Portals of lies: the international swarm of “independent media” at the service of chavista narratives

Portals of lies: the international swarm of “independent media” at the service of chavista narratives

Published on 24 Mar 2023

The great assembly of disinformation in Venezuela

  • English-only media such as Declassified UK, Jacobin or The Canary are the vortex of a whirlwind of republishings, translations and mutual quotations that multiply the dissemination of political propaganda and disinformation to millions of Latin Americans every week while disguising their true origin: propaganda organs of Russia, Cuba and Venezuela.
  • Behind media such as Venezuelanalysis and Orinoco Tribune are Venezuelan diplomats, former Telesur employees, authors such as Eva Golinger and former ministers under the leadership of Gregory Wilpert, a German-American sociologist with ties to the Venezuelan Information Office and married to a Venezuelan diplomat who worked in Ecuador and the United States, Carola Delgado Arria.
  • The identified media network republishes conspiracy theories, hoaxes and disinformation about the war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic and political situation in Venezuela.

Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres

Efecto Cocuyo / C-Informa

One of the most developed forms of disinformation in Venezuela is supported by a swarm of pseudo-information portals, sometimes presented as news, analysis or opinion portals, which coordinate with each other to amplify their reach.

This network travels from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States to Latin America, using Venezuela as a hub, and involves a systematic sharing of content of interest to other allied governments such as Russia, Cuba or Nicaragua, as well as “alternative” content ranging from anti-vaccine scientific disinformation to attacks on the Venezuelan opposition.

Its reporters, analysts and columnists are also part of an “armchair game”, in which they are quoted by the same media, interviewed as experts by others and even mutate from reporter to blogger, from analyst to media executive to back up their texts and statements.

And in the case of media such as Venezuelanalysis, Orinoco Tribune and even the now censored Aporrea, a team full of current and former Venezuelan diplomats in the United States, former ministers and former and active editors of Telesur, RT and Venezuelan state media operates.

These portals focused on Venezuela contextualize, analyze, paraphrase and promote official propaganda, but also reproduce conspiracy theories and political disinformation such as the “assassination of Chavez” through nanotechnology, the 2019 national blackout as a “hacking” and “electromagnetic attack” from the United States and the “Russian special operation to denazify Ukraine” and even conspiracy theories about COVID, Climate Change or the Twin Towers.

Network of disinformation networks

A September 2022 report by NewsGuard, a New York firm that tracks online disinformation, found that Venezuela is a conduit for Russian disinformation.

During August 2022 he tracked Spanish-language disinformation gaining ground in Latin America and found that Venezuelan news websites, along with many based in neighboring countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua, Chile, Peru and Honduras, republish content from the Spanish-language affiliates of Russian state media, such as RT Actualidad and Sputnik Mundo, within hours.

Among the websites spreading false claims and propaganda are Venezuelan state media, as well as other allegedly independent and state-owned sites from Libya, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, the United States and the United Kingdom, which are aligned with Nicolás Maduro’s regime, and even private media that oppose the Venezuelan regime, in an unsuspecting manner, as Efecto Cocuyo also corroborated for this investigation.

Network lies

In June 2020 an investigation published by IPYS Venezuela already told how The Grayzone, which defines itself in Spanish as “independent media dedicated to investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire”, coordinates with RT, Sputnik, Telesur and Misión Verdad to disseminate political disinformation in favor of the Maduro regime.

It is worth remembering that GrayZone’s editor-in-chief, Max Blumenthal, was arrested for leading, together with Code Pink, the takeover of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington when the United States decided to hand over control of the diplomatic representation to the interim government of Juan Guaidó. And he is a well-known Chavista propagandist in the United States who interviewed Nicolás Maduro as Red Radio Ve broadcast.

Likewise, a few months before in a Cocuyo Chequea check called “Usaid did not admit giving $ 467 million to the opposition: they are for migrant programs” we found how this disinformation was initiated by the leftist Brazilian media “Diario Do Centro Do Mundo”, translated into Spanish by Alba Ciudad, then taken by Misión Verdad quoting an analysis by Leonardo Flores (member of Code Pink) in the digital magazine Monthly Review, a historical magazine specialized in Marxism, ecology and politics edited in New York.

All these media are part of the network identified for this report as creators and disseminators of disinformation. As NewsGuard found, this lie came to be replicated by El Aragüeño (which later deleted it) and Globovisión, a media that after its sale as El Universal, has echoed discrediting campaigns against Juan Guaidó, Lilian Tintori and journalist Maibort Petit.

