New York, March 22, 2002—The Venezuelan state news agency has sparked widespread furor by accusing three local independent journalists of involvement in an alleged global drug trafficking conspiracy controlled by international banks and political leaders from developed countries.
On March 13, the state information agency Venpres published an opinion piece on its Web site (http://www.venpres.gov.ve) under the byline of J. Valverde, which appears to be a pseudonym.
The article suggested that Ibéyise Pacheco, director of the Caracas daily Así es la Noticia, Patricia Poleo, director of the daily El Nuevo País, also based in Caracas, and José Domingo Blanco, a news anchor with the TV news channel Globovisión, had been hired by the international drug cartels to besmirch the reputation of the Venezuelan government.
All three journalists are known for their sharp criticisms of Hugo Chávez Frías, Venezuela’s controversial president.
On March 17, President Chávez called the article a “mistake.” The next day, Venpres director Oscar Navas Tortolero offered his resignation. That same day, however, Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín accused local journalists of “irresponsible” behavior and challenged the entire independent press corps to undergo drug testing.
On March 21, alleging harassment and intimidation by the Venezuelan government, Pacheco and Poleo petitioned for relief from the Washington, D.C.based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Pacheco and Poleo claim that their names appear on a secret government hit list and that they have received several recent death threats. (Blanco has apparently not received any threats and is not a party to the petition.) The IACHR is currently considering their case.
At the request of the journalists’ lawyers, the Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the Venpres incident. A Venezuelan court has ordered police protection for Pacheco and the employees of Así es la Noticia, which in late January was attacked with a homemade explosive device.
In seeming anticipation of international criticism, Valverde’s article noted, “We should not be surprised if some foreign people and institutions, in some measure influenced or controlled by the drug cartels, organize in the coming weeks activities and awards to cleanse the reputations of our local narco-journalists.”