Re­porters the Un­sung He­roes in Venezuela and Hon­duras

Trillions - - Content -

In two sep­a­rate cases, jour­nal­ists con­tinue to re­port the truth about gov­ern­ment and busi­ness cor­rup­tion de­spite both le­gal and other threats in two of the most op­pres­sive coun­tries in Latin Amer­ica.

In Venezuela, the story de­scribed in­volves an in­ves­ti­ga­tion car­ried out by Ar­ about a gov­ern­ment food pro­gram to aid the poor.

The first of the ar­ti­cles on this topic was pub­lished in April 2017. In it, it was al­leged that Colom­bian ex­ec­u­tive Alex Saab was di­rectly ben­e­fit­ing from a re­gional con­tract in­tended to im­port food sup­plies for the poor. The pro­gram, Comités Lo­cales de Abastec­imiento y Pro­duc­ción (CLAP), is sup­posed to help pre­vent hunger in some of the coun­try’s poor­est re­gions.

As part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion Ar­’s re­porters launched, they dis­cov­ered that Saab was linked to Grupo Grand Lim­ited, a Hong Kong com­pany that had re­ceived a $340 mil­lion con­tract from the Venezue­lan state of Táchira to sup­port CLAP. It fur­ther dis­closed that Grupo Grand Lim­ited was charg­ing prices about 50% above mar­ket rates for tomato sauce and 80% above mar­ket rates for pasta and beans. Saab de­nied any con­nec­tion to the scan­dal, de­spite his son be­ing a named ben­e­fi­ciary of the com­pany and de­spite that Grupo Grand Lim­ited is reg­is­tered at the same ad­dress as another of Saab’s com­pa­nies.

Last Au­gust, Luisa Ortega, a Venezue­lan pros­e­cu­tor for over 10 years, was fired from her po­si­tion af­ter is­su­ing a pub­lic de­nounce­ment of Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro. Af­ter her fir­ing, she held a press con­fer­ence where she pro­claimed that the pres­i­dent him­self was also a ben­e­fi­ciary of Grupo Grand Lim­ited.

In Septem­ber, Ar­ pub­lished the story about what Ortega had said. Af­ter that, ar­ti­cle co-au­thor and In­ter­na­tional Con­sor­tium of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists (ICIJ) part­ner Joseph Poliszuk, along with oth­ers from the pub­li­ca­tion, be­gan re­ceiv­ing threats on Twit­ter. The ac­count threat­en­ing them was anony­mous, but it in­cluded their home ad­dresses and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. It also closed with the state­ment “Greet­ings to you and your beau­ti­ful fam­ily,” which, in con­text, could only be seen as a direct threat against them all.

Even af­ter that, Poliszuk, Ewald Schar­fen­berg (another edi­tor at the pub­li­ca­tion and also an ICIJ mem­ber), edi­tor Al­fredo Meza and re­porter Roberto Deniz elected to stay in the coun­try – for the mo­ment. Soon

Venezuela Jour­nal­ists. Photo: an­dresazp, CC

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