This analysis was initially published in El Tiempo Latino on Sunday, March 10:
On Sunday, March 10, in the midst of Venezuela’s nationwide blackout, The New York Times (NYT) compiled a video – which wasn’t previously seen on television, they say –, which shows how hooded demonstrators allegedly set fire to trucks with humanitarian aid that were trying to cross from Colombia into Venezuela on February 23. According to this new analysis of video footage, Nicolás Maduro’s regime would end up being declared “innocent” of the accusations made by the US government in this regard.
However, in this analysis we carefully review the video footage to try to understand the motivation behind the NYT article and the newspaper’s goal.
The NYT analysis begins by pointing out at the 0:28 mark that Trump officials were the ones who blamed the Maduro dictatorship for burning the humanitarian aid, instead of offering solid facts or describing in detail how security forces blocked the trucks’ access or impeded the people who were clamoring for the trucks to cross the border. The video then proceeds to a screen capture of a tweet from Senator Marco Rubio, who refers to another media outlet, Colombia’s television channel NTN24, which assures that the vehicles were burned by the Bolivarian National Police (PNB).
“The New York Times investigation shows that US government officials made judgments without the full facts,” the article points out.
“The Venezuelan crisis reached its critical point at the beginning of 2019, when the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, declared himself president,” says the NYT video at 0:47, but doesn’t explain the Constitutional principles that allow the president of the National Assembly to undertake these duties, nor what led him to take that legal and legitimate action, supported by an open council that took place in the nation’s capital, Caracas (backed by Articles 233 and 333 of the Constitution). Nor does it talk about other “tipping points” of the Maduro regime such as the protests of 2014 and 2017, when protesters were murdered, wounded, or held as political prisoners.
These two articles of the Venezuela’s Constitution are mentioned in the official biography of interim president Juan Guaidó, in support of the position he holds:
– Article 233: The following are considered grounds for cessation of the office of the President of the Republic: his death, his resignation, or his dismissal decreed by the Supreme Court of Justice; his permanent physical or mental incapacity certified by a medical board appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the abandonment of the office, declared as such by the National Assembly, as well as the popular revocation of his mandate. In the absence of an elected President before assuming office, a new universal, direct, and secret election shall be held within the following thirty consecutive days. Before the new president is elected and takes office, the President of the National Assembly shall be responsible for the Presidency of the Republic.
– Article 333: This Constitution will not lose its validity if it ceases to be observed by act of force or because it is abolished by any other means than the one foreseen in it. In such a case, any citizen invested with or without authority, will have the duty to aid in the restoration of its effective validity.
At minute 1:07 the video mentions that Maduro’s border blockade is preventing access to humanitarian aid. A few seconds of the Simón Bolívar International Bridge blocked by physical barriers are shown, including the part of what looks like a fuel or water truck and, on the opposite side of the road, a container.
At minute 1:22, they specifically show that Maduro’s security forces are repelling the protesters who are trying to cross the border with the truck. There are three seconds of video on screen where you can see security forces throwing tear gas bombs. However, they do not offer reports of injuries nor figures regarding regime officials or security forces who defected to Colombia during the operation to contain humanitarian aid. Nor do you see any interviews about this.
At 1:30 the video alleges that the Colombian government provided manipulated and incomplete audiovisual footage, with the purpose of implicating the Maduro regime in torching the aid trucks, as it zooms in on police officers right next to the truck that starts to burn. Then, they allege that the video sent by the Colombia government was actually 30 seconds ahead of what they called the “critical moment.”
At 1:59 they show a non-broadcast recording obtained – they say – in which the same scene is shown a few seconds before, so they rewind the footage and synchronize it with the Colombian government’s video. There you can see how hooded protesters are throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at the regime’s security force barrier, one of which is diverted in the direction of the trucks. Despite the fact that this footage doesn’t identify who these hooded individuals are, the NYT simply assumes that they were part of the demonstrators, since they were on the same side. Was it an accident, or were the anti-Maduro protesters themselves responsible, or were they infiltrated? Nobody knows for sure, least of all the NYT. Nor does The NYT show the moment when the same protesters saved what they could from the supplies while the vehicles were being burning to the ground.
At 2:40 the video concludes that the fire was started by the molotov cocktails and not by Maduro’s security forces.
Between 3:04 and 3:05 there is a short transition that interrupts the video’s continuity. According to the NYT, it is a video recorded by an alleged journalist who moves to the side where the molotov cocktail that started the fire fell and shows the burning truck.
