From Madrid, where he published Venezuela’s most important newspaper for five years, Miguel Henrique Otero, 74, told Folha how the National would react to the dictatorship’s new advance against free speech: “We will continue to exist, even if we have to deliver our presses and our head office “.
His clash goes against the stated intention of Diosdado Cabello, a strongman in the Nicolás Maduro regime, who has sued Nacional since 2015 for publishing a report citing him in an investigation into drug trafficking in the United States. At that time, Cabello was president of the National Assembly and the news was broadcast by international agencies.
This week, Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) ordered the newspaper to pay the Chavista leader $ 13.4 million. Cabello announced that the building, once confiscated, will be turned into a journalism university. And that, along with the press, will print a version of his famous TV advertising program for the regime, “Con el Mazo Dando” (something like: giving with a club).
Nacional has been in circulation since 1943, when it was founded by Miguel Henrique Otero’s father, the writer Miguel Otero Silva. In the mainstream newspaper, the country’s leading intellectuals, such as Arturo Uslar Pietri (1906-2001), as well as journalists and writers from the Southern Cone who sought refuge in Venezuela during the dictatorships of the 1970s, wrote. An example is Argentina’s Tomás Eloy Martínez (1934-2010), who lived in Caracas and edited the culture section of the Nacional while being persecuted in his country.
After six years in the process, are you surprised by the pain? No, just frustrated. In Venezuela, there has been no independent justice for some time. The judiciary acts in accordance with what the executive power orders. The delays, the comings and goings, are only to give the feeling that the judgment is proceeding in the right direction. It is a way of disguising it so as not to appear as a Chinese or Cuban dictatorship, which limits the means of communication and the period. In Venezuela, they make you believe there is freedom of the press, pressing and releasing, while slowly choking you.
The report by which the court convicted Nacional was not an exclusive investigation and was carried by other vehicles. Wasn’t there even a possible legal argument? No, precisely because of what I said. You appeal, they say they will find out, meanwhile you follow your work under threat. Then they decide one more step in the process, and so they stretched that pressure system for six years, along with others, like chasing advertisers so we can’t support the product and other strategies. , always indirect, but effective in the long term. Classes. The report Cabello didn’t like was also published by ABC, Spain and the Wall Street Journal.
He tried to sue these posts, but of course that came to naught. Months later, the DEA [agência antidrogas dos EUA] launched a reward for the delivery of Diosdado Cabello for 10 million US dollars, that is, the investigation has existed, has always existed. For this reason, Cabello is wanted by the United States and cannot leave the country. To pursue Nacional for this is to try to cover the sun with a colander.
Nacional ceased to circulate on paper in 2018. How is this operation going? With difficulties we have no profit, but we pay for our existence. We had to go online because the government put huge blocks on us to buy money to buy paper and then put pressure on advertisers. Now the operation is at least cheaper. But advertising is complicated, as in all parts of the world. Yet we continue to struggle.
The regime does not always allow the page to be put online. What is this dynamic? In order not to appear as a dictatorship like China, North Korea or Cuba, they do not prohibit you from existing, they claim that you operate in complete freedom, but selectively choose times or times when important reporting is. broadcast to cut your sign, scroll down your page. There we trigger the newspaper’s addresses abroad, and the national page can be read by those outside the country, but it is blocked in Venezuela. A few hours later, she returns. They do the same with independent newspapers, like Efecto Cocuyo.
The idea is to pretend that they are not what we all already know what they are: a dictatorship.
And what’s the plan now? We are not going to pay the money Cabello asks for. In fact, they did not tell us how they achieved this value. What will happen is that if we don’t pay, they will embezzle our assets. In other words, there will be a confiscation of our building, of our presses. Cabello said he intended to do a journalism university there, in addition to printing a paper version of “Con El Mazo Dando”. It even showed a version of what that would look like on your program. Well, we will continue to edit the page online, and journalists will be working from home and on the streets of Caracas and the cities where they are located.
Are you not afraid of being persecuted? Most Venezuelan journalists have already left the profession or Venezuela. Those who follow it are the most stubborn and are not intimidated by it. They will continue on the streets, sign with other names or post anonymous material, so as not to be harassed. No one who works with journalism in Venezuela today does so without the conviction that it is necessary to take these risks. And we will support them as much as possible.
There is no way to appeal this conviction in Venezuela, but what about outside? We do it all. Disclosure of the cause of the violation of freedom of expression, submission of the complaint to the IACHR [Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos], we hope we have the support you need to make you feel under pressure. But the main thing is to do the daily newspaper and to show that we do not make any concessions.
Miguel Henrique Otero, 74 years old
He is president of the newspaper El Nacional, founded by his father in 1943. He studied mathematics and business in Venezuela and economics in Cambridge. In 1983, he was elected federal deputy, a post to which he was re-elected twice. In 2007, he founded the 2D movement, in opposition to Chavismo, which later joined the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática) coalition.