By Ana Julia Niño Gamboa
Inconsistencies in flight numbers and cargo tonnage, in addition to unavailable data on medicines and healthcare equipment, are evidence of government concealment of public information as a disinformation strategy and propaganda tool.
In this study, we follow up on our first investigation on humanitarian aid from China. Its informative nature was marked by the arrival of flight No. 8, as stated by Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza on September 29, 2020. Back then, we focused on the coverage given by the Venezuelan media to the alleged humanitarian assistance that was arriving into the country by tons and about which we learned from the intense propaganda that both governments deployed. Now, our research is focused on the official information regarding tonnage, types of supplies, kind of agreements, etc., part of the relationship between Caracas and Beijing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
For our search, we reviewed information from official websites and media. The period covers from the landing of the first plane with supplies from China until the alleged flight No. 10, that is, from March 19, 2020 to February 23, 2021, according to official releases. We also reviewed information from several private media not aligned with the government narrative.
The review performed confirms the systematic opacity of the Nicolás Maduro government, which insists on withholding information that is public. The well-oiled propaganda machinery rests this time on the alleged humanitarian assistance provided by China to Venezuela as a counterpart to the U.S. sanctions against the Chavista government. Thereby, the rhetoric of pointing fingers at the measures taken by the U.S. Treasury Department as the only culprit of the Venezuelan crisis is stressed, and officials from both nations rely on this discourse. They also insist on concealing information regarding the agreements signed to obtain equipment and supplies and speak indistinctly of donations, aid, and procurement, without it being possible to specify each of these categories. All of this – we insist – is public information and the government is constitutionally bound to accountability in this regard, an even more pressing duty in this serious pandemic situation.
The media climate observed is also noteworthy. On the one hand, the state-owned media are practicing activism rather than providing information; on the other hand, the private media are reporting official statements without going any deeper. We say this not without first pointing out the difficulties of access to official sources and data. All this is evidence of the information precariousness affecting citizens and posing a significant challenge to counteracting disinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories. These issues are a clear threat to the right of access to public information as one of the most important components of freedom of expression.
Our analysis cannot be oblivious to China’s actions to position its support for Venezuela. In addition, we find signs of its interest in occupying the space previously held by the United States as a trade partner or ally. In this regard, the propagandistic narrative of the two new allies points at this common enemy preventing access to resources by means of sanctions imposed by its Department of the Treasury. In this way, one seeks to detach itself from the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of its government, while the other seeks to secure spaces and profits in the post-COVID-19 scenario.
In this opportunity, we focus on assessing information available on official websites and media regarding the humanitarian aid provided by China to Venezuela in the midst of COVID-19. We tried to find specifics on flight numbers, amount and types of medical supplies and medicines, agreements this relationship is based on, and associated costs. We also examined some private media not aligned with the government narrative, so that we could explore the approach or interest that the proposed topic arouses in them.
In our previous research on Chinese humanitarian aid, we reviewed 14 media outlets. In this installment, we had to go back to some of their reports. However, here we analyzed 14 sources with more recent information and added the Xinhua Agency website and the COVID-19.patria.gob.ve subdomain launched by the government to centralize information on Patria.com. The review covers the period from March 19, 2020, when the first flight from China landed, to February 23, 2021, on record as flight No. 10.
TABLE 1. MEDIA REVIEWED
|VENEZOLANA DE TELEVISIÓN||vtv.gob.ve|
|CORREO DEL ORINOCO||correodelorinoco.gob.ve|
|XINHUA NEWS AGENCY||Spanish.xinhuanet.com|
TABLE 2. OFFICIAL SOURCES
|MINISTRY OF HEALTH||mpps.gob.ve|
|PATRIA (“Fatherland”) SYSTEM||COVID-19.patria.org.ve|
|MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS||mppre.gob.ve|
|OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT||Vicepresidencia.gob.ve|
|MINISTRY OF ECONOMY AND FINANCE||mppef.gob.ve|
|MINISTRY OF ECO SOCIALISM||minec.gob.ve|
The review we intend to conduct is primarily focused on official sources. Additionally, in order to complete the information, we reviewed some state-owned media and several private outlets. We warn that, in this case, we will also evaluate what official sources remain silent on, because it allows us to discern a pattern of behavior and treatment of public information in the hands of the authorities, already evident in previous topics and investigations. In this report, we seek to find out if the pattern repeats itself.
This is a research from a qualitative, documentary perspective, and our corpus focuses on the data that we can retrieve from National Executive official websites, in news items published by the media – both local and foreign – selected.
The reading of the sources was conducted online. We had to resort to Google search engine and run its advanced search tool. Our information gathering and data construction model is based on content analysis. With this, we intend, on the one hand, to examine the quality of the public information provided by National Executive officials, on the other hand, the approach given by the media to the topic under study.