Other private media that have echoed -in an unsuspecting manner- the disinformation published by Misión Verdad which was officially presented by then Vice-President Jorge Arreaza as the official narrative are El Informador de Barquisimeto and El Sol de Margarita. This through the dissemination of these statements by state agencies such as Agencia Venezolana de Noticias (AVN) and Venezolana de Televisión.

Disinformative counter-narrative

Similar to the lie about USAID, at the beginning of 2023 another similar disinformation was fabricated and distributed by the network of lie portals. In this case we are talking about the alleged confession of the former Vice President of the United States, Mike Pompeo, of having delivered one billion dollars to the opposition led by Juan Guaidó, as well as of having a plan to militarily invade Venezuela.

This was verified by Cazadores de Fake News and Tal Cual as a misrepresentation of a quote from his book “Never give an inch. Fighting for the America I Love” in which he reveals that this amount of money was given, but in humanitarian aid through USAID. Nowhere does he claim that it went to any political party or platform or any plan to intervene in Venezuela.

Even so, the disinformation was presented on Diosdado Cabello’s TV program “Con El Mazo Dando” and on his web page, while on January 26, 2023, the deputy of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, América Pérez, second vice-president of the National Assembly elected in 2020, presented before the hemicycle an exhortation to open an investigation on these “revelations” concerning the billion dollars delivered to the interim government.

According to the CrowdTangle tool, this video of the state channel ANTV uploaded to Luigino Bracci Roa’s Youtube channel, was shared only once on Facebook, reaching 11,598 people. On the other hand, a video published by the deputy on her Twitter account on the same day reached 7,149 users (although it can be seen that the original author of the video is Roi López Díaz, the same of the Alex Saab movement and who promoted the news of her alleged Nobel nomination). Likewise, an official press release with this disinformation was uploaded on the website of the National Assembly and was not shared by anyone on social networks, revealing a null reach from this source.

However, this press release and articles based on it were published by Misión Verdad, Telesur (quoting the National Assembly website), the PSUV website, Alba Ciudad, Venezuela News, the Iranian television station HispanTV, the Russian state-owned RT, again El Mazo Dando, the newspaper Últimas Noticias, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) and Página 12, SurOrg of Colombia and Cuba Debate.

In the case of Página 12, SurOrg and Cuba Debate, it is an article written by Argentine political scientist Atilio Borón. The same author of an article in Telesur that incompletely and manipulatedly cited data to sustain the “electromagnetic attack” to the Guri hydroelectric plant that would cause the wave of blackouts in March 2019. This including a Forbes article that in its last paragraph points out that it is not possible for such a thing to happen.

But as NewsGuard pointed out, and Efecto Cocuyo corroborated, also opposition media to Maduro’s government such as El Impulso de Barquisimeto and Reporte Confidencial reproduced the alleged confession of the former U.S. official, which did not exist.

An analysis using the Crowd Tangle tool shows that these state-owned and allied media outlets together reached more than 3 million Spanish-speaking users, greatly multiplying the original reach of the disinformation presented as the official narrative. In addition, another 78 thousand users of these independent media outlets were exposed to the disinformation content.

It is also possible to find an English translation of Tobón’s article in Al Mayadeen (the same that announced Saab’s alleged Nobel nomination), which was also reproduced by Orinoco Tribune, while Resumen Latinoamericano in English translated it from Cuba Debate.

Other English versions of the disinformation, as if it were so real that the investigation of the pro-Maduro legislative body would be justified, are found in media such as the state-run Cuba Sí, Últimas Noticias in English, suspicious media such as The LA News (although its website says Latin American News) and full of official Venezuelan news in English.

In addition, Orinoco Tribune translated the note from Misión Verdad. This reveals how the network of portals works both to distribute disinformation created from official sources and to recreate and paraphrase the same lies in ways that appear to be from different points of view, based on an unreal fact.

False official verification

Among the disinformation found by IPYS, and which were also presented as “fact checking” in Misión Verdad is “False figures of deaths after the blackout are denied” (republished by the state-owned CubaInformaciónTV) in which they accuse the NGO Codevida of lying about deaths during the four blackouts of March 2019, while officially they denied the cases arguing that in all hospitals in Venezuela there are power plants. And they ratified that the blackouts were due to “electrical sabotage”.

