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.
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 June 13, the attorney general's office had recorded 67 people killed in the protests, while the news website Runrun.es had documented a total of 86 deaths.
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 plan to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- May 29: Luis Gonzalo Pérez, a journalist for the website Caraota Digital, was injured by a water cannon, and a PanamPost photographer suffered buckshot wounds, according to the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) and the press freedom group Espácio Público. GNB forces fired tear gas directly at a Venevision team who were at the Las Mercedes clinic interviewing an injured official, according to Espacio Público. Elizabeth Ostos, of El Pitazo TV, was attacked by protesters who accused her of being a government supporter, according to IPYS Venezuela (all incidents in Caracas).
- May 31: Espacio Público recorded seven attacks on journalists on this day alone. GNB officers beat Crónica Uno reporter Francisco Bruzco, stealing his equipment and personal items, and attacked four other journalists covering protests in the La Carlota neighborhood of Caracas: Carlos Rawlins (Reuters), Luis Robayo (AFP) Marcos Bello, and Vanessa Tarantino (El Pitazo). GNB officers fired an object directly at EFE photojournalist Miguel Gutiérrez, striking him on his helmet, before briefly detaining him. In El Paraíso, GNB detained RCR750 journalist Kenyer Jaramillo for three hours. Protesters threatened journalist and SNTP representative Nora Sánchez in Mérida, according to SNTP.
- June 1: Buckshot fired by security forces injured video journalist Victor Almarza in Valencia and Correo del Caroní reporter Marcos Valverde in Guayana.
- June 3: GNB fired buckshot at a group of photojournalists covering protests in Caracas, hitting at least one of them, in an incident captured in a video by Univisión correspondent Francisco Urreiztieta.
- June 5: GNB stole camera equipment from a Globovisión team and destroyed it by throwing it on a highway, according to multiple local press freedom organizations. In El Paraíso, Caracas, an unidentified cameraman working for Tvs Pueblo was hit by a rock, and Crónica Uno journalist Yohana Marra was hit by ball bearings shot by security forces, according to Espacio Público. In Altamira, two men and a woman armed with pistols stole equipment, cell phones, and money from an El Cooperante journalist and videographer, according to SNTP. Also in Altamira, GNB and PNB officials stole equipment including cell phones, cameras, and gas masks from reporters from Runrun.es, Globovisión, La Otra TV, Vente Venezuela, and TV Venezuela, according to Espacio Público. And lastly, in a separate incident, PNB officers beat up TV Venezuela journalist Mary Mena, cameraman Ademar Dona, and other reporters, then stole their phones and gas masks, according to an NTN24 interview with Mena shared by VPI TV.
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.
The opposition has said that June is critical and they plan to expand protests, according to local sources. Though President Maduro had said he expected the protests to have ended by June 8, that day saw marches across the country, mass arrests and increased violence, including the death of a 17-year-old protester in Caracas.
The following protests are planned in coming days:
- Ongoing demonstrations in Caracas and other cities.
- Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has announced a major protest against the constituent assembly planned for June 19 at the National Electoral Council building in Caracas.
- The MUD is discussing the possibility of organizing a general strike, but has not set an official date yet.
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:
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
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
Centro Medico La Trinidad
Avenida Intercomunal La Trinidad, El Hatillo, Apartado Postal 80474
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
Av. Bolívar Norte, Calle López Latouche, Cruz Roja Hospital Luis Blanco Gasperi, Prebo.
Tel: 0241-8214841 / 0241-8215330 / 0241-8239843.
Sociedad Venezolana De La Cruz Roja Del Estado Lara
Avenida Intercomunal de Barquisimeto. Patarata.
Cruz Roja El Trigal Cabudare
Cabudare, Municipio Palavecino, Avenida El Placer, entre Transv. 07, Urbanización El Trigal.
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.
Centro de Atención de Emergencia 171
Maracay Avenida Sucre. Urbanización los Olivos Viejos.
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).
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.
Click here for additional information on press freedom in Venezuela.