Reporters Without Borders today condemned an act of sabotage against El Correo del Caroní, a daily based in the southeastern state of Bolívar, which deprived it of power for five hours and delayed publication on the 29th anniversary of its first appearance yesterday. The organisation also urged the local authorities to make peace with the newspaper, with which they have been in conflict since March.
“We call on the Bolívar judicial authorities to investigate the causes of this power cut and we urge both the newspaper and Bolívar state governor Francisco Rangel Gómez to find a way to settle their dispute,” the press freedom organisation said.
“If Governor Rangel has a bone of contention with El Correo del Caroní, it should be resolved through use of the right of response and not by means of harassment,” Reporters Without Borders added.
The newspaper’s headquarters found itself without power at around 10 p.m. on 26 June, as printing of the next day’s issue was about to begin. Power was finally restored after five hours, but distribution was delayed on 27 June, which was Day of the Journalist in Venezuela as well as the 29th anniversary of the newspaper’s launch.
Technicians with the Eleoriente power company said the newspaper’s power supply installations were damaged intentionally. They said cables and fuses had been ripped out by people who knew what they were doing.
David Natera, El Correo del Caroní’s publisher managing editor and president of the Venezuelan Press Bloc, said he saw a vehicle near the high-voltage cables that supply the newspaper. He said they were the victim of deliberate sabotage designed to prevent distribution of its special anniversary issue, adding that he suspected that the governor had something to do with it.
Governor Rangel has already been harassing the newspaper. During a radio programme on 6 March, he claimed that the newspaper was illegally occupying the building where it has its headquarters. In support of his claim, he cited statements made by others that were subsequently denied.
A Bolívar legislative council commission asked the Caroní municipal council on 19 May to expel the newspaper from its building and close down the company that published it. The commission claimed that the newspaper was occupying premises reserved for community and social services. However, no law or official document supported the commission’s request, which was rejected by the municipal government.
El Correo del Caroní managing editor Robinson Lizano described the commission’s request as illegal and said the governor was responsible. The governor wanted to silence the newspaper for exposing cases of alleged local corruption in March, he said.