Likewise, the article “Manipulation and logic of spectacle in the figures on Venezuelan migration” (republished by El Mazo Dando) denies that, by 2019, there were 4 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, pointing out that most of those who left the country were Colombians and “economic migrants” who were driven by a “corporate media” campaign. And that these statistics from UNHCR and other UN agencies were inflated with the intention of promoting an agenda of “humanitarian intervention” as well as receiving funding for countries facilitating the entry of Venezuelan migrants.

An article that has aged badly considering the new obstacles and legal barriers that countries such as Peru or Chile have created for Venezuelan citizens and even the intention in Colombia to “de-Venezolanize” migration.

It is worth noting that in both cases, the notes have been deleted from Mission Truth, but are republished by other media and allied pages as can be seen in the links.

The hard data

In July 2019 William Serafino, editor-in-chief of the portal Misión Verdad, told the Spanish newspaper Público that the work of the media was of great credibility because “we use the hard data, the irrefutable”. Born in 2012, according to records in the Wayback Machine archive, but presenting themselves as founded in 2013, they define themselves as follows:

“We are a group of independent researchers dedicated to analyzing the process of war against Venezuela and its global implications. Our content has turned out to be a rigorous, genuine and reliable contribution for millions of people interested in knowing the other side of the story, the one that remains hidden by the big chains of disinformation”.

And although by December 2022 in their social networks in Misión Verdad they describe themselves as an investigation and analysis group, in 2013 their motto was: “Investigation to inform and unmask”. An important detail is that the media studied, including those pretending to be state-owned, insist on the description of calling themselves independent, offering an informative alternative to what they call “corporate media” or “of the ruling elite”.

Gold omissions

A translation of Declassified UK published in Misión Verdad serves to illustrate the media swarm used to increase its impact. On January 28, 2023 Mission Truth published the article by British journalist John McEvoy titled: “Why is Venezuelan gold still frozen at the Bank of England?” in relation to the 31 tons of gold from the international reserves of the Central Bank of Venezuela that since 2018 the institution has refused to deliver to the administration of Nicolás Maduro due to doubts about the legitimacy of his election as president that year and subsequently due to the decision of the British government to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

This article in Spanish was republished by the portals Resumen Latinoamericano (archive), the state-run Observatorio Venezolano Antibloqueo (archive), the blog Observatorio de Trabajadores En Lucha (archive), PrensaRed of Argentina (archive), Debate Plural of the Dominican Republic, Red de Solidaridad con Venezuela Revolucionaria of Sweden (archive), El Popular of Uruguay (archive) and LaPluma.net (archive) while in English it is replicated by Telesur English (archive), Orinoco Tribune (archive) and Global Research (archive).

According to the Crowd Tangle app, a tool owned by Meta that allows you to measure online reach, the original Declassified UK article had by February 3, 2023, one week after it was published, 17 shares on Facebook and 87 on Twitter, for a total of 1,132,732 users reached.

Likewise, the three English-language republishings managed to reach 8,020 users, considering that the Telesur article in English was not shared even once on Facebook and Twitter, according to the tool. This for a total of 1,140,752 users.

To understand this impact, we can compare it with the article “Venezuela: fears new bill will put stranglehold on civil society” published on January 30, 2023 by The Guardian, also from Great Britain. In this case, according to Crowd Tangle, 933,122 users were reached.

On the other hand, the translated article in Misión Verdad reached 198,920 people through shares on Facebook and Twitter. If we take into account the republishings in Spanish, another 481,056 users were reached for a total of 788,292 people among the audiences of these sites, predominantly Latin Americans.

Bulk remanufacturers

The rediffusion of content has a specific profile. For example, the original note in English by Declassified UK was shared on Twitter by Arantxa Tirado, a Spanish political scientist known in Venezuela for some controversial videos where she showed “that everything was normal” in the country governed by Maduro, that there was no such humanitarian crisis or shortages.

Here is a brief analysis of the other sites that republished the article in English and Spanish.

