Venezuela detains Colombian, Spanish, French journalists

The Venezuelan national flag flies at its embassy in Washington, DC, on Jan 24, 2019.
The Venezuelan national flag flies at its embassy in Washington, DC, on Jan 24, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CARACAS/MADRID (REUTERS) - Venezuelan authorities detained three foreign journalists and a driver working for the Spanish news agency EFE on Wednesday (Jan 30), the company said, in the latest arrests of reporters covering US-backed efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Colombian photographer Leonardo Muñoz was arrested with his Venezuelan driver Jose Salas while reporting on protests against the government.

Hours later intelligence officers detained Spanish reporter Gonzalo Domínguez Loeda and Colombian TV producer Mauren Barriga Vargas at their hotel, EFE's bureau chief in Caracas, Ms Nelida Fernandez said.

The entire team had travelled from Bogota earlier in the month.

The Spanish government condemned the detentions and called on Caracas to release the journalists and the driver immediately. All four work for Spanish state-owned EFE, the fourth largest news agency in the world.

"(Spain's) government demands their immediate liberation ... The government again requires that Venezuela's authorities respect the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, of which freedom of the press is a central element," it said in a statement on Thursday.

The arrests followed the deportation of two Chilean reporters detained this week. A French diplomatic source said on Wednesday that two French reporters covering the turmoil had been arrested and that the French Embassy was seeking their release.

 
 
 

"Our Embassy has requested consular protection in accordance with the Vienna Convention and in particular the right of access," the source said.

The French reporters were working for daily television programme Quotidien, part of the TF1 television network. TF1 declined to comment.

Accused of election fraud, and overseeing a deep economic collapse that has led millions of Venezuelans to migrate, Mr Maduro is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since replacing Mr Hugo Chavez six years ago.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has won the backing of most countries in the Western Hemisphere since declaring himself interim president last week and calling for fresh elections.

Mr Maduro says the strategy to topple him is a coup, led by hawks in the Trump administration such as Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, a veteran diplomat involved in the armed interventions in Central America in the 1980s.

France said on Wednesday that Mr Maduro appeared not to be heeding calls for new presidential elections and that European foreign ministers would discuss next steps at a meeting in Bucharest on Thursday.