OTHER VOICES

Venezuela’s harsh refuge

Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden and Sarah Harrison, left, of WikiLeaks speak to human rights representatives in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport July 12, 2013.
HANDOUT | Reuters
Former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden and Sarah Harrison, left, of WikiLeaks speak to human rights representatives in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport July 12, 2013.
Posted July 12, 2013, at 6:25 p.m.

It’s not clear yet whether Edward Snowden will accept Venezuela’s announced offer of asylum or, if he should do so, whether he would be able to reach the South American country from the Moscow airport. A cynic might wonder whether Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who passed up the chance to rescue the would-be American defector when he was in Moscow last week, made his offer after returning to Caracas precisely because he suspected he wouldn’t have to deliver on it.

In any case, before Snowden flees to the land of “21st-century socialism,” where toilet paper is among the many goods in short supply, we’d suggest that he take a lesson from one of the country’s best-known journalists, Nelson Bocaranda. A newspaper columnist and radio host with nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers, Bocaranda shocked his country when he reported in June 2011 that President Hugo Chavez was suffering from cancer — news the government had improperly withheld from the public. Days later, Chavez was obliged to acknowledge that a “baseball-sized” tumor had been removed from his abdomen.

Eight months later Bocaranda reported that Chavez’s cancer had returned — another vital piece of information the government had suppressed. Senior officials first denounced the journalist as a “scoundrel” and a “sick soul” before belatedly admitting that he was right. Until the president’s death this March, Bocaranda repeatedly reported the truth of his declining health even as Chavez and his government lied about it.

The regime and its intelligence services are determined to punish the journalist for his reporting. In April, a government-orchestrated propaganda campaign claimed that Bocaranda incited opposition supporters to violence following a disputed election to choose Chavez’s successor. Now he has been summoned for questioning by a state prosecutor, who says her “presumption” is that he is “the intellectual author” of alleged violent attacks on state offices.

The charges are patently absurd. The evidence against Bocaranda consists of a single tweet he sent out, reporting ballot-box irregularities in the city of Maracaibo. Government claims of subsequent attacks on government offices were refuted by local media and a human rights group, which toured the locations and found no damage. But the Venezuelan regime has not hesitated to jail political enemies on trumped-up charges.

Bocaranda learned of his summons while in the United States. However, in a column this week, he declared that he would voluntarily return to Venezuela to meet the prosecutor: “I haven’t asked for asylum even though they say that I work for the CIA, in effect the same agency that was served and betrayed by the leaker of secrets who today is the favorite” of Venezuela.

Bocaranda’s courage is remarkable. His persecution highlights the incongruity of Venezuela holding itself out as a haven for tellers of truth.

The Washington Post (July 11)

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