  • Resumen Latinoamericano has a good number of pro-Alex Saab publications, including a documentary in which they call him a “kidnapped diplomat”, as well as Covid’s anti-vaccine disinformation narratives (1, 2 and 3).
  • The Anti-Blockade Observatory is part of the International Center for Productive Investment, an entity attached to the Vice-Ministry of Anti-Blockade Policies, directed by communicator William Castillo Bollé, who has held positions as Vice-Minister of International Communication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vice-Minister of Strategy and Communication Management of the Ministry of Communications and Information, Director of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), Director of Information of the National Electoral Council, Vice-President of the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión and President of TVES.
  • La Pluma, whose contributors include Tirado and William Serafino, has published eight Mission Truth articles, including disinformation of Russian origin such as the training of neo-Nazis and jihadists in Ukraine, the basis for the justification of the invasion launched in February 2022.
  • El Popular of Uruguay usually redoes the Mission Truth articles in summary form, publishing articles such as “How the United States formed a left wing to suit itself”, “A genocidal policy: since 1967 more than 1 million Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel” and “Systemic corruption in the United States and Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan”.
  • Debate Plural, Dominican Republic, has published 25 Mission Truth articles, including several translations from Declassified UK, although they also quote them directly.
  • Red de Solidaridad con la Venezuela Revolucionaria from Sweden until the end of 2022 has published 88 notes replicating, summarizing or recalling notes from Misión Verdad.
  • Blog Observatorio de Trabajadores, which publishes notes by Pepe Escobar, known for Strategic Culture Foundation, one of the portals identified by the State Department as a Russian and Chinese propaganda network, as well as many disinformation and state-run media outlets such as Hispan TV and The Grayzone.

To know the full potential scope of this strategy, a search for the term “Declassified UK” in Mission Truth yielded 133 republished articles (as of February 3, 2023) for the years 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023, which reveals the constant and systematic amplification of its contents that would have reached at least 110 million users in Latin America for about three years.

Russian disinformer under fire

Examining the English-language media that republish Mission Truth we find a highly problematic actor. Global Research (which defines itself as an independent research center and media, based in Canada) has published five articles in English from Mission Truth between 2017 and 2022, not only about alleged military plots in Venezuela and assassination attempts against Maduro, but also Russian disinformation such as assuring that the Buga massacre was a Ukrainian set-up. This event, however, was verified as true by DW, BBC and Maldito Bulo.

This site has a significant reputation for misinformation. According to the Media Bias/Fact Check Index, the Global Research site has the worst rating in conspiracy theories dissemination and the second worst in pseudo-science and quality of reporting, with unscientific publications against vaccines, the trails left by airplanes and the attack on the Twin Towers. However, we will find him widely quoted throughout the network documented for this research to support positions in defense of the government of Nicolás Maduro or against the economic sanctions on his administration.

Several of their publications were verified by fact-checking media as false such as that hospitals inflated COVID case numbers to get more payments, that vaccines had cancer enzymes or that WHO had admitted that PCR tests were useless for detecting COVID-19.

In addition, according to the State Department’s GEC report, Global Research is highlighted as “a Canadian website that has become deeply immersed in Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem. Its large roster of fringe authors and conspiracy theorists serves as a talent pool for Russian and Chinese websites. Its publications also provide a Western voice that other elements of the ecosystem can leverage to their advantage.”

The profile he did on the site further adds an article from Canada’s The Globe And Mail detailing that “the site has published more than 40,000 of its own pieces since its launch in 2001, according to a longtime contributor. But it does more: it collects reports from other, often obscure, websites, thus giving them a link from Global Research. Those reports are often posted on a number of other sites or aggressively distributed via Facebook and Twitter by followers who actively share or retweet them, including a number of social botnets, or bots – automated accounts programmed to spread certain content from globalresearch.ca.”

The GEC report adds that its director, Michel Chossudovsky, is a columnist for ActualidadRT (Russian state media) as well as the thousands of republished articles, just as Global Research contributors were recruited as pens on sites such as Strategic Culture Foundation (the same as the workers’ blog), The 4th Media, South Front (known for misinforming about the 2020 US elections) and Sputnik, media associated with the Chinese and Russian governments, which also recycle content among themselves while trying to disguise their direct relationship with the ruling parties of their countries.

This ecosystem was dedicated to disseminate disinformation and political propaganda in favor of Putin’s government, as well as articles about several Latin American countries from the Russian narrative. This includes articles such as (translation ours) “The United States used 601 million dollars seized from Venezuela to build the wall with Mexico” by South Front, sanctioned by the US Department of State for spreading disinformation and propaganda, as also pointed out by MBFC and Desinfo UE, which also points out its attempts to hide its relationship with the Russian government.

A diplomatic network

The Orinoco Tribune site defines itself more clearly, revealing that it was created in 2018 to translate news and opinion pieces on Venezuela with anti-imperialist and pro-Chavista positions, as can be read in its About section.

It is directed by Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza, who was Venezuela’s consul in Chicago, between 2008 and 2017, replacing Martín Sánchez (Aporrea / Venezuelanalysis). His articles were used at the beginning of the digital campaign in favor of Alex Saab.

