Reporters the Unsung Heroes in Venezuela and Honduras
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 Armando.info 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 Armando.info’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, Armando.info 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