With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the relationship between the governments of China and Venezuela has taken an undeniable turn that seems to stretch beyond the philanthropic interests stated by the Chinese Communist Party and the selfless acceptance that Nicolás Maduro tries to display. The presence of the U.S. government gravitates in the midst of this new friendship. This is the outlook that allows us to envision the movements and rearrangements to take place in the post-pandemic world geopolitics.
From this view as backdrop, the possibility of negotiating the so-called Chinese humanitarian aid has arisen. In this report, we intend to document a trend that has taken shape in this time of pandemic: Poor management of – or rather deliberate opacity regarding – public information. In this way, we contribute a critical example of how, above the right of access to public information and the duty of accountability, the political interests of both governments take precedence.
None of the official sources provides data on the agreements, terms thereof, or costs for the acquisition of supplies, medicines, and healthcare equipment brought by China into Venezuela.
As per the government, 10 flights have arrived from China: The first on March 19, 2020 and the tenth on February 23, 2021. However, there are inconsistencies in their numbers. Each agency seems to keep a different record and not all flights are listed. In addition, there are discrepancies in the numbering, for example, the delivery dated 04/11/2020 (MM/DD/YYYY) is identified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) as flight No. 3, but as No. 4 by the Ministry of Eco Socialism (Minec) and the state-owned channel VTV. All of them cite the Office of the Vice President as the source; but such news item cannot be found on its website. The fact is that, although we were able to order the landing dates chronologically, there is no consistency in the flight number assigned by each agency. The same happens with the delivery dated 12/05/2020: The Minec keeps it as No. 5; it appears as No. 4 in our numbering. In any case, there is no way to consolidate this information. Actually, in our summary, we were able to total nine flights only and not ten as claimed by the government spokespersons.
In the table below, we have listed the flights according to the dates on record; but this is not the numbering kept by the official sites. There are also undeniable discrepancies in the number of tons delivered.
TABLE 3. FLIGHTS AND TONNAGE
|No.||DATE (MM/DD/YYYY)||OFFICIAL No.||OFFICIAL DATA|
|1||03/19/2020||1||DELCY RODRÍGUEZ did not state tonnage.|
|2||03/28/2020||2||DELCY RODRÍGUEZ: “55 tons arriving”.|
|3||04/11/2020||3 on MRE’s records; 4 on MINEC’s||DELCY RODRÍGUEZ: “30 tons arriving”.Average: 110 tons|
|4||05/12/2020||5 on Patria’s records||JORGE ARREAZA: “46 tons arriving”. Average: 157 tons (as per COVID-19.patria.gob.ve)|
MINEC and Telesur)
|DELCY RODRÍGUEZ: 80 tonsAverage: 300 tons|
|7||DELCY RODRÍGUEZ:Average: 700 tons (as per Telesur)|
|7||09/29/2020||8||JORGE ARREAZA: “The flight brought 15 tons”. Average: 250 tons (as of that date)|
|8||12/22/2020||9||DELCY RODRÍGUEZ did not specify the cargo delivered. Average: 274 tons|
|9||02/23/2021||10||JORGE ARREAZA: “The flight brought 25 tons”.Average: 246 tons|
The disparities in tonnage claimed by the officials are almost anarchic. Between the statements by Foreign Affairs Minister Arreaza and Vice President Rodriguez, there is no possibility of matching amounts. Note especially the average stated on 09/08/2020, for 700 tons, which drops to 250 in the following delivery, and closes at 246 tons in the last flight (02/23/2021). In this case, we refer to multi-state channel Telesur, in view of its website settings to promote propaganda on behalf of China not only in Venezuela but also all over Latin America.
With this discrepancy between the data on the tons received, it is obviously not possible to access the amount and types of medicines, supplies, or equipment received in the country. Nor is it possible to access the distribution criteria among hospitals and sentinel centers.
Upon reading public and private media, we detected the repetition of Executive spokespersons verbatim. Among private outlets not aligned with the government narrative, no further context is provided: They merely deliver the news as obtained from the official sources, to the point that the former and the latter report 10 trips.
Strikingly, after the flight dated 06/06/2020, three months elapse, breaking with the monthly sequence of deliveries. The next one takes place on 09/29/2020 and again almost three more months pass until 12/22/2020; then two months until 02/23/2021, which is the last flight shortly before completing this research.
In this matter of the alleged Chinese humanitarian aid, public information continues to be hostage to and concealed by the propaganda strategy of the Nicolás Maduro government. To that end, government bodies and state-owned news media have been used as instruments.
Granting limited access to the data plays a propaganda role in favor of the Chinese aid and against the measures that the U.S. Treasury Department has applied on Venezuela. These are used as a slogan to justify the lack of efficient and effective public policies to face the long-existing crisis, now worsened by the coronavirus disease.
The few data we were able to access with difficulty, the inconsistencies among them, and the impossibility of obtaining consolidated public information greatly encourage disinformation and violate the right of access to information. At the same time, they ostensibly impair the exercise of journalism, not only from the private media; but, paradoxically, also compromise the constitutional duty of state-owned media and government bodies to inform.