And with Mision Verdad they do an exceptional job: as of February 3, 2023 they had 645 articles translated (including some in which Mision Verdad had already translated or reworked from an article originally in English), thus providing a double amplification of content. Finally, Telesur English, which according to its search tool has published at least two Mision Verdad articles.

A review of the media that republished Mission Truth’s translation of Declassified UK without copying exactly the same text allows us to find a web of publications and reciprocal quotations that makes the dissemination strategy more dense, but also the coordination more evident.

In different articles and forms Prensa Red of Argentina quotes Declassified UK (apart from the translations of Misión Verdad), Red Solidaridad of Sweden quotes Telesur English, Debate Plural quotes Orinoco Tribune and Global Research, La Pluma quotes Orinoco Tribune and Global Research, Observatorio de Trabajadores quotes Global Research and Declassified UK and Resumen Latinoamericano quotes all three: Global Research, Telesur English and Declassified UK.

Doing a similar exercise, one can find a note from Telesur English that reveals that Resumen Latinoamericano, with its newspaper La Puka, organized for the third time a meeting of “anti-imperialist journalists” that includes Telesur’s vice-president of contents.

This coordination is neither new nor restricted to social networks. Transparency International’s special report entitled “Venezuela and Russia, allies to disinform” details the chronology of the collaboration between the Telesur channel and RT, ranging from rebroadcasting programs starting in 2013 as sharing the same headquarters in Caracas to producing content in collaboration.

It was also found how the websites of Telesur (telesurtv.net), Venezolana de Televisión (vtv.gob.ve), La Iguana (laiguana.tv), Últimas Noticias (ultimasnoticias.com.ve) and Agencia Venezuela News (venezuela-news.com), all associated with Nicolás Maduro’s administration, republished 97.3% of the 4.522 articles on Russian state-run websites Sputnik and RT Actualidad between January 1, 2019 and May 30, 2022, including much Russian disinformation and propaganda about Crimea, the pro-independence republics supported by the Putin regime and Russia’s “special denazification operation” in Ukraine, to repeat the official invasion narrative.

To summarize, John McEvoy writes a note from Liverpool, it is translated in Caracas and every time it is done, it reaches close to one million Spanish speaking users, mostly located in Latin America. These contents are reproduced in Venezuelan sites founded by ex-diplomats of Chavez and Maduro that connect with other sites that spread conspiracy theories, Russian propaganda, unrestricted support to revolutionary governments while attacking activists, governments and opponents with an anti-capitalist and critical vision of multilateral organizations.

These contents are then reproduced on sites of organizations, grassroots and popular community groups that make trade union, environmental, social and cultural claims and denunciations that may share critical, anti-globalization and anti-imperialism positions but are not necessarily pro-Maduro or pro-Russia.

Likewise, other sites translate into English the Spanish articles of Misión Verdad for their sites or others in which they are invited, producing a cycle that repeats itself in a spiral of retranslations and republications that pretends to be a diversity of different sources, authors and origins, instead of being a recycling of the same signatures and pages, where some end up unintentionally playing a strategy of coordination of propaganda narratives in favor of the regimes of Cuba, Russia, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

This can be seen in the relationship map we made with the Onodo tool

Old friends

John McEvoy also appears in other media that are part of this media swarm, either by notes translated by Misión Verdad, in other media where he works as Jacobin or The Canary, as an analyst and journalist covering different topics related to the relationship between the United Kingdom, the United States or Russia with Venezuela, as well as by his publications on Twitter.

Thus, his name, statements or articles can be found on the websites of the Libyan site Al-Mayadeen, known for its coverage in favor of the regimes of Syria, Iran and groups such as Hezbollah; La Radio Del Sur (a multi-state project led by Venezuela) which has cited Mision Verdad as a source; Ciudad Valencia newspaper which also republishes Mision Verdad’s “best notes” list or Fuser News (part of the Russian state-run disinformation dissemination network and coordinated support for Alex Saab, even before the Free Alex Saab Movement existed, as documented by Cazadores de Fake News).

In this case Fuser News joins the spread of Russian propaganda citing Mission Truth about an alleged Bulgarian arms export to Ukraine. Both cite the blog of “independent Bulgarian researcher” Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, who has been singled out by various verifying media and the U.S. Department as part of a network of alleged independent journalists who pushed the false narrative of biological laboratories in Ukraine, which also found echoes in Chinese ambassadors around the world, the well-known “wolf warriors”.

