see the demonstrations there. You will not find pro-government demonstrations in those cities as the government does not have resources to bus people from one city to the other at the same time.
9. You (particularly if you are from the United States) have been trained to get the “official” point of view. Be aware that you will be fed a lie. These are not “politicians.” These are professional propaganda operatives.
10. Get away from handlers and talk to people — off camera, and on your own.
11. If you are expelled from the country and accused of being a CIA spy, that will tell your bosses that you are indeed a good reporter.