Venezuela Country Safety Page

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A protester poses in Caracas, June 14, 2017. (AP/Ariana Cubillos)
CPJ
06142017CaracasAPArianaCubillos.jpg
A protester poses in Caracas, June 14, 2017. (AP/Ariana Cubillos)

Updated July 6, 2017

As the political situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, journalists covering protests have been routinely targeted, harassed, attacked, and detained. To provide concrete safety information for local and international journalists covering the unrest, CPJ’s Emergencies Response Team is issuing periodic updates on the political situation, protests, and climate for journalists on the ground. This information is updated on a weekly basis.

For information on how journalists should protect themselves, see CPJ’s Safety Advisory for Venezuela.

Political Background

Venezuelan opposition supporters have been protesting against the government of President Nicolás Maduro since late March, when the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of stripping the opposition-led National Assembly of its lawmaking powers. This wave of anti-government demonstrations, the longest since 2014, has become violent in many parts of the country. As of July 4, the attorney general’s office had recorded 90 people killed in the protests.

There are two main parties involved in the current unrest. One is the governing Socialist Party (PSUV) led by President Maduro, who has attempted to continue the populist Bolivarian Revolution movement of his predecessor Hugo Chávez. The other is the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition political parties. Though Venezuela’s political opposition has historically been fractured, the March Supreme Court ruling inspired disparate factions of MUD to work together in collective opposition to Maduro. MUD has several leaders, including Henrique Capriles, the governor of the northern state of Miranda and a candidate for president; Leopoldo López, a jailed politician; and National Assembly President Julio Borges.

Despite continued opposition, Maduro’s government is moving forward with a planto convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Opposition leaders have called this plan a power grab and an attempt to interfere with local and national elections that had previously been scheduled for 2017 and 2018, respectively, according to news reports. It is now unclear when these elections will take place, or how the constituent assembly’s work will affect them.

Amid reports of rising discontent among members of the armed forces, on June 27 a former police inspector allegedly stole a helicopter and staged a brazen attack on government institutions in Caracas, firing at the Interior Ministry and dropping grenades on the Supreme Court. That the alleged pilot, Oscar Pérez, escaped after such a public attack has fed conspiracy theories that the government or the United States staged the raid.

The administration’s latest political target is Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who has emerged as one of the strongest critics of Maduro within officialdom. On June 21, the Supreme Court agreed to allow proceedings against Ortega to determine whether she should be suspended from office and should stand trial on charges of having committed “grave errors” in her role, according to news reports. In a speech at her office that day, Ortega said that she expected to be fired.

The Protests
Early demonstrations were organized by MUD and affiliated activists. But as the protests have continued, more recent actions have been sponsored by an increasingly diverse range of organizers, including student groups, teachers and other civilian groups.

Marches normally begin at a predetermined meeting point where protesters gather for two or three hours. They then move toward city centers where government ministry offices are located. Organizers across the country have led recent marches to Public Ministry offices in a show of support for Ortega. Protesters are also holding protests that involve blocking all surrounding streets, which are referred to as trancazos.

In Caracas, the capital, protests have many different route options. Security forces typically stop them after only a short distance, and the national government has announced that protests will not be allowed to enter the Municipio Libertador, the city center. Police and National Guard place barriers, armored vehicles equipped to fire tear-gas canisters, lines of police and soldiers, and vehicles equipped with water cannons.

Around the country, Venezuelan state security forces, including the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), national police (PNB), and state police, have used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse crowds. Hundreds have been injured and arrested.

In the last week, state security forces have repeatedly fired live rounds into crowds of demonstrators, killing two protesters and injuring at least seven others, according to news reports.

On June 19, GNB officers fired live rounds at a crowd near Altamira in Caracas, injuring six people and killing 17-year-old student Fabián Urbina. Three officers have been charged in connection with Urbina’s death, according to news reports.

On June 22, near the same location, an air force officer from the nearby La Carlota military airfield shot David Vallenilla, 22, multiple times in the chest, according to media reports. Vallenilla died several hours later.

Between June 26 and 29, five young men, all between 18-25 years old, were killed during protests in five different cities across the country. Three were shot and two died after being run over by vehicles during trancazos, according to news reports.

In a press conference for international media on June 23, President Maduro blamed opposition leaders, the Organization of American States and the United States, among others, for the situation in Venezuela. Maduro said the Constitutional Assembly was the only way to bring peace to the country. During the press conference, Maduro also stated that he had given a “clear order” to security forces not use firearms against protestors, according to news reports.

