Powerful Venezuelan politician wins libel suit

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shows a photo during a TV show with National Constituent Assembly member Diosdado Cabello in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 11, 2018.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shows a photo during a TV show with National Constituent Assembly member Diosdado Cabello in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 11, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (AFP) - A Venezuelan court awarded damages on Tuesday (June 5) to powerful ruling party figure Diosdado Cabello in a libel suit, a ruling condemned by newspapers as an attack on media freedom.

The court awarded moral damages to Cabello, who is deputy leader of President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialist party, against the El Nacional newspaper, ordering it to pay one billion bolivars - equivalent to S$13,000 - to the politician.

"The newspaper has faced various attacks and sanctions in recent years... which only violate freedom of expression," the newspaper said on its website.

Last month, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on Cabello, accusing him of involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal mining.

Cabello took the suit against El Nacional in 2015 for "defamation and insult" after it reproduced a report by Spanish newspaper ABC that linked him to drug trafficking.

Attempts to sue ABC in Spain and The Wall Street Journal in the United States were dismissed.

In a television interview, Pedro Carreno, a member of the Socialist party and the Constituent Assembly that rules the country, said that the newspaper would become Cabello's property if its board does not pay the damages.

"During the trial, an application was made about the facilities of El Nacional, in case it refused to pay. Diosdado... would be the new owner," said Carreno.

According to the Espacio Publico group, 51 media organizations ceased operating in Venezuela last year due to sanctions, financial difficulties and a lack of supplies, such as paper, which the state monopolizes.

Under Maduro, Venezuela is going through the worst economic crisis in its history.

Hyperinflation has crippled the country, leading to shortages of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Venezuela to escape growing deprivation.