German free-lance reporter Billy Six, was arrested by the Venezuelan government, and held on charges that allegedly include espionage. Here is what we know thus far.
Six entered the country legally, but was denied the press credentials necessary to work in Venezuela. During a sweep of a nightclub in the coastal town of Punto Fijo, police conducted a security sweep. As Six did not have his passport on hand, officers led him to his hotel to find it. The next day, his room was raided by a security team consisting of 15 officers, and he was jailed in Caracas’s notorious Helicoide prison, which also contains the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence service, the SEBIN.
Things are only getting worse for Maduro, with recent reports that he is on the verge of losing Venezuela’s most valuable external asset, Citgo, and increasing flows of refugees into Colombia and Brazil, and then onward throughout South America. Maduro and top officials have a clear strategy: maintain power and control at any cost.
To say that the Venezuelan regime is hardly welcoming to a free press would be an understatement. In February of 2017, the regime took the extraordinary step of banning CNN, one of the largest multinational news operation in Latin America, over a story alleging that Maduro and allies were issuing Venezuelan passports to Middle Eastern terrorist organizations and rogue regimes.
Chavez and Maduro have consistently pursued a strategy designed to shut down opposition newspapers, radio stations, and television channels, as they devote state resources to promoting government-sponsored socialist propaganda extolling the virtues of Chavismo.
Venezuela’s new Constituent Assembly, which is widely perceived as a coup against Venezuela’s legitimately elected National Assembly, recently passed a new law regulating so-called “hate speech” via the media, and has been described by government allies as a law designed to “broadcast messages aimed at promoting peace, tolerance, equality and respect.”
Six’s case has received little media attention or outpouring of sympathy from journalists. It’s quite plausible that this is a reflection of the fact that he works for right-wing publications. Six is no stranger to imprisonment, having spent time imprisoned in Syria while he was covering that nation’s brutal civil war. Helicoide is a rough prison, which is infamous for the death of opposition politician Fernando Alban there earlier this year.
The government claims that Alban hurled himself from a tenth story window in an act of suicide, but media reports have widely suggested that Alban was already dead before he hit the ground. Alban’s death was marked by riots and protests at a regime that has turned a once-prosperous nation into a hotbed of economic collapse, social unrest, and rampant crime and insecurity.
Maduro’s two most important neighbors, Colombia and Brazil, have both recently elected fierce opponents of his tyrannical regime. Both Ivan Duque and Jair Bolsonaro railed against Venezuelan socialism and frequently used Maduro as a punching bag on the campaign trail, although they came from completely different political origins: Duque won as the candidate of a coalition of center-right parties backed by former right-wing president Alvador Uribe; Bolsonaro, on the other hand, had virtually no party infrastructure or support, and rocketed to the top of the polls with a tough anti-crime and corruption message.
It is completely within the realm of possibility to think that the Colombian and Brazilian electorates, who can see first-hand the effect of Maduro’s disastrous policies, had Venezuela in mind when they cast their ballots.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are gone in Venezuela, and only a few brave foreign souls such as Mr. Six dare to venture to the chaotic country to report on what is really taking place on the ground. For that, Mr. Six deserves our appreciation and commendation.