Another illustrative example: on the website of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela you can find a publication entitled “Corruption and plunder: How Guaidó finances the kidnapping of Venezuelan gold” which is a note originally by McEvoy for Canary that Resumen Latinoamericano translated into Spanish.

The site of the political party created by Chávez is the most profuse of the research: 777 notes quoting, naming or replicating Mision Verdad, but a note may also be found in the website of the official website of Resumen Latinoamericano quoting Global Research. Threads come and go in this network. Acting as a repository, from the website of the red awning can be found contents and references to almost all the media of the investigated network.

McEvoy is not an exception, but a rule. Other firms such as Ben Norton or Alan McLeod can be found in all these portals and others in the same way, writing for some media, being interviewed by others, commenting as experts or analysts in several others, being translated and quoted by their Twitter accounts. And so it begins again.

The skein unravels: the nodes of power

McEvoy, and the like, is also published on a couple of sites that are worth noting because they differ from the initial nodes: Progressive International is the site of Progressive International founded in late 2018, made up of 14 progressive left political parties (including two from Costa Rica and Chile, as well as extra-parliamentary opposition from Russia and Afghanistan), but also old ideological acquaintances such as the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) and Code Pink while its Executive Council includes former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, former Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad and Colombian President Gustavo Petro.

And in Alborada, which similarly defines itself as (our translation) “an independent voice on Latin American politics, media and culture. We provide a progressive view of the region, offering perspectives rarely found in the mainstream. We also organize regular documentary screenings and talks. Our sister organization Alborada Films produces and distributes documentaries on Latin America that cover similar topics to Alborada.”

This organization organized on April 7, 2021 this online event called (translation ours) “The UK’s war against Venezuelan democracy” with John McEvoy together with Pablo Navarrete (Canary) and Rachael Boothroyd (Venezuelanalysis), with support from Venezuelanalysis, both also contributors to Alborada.

Both sites feature Venezuelanalysis, which is republished and quoted extensively by Progressive International and Alborada.

Here the network shows the least visible and at the same time most powerful node: Venezuelanalysis is the one that has the highest levels of coordination and influence with governmental bodies, thanks to the fact that it has in its team former Chavez ministers, former officials of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, former editors of Telesur English and even those accused of corruption in the United States.

In Venezuelanalysis we can find not only 30 notes that make reference, translate or quote Mision Verdad, another 17 publications from Declassified UK, but also 72 from Global Research and 9 from Resumen Latinoamericano. Founded in September 2003 with contents only in English, we are talking about a site that is 10 years ahead of Mision Verdad.

In their About section, in which they describe themselves as (our translation) “the only independent English-language grassroots media working on the ground in Venezuela” who are dedicated to countering “corporate media propaganda” by giving a voice to leftists and grassroots movements in Venezuela, they also report that they are a joint project of Venezuela Analysis, Inc. registered in New York as a non-profit organization and the Foundation for Global Economic Justice, registered in Caracas in mid-2003.

And its staff includes: Andreína Chávez Alava (former editor-in-chief of Telesur Ecuador), Cira Pascual Marquina (professor at Universidad Bolivariana), Rachael Boothroyd (Telesur correspondent and collaborator of Alborada) and Jessica Dos Santos (Actualidad RT and Épale Ccs, with three journalism awards given by the Chávez and Maduro governments), as well as other collaborators and editors originally from the United States, United Kingdom and Haiti, who live or have lived for several years in Venezuela.

And among its collaborators, the Venezuelan-American Eva Golinger, author of Chávez Code, a book with conspiracy theories on the assassination of Hugo Chávez with nanotechnological weapons, whose ideas are found in a great part of the network studied, thanks to the support especially given by ActualidadRT, Telesur and Sputnik.

The Venezuelanalysis team is also made up of former officials such as Reinaldo Iturriza López (former Minister of Culture and former Minister of Communes of Maduro between April 2013 and January 2016 and former director of the official channel Ávila TV) and Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein, former director of International Relations of the Presidency of Venezuela, former Venezuelan ambassador to Nicaragua, former general director of the International Relations Office of the Ministry of Culture, columnist in Misión Verdad and usual commentator as international analyst in Sputnik Mundo, which also published an interview recounting his Sandinista guerrilla experience in Nicaragua.

Sergio has two brothers who are very close to power.

Mauricio, who held a long list of positions during the Chávez administrations according to this profile in Poderopedia Venezuela, even occupying the Ministry of Communications for a few months, but before that he was in four Vice-Ministries and two General Directorates in Vice-Ministries. He was Head of the Venezuelan Diplomatic Mission in Spain until December 2022, when he was appointed Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy in Madrid.

