Knight Center
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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Venezuelan journalists move their lives and work abroad in order to find a better future




By Silvina Acosta*

*This is the first post in a two-part series about Venezuelan journalists who have left their country in search of work and security. The second half will explore experiences and cases of successful journalistic initiatives by migrant reporters.

With 30 years practicing journalism in Venezuela, Fernando Peñalver (54) arrived in Chile on Oct. 16, 2016. After more than six months without work, and with zero job opportunities in his country, he decided, with his Chilean-Venezuelan wife, to go to Santiago with little money, without contacts, and without a cell phone, but with the firm determination to continue his journalistic career.

Renowned sports reporter, Peñalver told the Knight Center about his years of journalistic work at the newspapers El Universal and Últimas Noticias (UN). While working at UN, he was the victim of aggressions in 2009 caused by government supporters during a protest by journalists of the newspaper, causing a skull fissure: “a courtesy of the colectivos,” Peñalver said with irony.

Caracas, Venezuela (SuperHercules at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0])

 

Upon arriving in Chile, Peñalver went through a very intense first year of training, working in other minor trades to stay in the country, while his identity document and work permit were processed.

In May 2018, a year and a half after his arrival in Santiago, the Publimetro media network hired Peñalver as a multimedia editor after he collaborated as a freelancer in the Chilean primary elections. Not all colleagues have had the same fate abroad.

"I returned to journalism and that makes me very happy, accomplished and doubly committed ... Returning to journalism is to reconcile with the best of the good and beautiful," Peñalver wrote in a post in @acentoperiodistas, one of the many Facebook publications of Venezuelan migrant reporters.

Like Peñalver, thousands of journalists have had to leave the country. While there are no accurate records on the number of migrant professionals, some reports and investigations by Venezuelan journalistic organizations estimate that between more than 400 and 1,300 reporters and communicators have emigrated from 2012 to 2018.

Global statistics of how many professional journalists may have left the country in the last 20 years during the Bolivarian revolution are unknown. There is some data since Nicolás Maduro assumed power, but it is believed that the real numbers may exceed existing estimates.

For example, The National Union of Press Workers (SNTP, for its acronym in Spanish) estimates that, from 2012 to 2018, 1,328 Venezuelan journalists from at least 20 different groups of journalism alumni had processed their international credentials through the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to leave the country.

On the other hand, the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (IPYSVe) points out in the investigation Periodismo Migrante (Migrant Journalism) that, between 2014 and 2018, “the exodus of those who made a living in the media in the country [has intensified]: 18 percent (477) of registered journalists in the media map and IPYS database migrated from Venezuela to 24 other countries.” This database does not include journalistics who are inactive due to dismissals and resignations before 2014.

The Map of Journalists from IPYS Venezuela includes a total of 2,674 media workers in Venezuela, many of them hired by digital native media. At least 477 left the country between 2014 and 2018. More than half of the 477 lived and worked in Caracas. Since 2018, approximately 219 have resided in Latin American countries: Chile (57), Argentina (40), Colombia (31), Peru (30), Mexico (25) and Ecuador (11). Outside the region, other destinations have been the United States (115) and Spain (46).

The majority of the migrants venezuelan journalists, the so-called self-exiles, escape the economic crisis and the closure of traditional media that have caused a dramatic deterioration in employment, wages, purchasing power, security conditions to practice journalism and the quality of life in general. A much smaller group of reporters has been forced to request asylum in other countries because of persecution, intimidation, and threats from the dictatorial regime

According to the results of a Medianálisis survey, journalists interviewed from 2015 to 2018 recognized the precariousness with which they performed their duties: low wages (56% with income of up to the equivalent of two minimum salaries with a food bonus) ... and also mention other "difficulties such as the paper crisis, migration of trained and experienced professionals, economic losses due to hyperinflation.”

Similarly, this Medianálisis investigation found that media opposed to the Government "are susceptible to attacks, from personal aggressions to threats, mostly from pro-official groups and state security forces, up to fines and closures."

“Forced displacements" also have been reported, outside and inside the country. In the last three years, IPYS Venezuela reports that 34 journalists fled their region or the nation because they were persecuted for their journalistic work. Among that group are four journalists from the internationally awarded investigative site Armando.info: Ewald Scharfenberg, Joseph Poliszuk, Alfredo Meza and Roberto Denis.