3:19: “This was the beginning of the fire that spread quickly and consumed three trucks,” states the NYT, without showing any other evidence, other than the beginning of the fire at the first truck. Apparently, at this point, it is a presumption, not based on facts. There are no more details of what happened in the time frame when the fire spread.
At 3:36, the video delves into the political realm, when it suggests that the incident quickly turned into a “political firestorm.”
3:40: They again display the NTN24 tweet, initially cited by Senator Marco Rubio, and then display Rubio’s tweet. A few seconds later, John Bolton’s tweet is displayed again on the screen, and at 3:50 the tweet from Mark Green, administrator of USAID is shown.
Marco Rubio (@MarcoRubio): “Maduro’s National Police sets fire to an aid truck that carries food and medicine while the people of Venezuela are dying of hunger. # 23Humanitarian Help.”
John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton): “Masked thugs, civilians killed by live rounds, and the burning of trucks carrying badly-needed food and medicine. This has been Maduro’s response to peaceful efforts to help Venezuelans. Countries that still recognize Maduro should take note of what they are endorsing.”
Mark Green (@USAIDMarkGreen): “Maduro ordering attacks against trucks filled with humanitarian assistance is unconscionable. We will continue to offer our humanitarian assistance to help the people of
Pompeo (@SecPompeo): “We denounce Maduro’s refusal to let humanitarian assistance reach
#Venezuela. What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people? The images of burning trucks filled with aid are sickening.”
While Senator Rubio’s tweet says that the police had burned the trucks with humanitarian aid based on the NTN24 tweet, Bolton, Green and Pompeo do not make such accusation against the troops, but hold Maduro responsible (without specifying how the trucks were set ablaze). However, in the mind of the NYT, a video shows the dictator as innocent, because the aid allegedly had been burned with a molotov cocktail by Guaidó protesters themselves.
There is no type of investigation of any kind that provides more details on the origin of these hooded individuals, nor is there more information that lends credence to the innocence of Maduro in this aspect. The political issue looms as of greater importance than the aid, which would be offered to a country in humanitarian crisis. There is no discussion of the many chronically ill, malnourished patients in need of dialysis or insulin, nor is the use of paramilitary collectives mentioned when it comes to the attacks on protesters. Guaidó himself confirmed the use of uniformed prisoners by the regime for such purposes (Abrams also says so in a segment of his statements).
The real focus of the video seems to be the administration of President Donald Trump, rather than the emergency that the country is currently enduring, which offers great journalistic fodder.
3:59: The video states that none of the officials offered evidence to support their claims, but the NYT also failed to prove who the hooded individuals were, nor did they do an in-depth investigation. Instead, they exonerated Nicolás Maduro in the midst of the greatest political and social, and economic crisis that the Caribbean country has experienced in its history. At the time of publication, the country had remained in the dark for around three consecutive days due to power failures.
Elliott Abrams before the UN Security Council:
4:21: “…armed criminals released from prison, mobilized to control the border, their actions led to the burning of humanitarian assistance, rather than its protection,” Abrams said.
4:35: “It is true that Maduro has a horrific human rights record, and that he deployed armed gangs called collectives, to terrorize the opposition, but in this specific incident, our analysis shows US officials used unverified claims to spin their side of the story.” This affirmation is an editorialized commentary, which seeks to lend balance and objectivity to the political motivation of the work, but they do not offer evidence of this either. In reality, it is an opinion. They do not offer attributed figures, official statements, witnesses, etc.
The video report ends with the clarification that the officials contacted to testify about this investigation did not comment, while using audiovisual work to expose the media’s perspective, on spreading false news online or through social networks.
“A rumor or unproven claim is made, it is amplified by influential people. Mainstream media take it to the masses and in this case, there were real life consequences“, concludes the narrative, while making a key closure: the vicepresident of the USA, Mike Pence, announcing more sanctions for officials of the dictatorship of Maduro.
Times that tweets or interventions of Trump officials are displayed on the screen:
1. Marco Rubio, Republican senator (0:28)
2. John Bolton, National Security Adviser (0:32)
3. Marco Rubio, Republican senator (3:43)
4. John Bolton, National Security Adviser (3:48)
5. Mark Green, administrator of USAID (3:50)
6. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State (3:54)
7. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State (4:06)
8. Elliott Abrams, special envoy for Venezuela (4:21)