And the other brother is Ivan, who according to investigative reports by Palmetto Business Daily and ArmandoInfo, the owner of a horse breeding and training stud farm in Florida, Gelfenstein Farm, is allegedly involved in corruption cases as a food contractor with Mercal and an international money laundering scheme, according to the FinCen Files – HSBC leak, conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ.

All while his brothers held public positions in the administration of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuelanalysis conducted an interview with Jesús Santrich, commander of the FARC dissidents hidden (and eventually killed) in Venezuela, which can also be found translated into Spanish on the site of the Swedish Solidarity Network with Venezuela.

Venezuelanalysis does not end yet, on the contrary, it reveals the operation of communicational diplomacy that entangles current and former officials. A war for the narrative with Russian experience.

The co-founder of Venezuelanalysis, German-American sociologist Gregory Wilpert, lived in Venezuela between 2000 and 2008, was web coordinator of the Telesur English website in Ecuador until September 2015, worked between 2016 and 2020 at The Real News Network and since March 2020 is the deputy editor of the think tank Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York. He is an analyst usually consulted by Russian media such as ActualidadRT.

In 1997 he married Venezuelan Carola Josefina Delgado Arria, a graduate of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, who in November 2008 was appointed Consul General in New York according to Official Gazette No. 39.057 while Wilpert was a professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College. In 2011 Delgado Arria was elected coordinator of the Coalition of Latin American Consuls in New York. He is even cited as a witness to the events of April 11 in Oliver Stone’s documentary “South of the Border.” At that time his wife was an employee of Pdvsa.

In 2014 the diplomat was appointed Ambassador to Ecuador and Wilpert is leaving to run Telesur’s English-language website in Quito. She was expelled from the country in October 2018 by order of President Lenin Moreno after then Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Moreno “lied” and “inflated migration figures.”

In October 2021, Resumen Latinoamericano interviewed her to give her opinion on the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ecuador. Here you can read the republication on the PSUV website.

To create Venezuelanalysis, Wilpert teamed up with Martín Sánchez, a former student of Computer Science at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and co-founder of Aporrea, one of the first news, opinion and information dissemination sites supporting the Bolivarian Revolution, essential during the 2002 coup and which later clashed with the government due to its critical stances. Today Martin still criticizes Maduro from his Twitter, where he does not share content from Venezuelanalysis. He migrated in the mid-1990s with his family to the United States, where from 2004 to 2011 he held the positions of Consul General in Chicago and San Francisco. In an interview with ZMag, Wilpert revealed that he received funds from the Ministry of Culture and had a brief alliance with Telesur.

This is similar to what was outlined in an August 2020 report by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), dedicated to countering foreign disinformation and propaganda, entitled “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem. The authors of the document called “cross-fertilization” the exchange of columnists and editors in different Chinese and Russian sites pretending to be independent or U.S. media. But in the Venezuelan case we are talking about people who work or worked for the Venezuelan State.

Venezuela Information Office

During the events of 2002, popular communication was essential for the government of Hugo Chavez. The “radio bemba”, community radio stations, pamphlets and even channels such as Vive TV played an essential role in sharing an alternative narrative to the one presented by the mainstream media in Venezuela and the world.

And on the Internet, when it was not yet preponderant, the Aporrea portal spearheaded the nascent digital ecosystem, which without social networks was still dominated by technologies such as digital forums and blogs.

This experience gave rise to the need to expand these communication platforms abroad, which led to the creation of the Venezuela Information Office (VIO), a private firm that functioned as a public relations agency financed by the Venezuelan embassy in the United States. This is because the legal framework obliges any foreign government that wants to influence the United States to do so through an intermediary firm. And for that they resorted to known friends.

Gregory Wilpert was part of the Venezuela team of the “reality tours” of Global Exchange, a U.S. human rights organization that took U.S. activists to Venezuela “to see the truth of the country.”

Global Exchange, with a lot of experience in protests and agitation for various social causes in the United States, was contacted by the Venezuelan Embassy for the creation of the VIO. A relationship that is not disguised in Venezuelanalysis, since Wilpert interviewed Deborah James when she was still Director of Fair Trade at Global Exchange in October 2003.

James was the first director of the Venezuela Information Office, according to an article by The Center For Public Integrity, an independent, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism center, which spoke with the U.S. activist.