The destruction of the media ecosystem in the last two decades has had a dramatic impact on the free exercise of journalism. Closures and purchases of media, arbitrary administrative and judicial measures, lack of printing paper, and censorship have curtailed the job opportunities for journalists in Venezuela.

By June 2019, more than 70 media outlets that fulfilled their work of reporting were closed and censored by the Maduro government, as denounced by Tinedo Guía, the president of the National Association of Journalists (CNP).

In Venezuela, “the sources of work have greatly diminished; There are very few media left,” and many journalists have also been harassed, threatened, detained, so they have had to leave the country, Guía said during a press conference in June 2019, as reported by online media outlet El Estímulo.

Since Nicolás Maduro took office in April 2013 to June 2019, 2,265 attacks on press freedom were among them censorship, intimidation, physical aggressions, arbitrary detentions and theft of work equipment, according to SNTP, which also added that in 2019 more than 200 journalists had been persecuted.

Guía said that "many journalists have had to migrate from the country because they do not have optimal conditions to develop in their field and that the vast majority are not practicing journalism in the countries where they are located."

Organizing abroad to join forces

In fact, there are few Venezuelan professional journalists who continue to practice their profession abroad, according to representatives of organizations supporting migrant Venezuelan reporters such as the Association of Venezuelan Journalists Abroad (APEVEX), and Venezuelan Press.

More than half of those affiliated with these trade associations work in other sectors of their recipient countries. "I know many journalists who are not practicing in the United States, and in other countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Chile," Sonia Osorio, president of APEVEX, told the Knight Center.

APEVEX was created in 2012 in Miami. It advises and trains Venezuelan journalists abroad, particularly the United States, and promotes lobbying campaigns with U.S. lawmakers to sanction Maduro and other officials for violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela.

“It has also been really hard to help our colleagues in Venezuela to denounce the excesses, violations and intimidations such as censorship, harassment, aggression, and detention...This year was terrible because there were many detentions and deportations of foreign journalists. We have had to become one of the voices of denunciation (about the situation of the journalistic exercise in Venezuela),” Osorio explained.

While in Venezuela it seems that conditions for journalism are not improving, communicators continue to move with their families to other countries. Carleth Morales, founding president of Venezuelan Press, told the Knight Center, “they will continue to arrive. (The exodus) goes by waves. According to elections, threats, media closures.”

Venezuelan Press is an association of Venezuelan journalists in Spain, which brings together more than 430 communication professionals, and was officially registered in May 2015. Morales explains that 2015 precisely “was a tipping point that establishes a before and after for Venezuelan journalists in Spain. Before that year they came to study, and to look for opportunities to be descendants of Spaniards or Europeans.”

 “Since 2015, after parliamentary elections and economic deterioration, many journalists began to arrive. In January 2015, approximately 50 arrived, and six months later the number doubled... A very large avalanche arrived. I have to go find journalists at the airport and bring them to my house. That was not seen before this year,” Morales said.

Morales, who worked in the newspaper Avance and in the press office of a municipality in Venezuela, settled down definitively in 2007 with her daughter, after studying for a Master’s degree in Communication in 2001 at the Complutense University of Madrid. She returned twice to Venezuela before deciding to assimilate to her new country.

“I did not leave to migrate. I left to study and I stayed. I felt self-exiled. Everyone saw everything good in Venezuela, but I saw everything wrong at the time with the arrival of Chávez.”

Until 2007, Morales worked as a waitress, babysitter and cleaned residences to stay in Madrid. Then, she founded the print magazine Aquí Venezuela to turn her professional life around.

“This venture was an exceptional case. I noticed the need to unite Venezuelans through this magazine, which was printed for three years at a time when the internet and networks were not as popular. This magazine helped me position myself in the journalistic guild in Spain,” Morales said.

This journalistic initiative allowed her to make herself known within the Venezuelan community in Spain and to sow the germ of Venezuelan Press, which offers inactive journalists the opportunity to keep up to date with journalism, with what is happening in Venezuela and Spain, in addition to being recognized by the Federation of Associations of Spanish Journalists.

Just like Morales, other Venezuelan journalists abroad have dabbled in journalistic initiatives and endeavors to stay mainly active in their profession while they perform other trades, sometimes related to communication.

 

*Silvina Acosta is a Venezuelan journalist with an MA in Journalism at UT Texas in Austin and former Graduate Assistant for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas (2002-2004). Specialist in freedom of information and human rights issues with experience in international development and democracia for the Organization of American States (OAS) (2005-2010). Current independent consultant.



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