Meanwhile, customs officials have banned the import of protective items used by both journalists and protesters, including helmets, gas masks, and bulletproof vests, according to news reports. The same ban has also blocked imports of first aid supplies and goods used by protesters to protect themselves, such as antacids, eye drops, and stretchers.

Throughout Venezuela’s largest cities, belligerent groups from both sides are also present at demonstrations or hotspots. Many are armed with weapons of different types, and all pose a potential threat to journalists. They include pro-government armed groups known as colectivos, which operate sometimes in support of security forces and sometimes alone, and protester barricades, known as guarimbas, which most often appear along main roads and in opposition-friendly neighborhoods.

Members of a "colectivo" pro-government group attack Leonardo Rodriguez (center), a photographer for the pro-opposition newspaper El Nacional, as he covered a student protest at Venezuelan Central University (UCV) in Caracas, April 3, 2014. (AFP/Federico Parra)

Members of a “colectivo” pro-government group attack Leonardo Rodriguez (center), a photographer for the pro-opposition newspaper El Nacional, as he covered a student protest at Venezuelan Central University (UCV) in Caracas, April 3, 2014. (AFP/Federico Parra)

Colectivos maintain a significant presence at demonstration sites. They primarily consist of former police officers, military, or security service personnel. Members are usually dressed as civilians, though some wear black jackets and masks. They typically carry small arms, though some have also been seen with rifles or machine guns. Colectivo members usually travel in groups of two aboard motorcycles.

Colectivo members have fired directly into protests and are allegedly responsible for a number of protester deaths, according to reports. They have also threatened, physically attacked, and robbed journalists.

On July 5, a group of about 200 Colectivo members attacked the National Assembly building, where lawmakers, journalists and civil society groups had gathered for a special session commemorating Venezuela’s Independence Day. Armed Colectivostrapped more than 300 people in the building, including 108 journalists, 94 deputies and 120 workers, and held them there for more than seven hours, according to news reports. At least 12 people were injured, including four deputies. Digital news outlet Vivoplay reported that members of Colectivos threatened journalists with pipes and rocks and stole cameras, microphones, and other equipment.

Protesters unload pallets from a truck they forced to stop on a highway in Caracas, May 22, 2017. (AP/Fernando Llano)

Protesters unload pallets from a truck they forced to stop on a highway in Caracas, May 22, 2017. (AP/Fernando Llano)

Guarimbas, or protest barricades, which first appeared during the 2014 protests, are commonly manned by university or high school students, known as guarimberos. The barricades are made of up materials ranging from bags of trash to tree trunks and stolen vehicles, such as trucks or buses, which guarimberos sometimes set on fire. Local reports indicate that some guarimbas in Caracas have included gangs who have extorted drivers and forcefully collected money from passersby. There are also reports of these groups using violence.

The following locations are the sites of most, though not all, of the documented protests and violent incidents. Journalists should take additional precautions when reporting there:

  • Caracas: Chacao, Autopista Francisco Fajardo, Las Mercedes, El Rosal, El Paraíso, San Bernardino, Santa Fe, El Valle, La Vega
  • Valencia: Avenida Bolívar de Valencia, Distribuidor El Trigal, Sector Mañongo, Urbanización Isabelica of Valencia, Flor Amarillo, Naguanagua, San Diego
  • Maracay: Avenida Las Delicias, Avenida Fuerza Aérea, El Limón
  • Barquisimeto: El Cardenalito, Los Cardones, Fundalara, Avenida Los Leones, Urbanización Santa Elena, Distribuidora Santa Rosa, Sector Cabudare (Urb La Hacienda, Villa Roca, Hondo), Universidad Fermín Toro, Avenida Libertador, Av. Florencio Jiménez (Urbina)
  • Maracaibo: El Milagro, 5 de Julio, Amparo, La Pomona
  • San Cristobal
  • Mérida

The Climate for Journalists
Journalists covering the protests have been attacked and harassed by all actors involved, though colectivos and Venezuelan state security forces are responsible for the majority of incidents, according to local press freedom organizations.

Journalists covering protests in Venezuela generally face the following threats:

  • Injuries from tear gas inhalation or from being hit by a water cannon, tear gas canisters, ball bearings, marbles, or buckshot.
  • Assault by local authorities and their supporters, as well as protesters.
  • Theft or destruction of equipment, notably mobile phones.
  • Detention for time periods ranging from half an hour to more than 24 hours.

