People’s Defender Tarek William Saab announced today that authorities had positively identified “suspects” in the disappearance and alleged massacre of at least 18 miners near Tumeremo, Bolivar state last week. Saab’s statement is the closest the national government has come to recognizing that numerous reports that the men have been murdered might be true.

Saab said that the head of the criminal group authorities have identified as responsible for the disappearances is a man from Ecuador, although he did not provide any more details. Earlier this week, Saab said that authorities had identified Colombian nationals as possible suspects.

During a television interview that aired on VTV this evening, Saab continued to inch closer towards confirming that the miners are dead, but stopped short and instead said only that “a serious event” had taken place in Tumeremo. Saab said:

[On Tuesday, we] interviewed two eye witnesses to the event, a gentleman and a lady. They gave us important details, enough to allow us to conduct a series of investigations that have not yet stopped (…) we have been able to collect evidence and identified sites of interest in the name of conducting and exhaustive investigation (…) What we’re saying, clearly, is that [the investigation] has allowed us to determine that a serious event took place, and we will bring complete clarity to them in due time.

Saab was also clear to deny any involvement by the authorities with the alleged massacre. Earlier this week, a man claiming to have witnesses the killing said that the perpetrators were uniformed CICPC and SEBIN agents.

Gov’t Expects To Import 32% Less Than Last Year

Vice-President of the Economy Miguel Perez Abad announced today that Venezuela expects to import $15 billion worth of non-oil related goods in 2015, a fall of 32% from last year. The latest figures represent a continuation in a downward trend, as Venezuela important $36 billion worth of goods in 2014 and $22 billion in 2015.

The announcement is likely to result in a continuation of worsening of the scarcity crisis affecting virtually every sector of the Venezuelan life, from food to medicine to car repair parts.

Newspaper Shuts Down Due to Lack of Paper

El Carabobeño, Carabobo state’s main newspaper, will shut down its print edition starting on March 17 due to a lack of print paper. The newspaper was in circulation for 82 years.

A statement on the newspaper’s website partially reads:

El Carabobeño will cease printing on March 17. There is only one reason for this: lack of print paper. The socialist company that holds the monopoly on [print paper], the Complejo Editorial Alfredo Maneiro, has not sold us [print paper] in over a year.

According to the newspaper, the national government has refused to exchange the company’s bolivares for US dollars to allow it to purchase paper from abroad since 2013, essentially starving the publication to death.

The same statement also reads:

After 82 years, and despite living through two dictatorships and 40 years of puntofijismo [the Venezuelan political order from around 1960 to 1999], this newspaper never suffered harassment as severe and bold, orchestrated from the [PSUV] state government, has occurred during the sad chapter in our history that is the “Socialism of the 21st Century”.

A Spanish NGO called Espacio Publico [Public Space] claims that at least 13 newspapers have been forced out of circulation in Venezuela under PSUV rule, and another 17 have been forced to severely limit the amount of pages they print on due to a lack of paper.

Critical Newspaper Head Jail

The head of the Correo del Caroni newspaper out of Bolivar state, David Natera Febres, was sentenced to four years in prison today due to an investigation the newspaper conducted in 2013. Back then, the newspaper investigated allegations of corruption at Ferrominera Orinoco, a state-owned company.

The investigation discovered that two executives at the firm were involved in corruption schemes. As a result of the story, the Public Ministry arrested the two men and charged them with corruption. One of the men, Yamal Mustafa, had the charges against him dropped last year, and he subsequently sued the newspaper and Febres for libel and defamation.

Reaction to Febres’ sentence from workers’ and press groups has been swift. The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa [National Press Workers’ Syndicate] (SNTP) qualified the sentence as an attack on the freedom of the press, saying:

This is a sentence that we undoubtedly qualify as one against critical journalism, and that we’re hearing about today only to obscure what’s happening in Bolivar state today [referring to the Tumeremo event].

The Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) also condemned the ruling, calling it “a grotesque violation of the freedom of the press”. Claudio Paolillo, a representative of the organization, said:

[This ruling] has the clear intention of discouraging in-depth journalism….

Massive March Planned for Tomorrow

The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) has called for a massive march tomorrow to demand Maduro’s resignation. The march – which the MUD has said will be the first of many – will kick off a campaign to have Maduro leave the president’s office, willingly or through a recall referendum.

In Caracas, citizens are asked to meet at either the Plaza Brion in Chacaito, Parque del Este and Plaza Alfredo Sael. From these three points, demonstrators will march along the Francisco de Miranda Avenue to the Chacao subway station, were opposition figures will deliver speeches.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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