National Guard and police have detained journalists covering protests, sometimes for as little as 15 minutes, and sometimes overnight in police or intelligence facilities. In one instance, on May 1, members of a reporting team for the online platform VivoPlay were detained in Caracas. The two VivoPlay reporters were released after several hours, but their drivers remained in detention until June 2, according to media reports. In April, two journalists with French photo agency CAPA were removed from their flight back to France and held for nine days without charge. Venezuelan officials have previously deported international reporters or blocked them from entering the country.

Security forces and colectivos have threatened and blocked journalists from covering certain locations, confiscated equipment, photographed identification, and detained reporters for multiple hours. Several videos posted by news outlets have documented National Guard officers rolling tear gas canisters in the direction of journalists. One video from VivoPlay shows a GNB official telling journalists to move away, “or we’ll treat you like the guarimberos.” Journalists should avoid colectivos as much as possible, and relocate to a safe location if they encounter them.

Dozens of journalists across the country have reported their mobile phones have been stolen by GNB or police as well as colectivos and civilian gangs. Journalists working in Caracas told CPJ that the theft of phones is so systematic and widespread that it appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to prevent reporters from covering protests. These tactics are especially damaging to freelancers and journalists working for smaller publications outside of Caracas, who have limited resources and rely on their phones as a vital reporting tool.

In addition to direct physical threat against journalists, the government has censored news outlets. Venezuela’s state telecommunications regulator ordered two international news channels off the air on April 19, according to the broadcasters, and other outlets have reported service interruptions.

Meanwhile, protesters have also targeted journalists, robbing them, attacking them, and accusing them of being government sympathizers. Though there are no reports of guarimberos directly targeting reporters, journalists should use caution when dealing with them.

A few government officials, including Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, have issued statements calling for journalists’ right to cover the protests safely to be respected.

CPJ is aware of the following recent attacks on journalists covering protests in Venezuela:

  • June 14: Multiple journalists were injured while covering protests in Caracas. Police shot tear gas directly at freelance photographer Miguel Angel Henriquez, and El Estímulo photographer Gustavo Vera was injured by buckshot, El Nacionalreported.
  • June 15: Metro security agents in Caracas detained journalist Daniella Zambrano, cameraman William Madera (NTN24), and Felipe Izquierdo (Telemundo) for more than three hours in the Chacaito metro station after they reported on opposition protests there. Authorities released the journalists after deleting all their recorded footage, according to IPYS Venezuela.
  • June 26: GNB members flung tear gas at journalists working for El Nacional, the newspaper reported. On the same day, in Altamira GNB members also attacked and destroyed a motorcycle belonging to a journalist from El Pitazo TV. Another reporter from the same broadcaster was shot in the eye by a tear gas canister in another area of Caracas, the station reported.
  • June 27: Journalists Alexandra Lugo and Alejandro Castillo were injured and National Assembly head press officer Alicia de la Roza suffered a burn from fireworks during fighting between lawmakers and GNB at the National Assembly in Caracas, the SNTP reported.
  • June 28: Diario de los Andes reporter María Fernández was injured in the face, abdomen, and legs after local police shot rubber bullets into protests in Mérida, according to Espacio Público. In Maracaibo, GNB detained freelance journalist Gabriel Sthormes for roughly three hours after he reported on trancazos, reported the SNTP.
  • July 4: Colectivos detained and beat VPI TV journalists Manuel Fajardo and Simón Falcón when they left the Public Ministry building after covering the Attorney General’s statement on her court case, the outlet reported. In other areas of Caracas, armed civilians beat La Patilla photographer Andrea Sandoval, then stole her phone and camera. GNB harassed NTN24 journalist Ruben Sevilla while he covered the trancazos. GNB also beat cameraman César Saavedra (Telecaribe y Notimundo) while he filmed arrests. In El Trigal, Carabobo, regional police hit Lázaro Yáñez (Últimas Noticias) in the chest with a rock, and stole his camera, gas mask and helmet, reported Espacio Público.
  • July 5: Multiple journalists were injured during the siege at the National Assembly, when colectivos stormed the building, attacked lawmakers and harassed and robbed journalists. A total of 108 journalists were held captive for approximately eight hours, along with elected officials and other workers. Colectivos stole EFE photographer Christian Hernández’s camera and Diana Vásquez’s (Noticiero Venevisión) microphone, the SNTP reported. Capitolio TV assistant cameraman Luis Heredia suffered head injuries after he was beaten with a baton. Lysaura Fuentes, a reporter for El Cooperante, was injured and had her cell phone stolen. A Telecaribe Venezuela driver was beaten and had his cell phone and radio stolen, Espacio Público reported.

What to Expect Next

Opposition strategy is evolving. Large protests continue, but they are drawing less attention from international press, and are taking an increasing toll on protesters. There does not yet appear to be a consensus on the next steps, though organizers have discussed using other tactics, including sit-ins on strategic roads, higher numbers of smaller marches along different routes, and a national strike, according to local sources and reports.

After a lull in protests during the week of June 12, demonstrations increased again the following week. Protests are now being held virtually every day. On June 24, the opposition held a march to the area where a protester had been killed two days earlier. The following day was relatively quiet: a small group of medical professionals protested untroubled. On June 26, more than 1000 protesters held another trancazothat was very effective and heavily attacked in some places.

There are no clearly announced protests for the coming days, but trancazos have brought out protesters in every area of the country recently. The constituent assembly elections are now less than a month away, and protests are likely to continue as the opposition has called for a referendum on July 16 to determine the “future of the country.”

Medical Facilities in Case of Emergency

In Caracas, most of the people injured during protests are treated by volunteer field medics (including the Red Cross, Blue Cross and the newly formed Green Cross, which is staffed by medical students). Next, victims are often transferred to medical facilities such as Salud Chacao, or, in the case of serious injuries, to private facilities which have modern equipment and good qualified staff.

CPJ does not recommend that victims go to public hospitals. These hospitals have excellent staff and significant experience with trauma injuries, but currently have very limited equipment and supplies. Patients may have to supply their own bandages, sutures, or even blood.

Below is a list of medical facilities in different locations:

Caracas

Salud Chacao
Prolongacion Av. Libertador, con Sorocaima, Urb. El Rosal
Tel: 0212-9532263 / 0212-9537685 / 0212-9538002

Clínica El Ávila
6ta Transversal con Avenida San Juan Bosco, Caracas
Tel: 0212-2761111

Clínica Sanatriz
4ta. Avenida cruce con Calle 2, Edif. Higea, Urb. Campo Alegre, Caracas
Tel 0212-2016604 / 0212-2016255

Hospital Clínica Caracas
Av. Panteon con Av. Alameda, Urb. Bernandino, Caracas
Tel 0212-5086111.

Centro Medico La Trinidad
Avenida Intercomunal La Trinidad, El Hatillo, Apartado Postal 80474
Tel: 0212-9496411.

Valencia

Ciudad Hospitalaria “Henrique Tejera”
Av. Lisandro Alvarado. Valencia Edo. Carabobo
Tel: 0241-8316551 / 0241-8316662.

Centro Policlínico Valencia C.A. (Clínica La Viña)
Urbanización La Viña, final Av. Carabobo.
Tel: 0241-8236372 / 0241-8239759 / 0241-8236276

Cruz Roja
Av. Bolívar Norte, Calle López Latouche, Cruz Roja Hospital Luis Blanco Gasperi, Prebo.
Tel: 0241-8214841 / 0241-8215330 / 0241-8239843.

Barquisimeto

Sociedad Venezolana De La Cruz Roja Del Estado Lara
Avenida Intercomunal de Barquisimeto. Patarata.
Tel: 0251-2543354.

Cruz Roja El Trigal Cabudare
Cabudare, Municipio Palavecino, Avenida El Placer, entre Transv. 07, Urbanización El Trigal.
Tel: 0251-2619236.

Hospital Central de Barquisimeto

Sede Principal de Hospital Central Universitario Dr. Antonio María Pineda.
Av. Vargas, con Av. Las Palmas, Casco Central.

Tel: 0251-2523301 / 0251-2519498.

Maracay
Centro de Atención de Emergencia 171
Maracay Avenida Sucre. Urbanización los Olivos Viejos.
Tel: 0243-2416267.

Cruz Roja
Maracay Avenida Mariño diagonal Plaza Girardot.
Tel: 0243-2465358 / 0426-3499406.

Policlínica Maracay, C.A.
Urb. Calicanto, Calle López Aveledo Norte, Número 5 (Frente a la Maestranza).
Tel: 0243-2472001.

Centro Médico de Atención Social CANAOBRE
Prolongación de Pérez Almarza, entre Páez y Negro Primero, Maracay, al lado del Banco de Venezuela y Diagonal al Centro Comercial de la Economía Informal, Calle Pérez Almarza.
Tel: 0243-2475183.

Click here for additional information on press freedom in Venezuela.