The American explained to Public Integrity that when she obtained the new position, they completely separated her work with Global Exchange, and that she was encouraged to take on this new position because she felt that Venezuela needed to establish a channel for the dissemination of reliable information in English, since there were several but only in Spanish, except for the work of Eva Golinger’s VenezuelaFOIA.

To that end, Nathan Converse, in charge of communications, wrote emails to dozens of journalists and U.S. officials, as recorded in the VIO’s registration in August 2004 under the Foreign Agents Act of the United States (FARA). The document indicates the address as 733 15th street NW, Suite 932, Washington DC 20005 – 2112, which corresponds to a room in the Bluebird Suites hotel, a few meters from the White House.

In addition to Deborah James as Director and Nathan Lord Converse (now on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors) as Communications Coordinator, the list of VIO officers includes Robert Naiman as Senior Policy Analyst; Jo Ellen Chernow as Public Education Coordinator; Stacy Elizabeth McDougall, Eric S. Wingenter as Director of Public Education; and Isaura Gilmond. Also, a budget of half a million dollars “for the first six months.

At the same time, Hugo Chavez appointed Andres Izarra as Minister of Communications, who had been working at CNN and press attaché at the Embassy in Washington. Later, Izarra would be appointed President of Telesur, in a continuum of the mission to improve the government’s international image.

Izarra defended the VIO at the time, after a report in El Universal revealed that it used its budget to pay analysts and journalists to write in favor of Venezuela. The minister only said that it was a big lie, that they had only bought advertising in some newspapers but that the office was a necessity.

The link to the “portals of lies” is found in this September 2008 article in Monthly Review signed by the VIO attacking a Human Rights Watch report on the events of 2002, one week after Wilpert interviewed James in Venezuelanalysis to talk about Venezuela from the point of view of a U.S. social activist.

Even so, in May 2004, before formal registration with the U.S. government, the VIO signed as author a response to an article critical of The Washington Post with the government of Hugo Chavez. They also have a 2006 article signed by Eric Winteger about the trip to Venezuela by TransAfrica Forum, the NGO of actor Danny Glover, and another by Megan Morrissey, who worked at the VIO between 2006 and 2009 to then work as a communications advisor for the Venezuelan embassy between 2011 and 2014, according to her LinkedIn.

But the office already existed a little earlier, according to the book “La comunicación bajo asedio: Balance de 17 años” by researcher Marcelino Bisbal, who assures that the Venezuela Information Office was born in July 2003 with the intention of “avoiding an intervention by the United States”, and that this propaganda mission was later extended with Telesur and La Radio del Sur, which coincides with Izarra’s changes of positions: from the embassy in Miami, to the Ministry of Communications to Telesur.

One more detail about this intentional international coordination.

In August 2004, the VIO published an investigation (as gathered by Aporrea and Cuba Debate) that assured that there was evidence of US plans to overthrow Chávez as was done with Salvador Allende in Chile. A thesis disseminated by Declassified UK in 2021 in which they made an equivalence between the financial support of the United Kingdom to an anti-corruption coalition in Venezuela to Pinochet’s coup against Allende, falsely accusing Efecto Cocuyo and Radio Fe y Alegria of “receiving one million dollars” as “information mercenaries”. A disinformation that was spread all over the web in Spanish.

Moving and renaming

A report in El Mundo Economía y Negocios revealed that in 2008 VIO moved to Florida and changed its name to Latin America Information Office, which allowed it to acquire new clients such as Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, related to Colombian businessman Alex Saab.

This name change led to the abandonment of the Twitter account, which was last published in November 2009. Even so, one can still read how they promoted Venezuelans going to study abroad with Global Exchange, the NGO that the embassy turned to in order to create the VIO.

On the other hand, according to FARA, in this renamed LAIO were registered as employees Megan Morrisey (who did not place it on her LinkedIn), Isaura Gilmond (who came from the VIO), Jessica Coates, Jennifer Schuett, John Alexander Main and Olivia Goumbri as executive director, who then became an advisor to the Venezuelan embassy until 2014, again, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The LAIO Twitter account, with exactly the same posting style, has also been abandoned since January 2010.

There is more evidence of their relationship. Both VIO and LAIO appear as lobbying firms that represent or represented Venezuela in the U.S. Congress between 2003 and 2004, together with Leonardo Flores (Code Pink and several portals reviewed in this report) and Olivia Goumbri, then director of LAIO.

This makes the work of these websites clearer as the evolution of what the VIO was trying to do until the changes in the laws of that country after the attack on the Twin Towers prevented it from doing so in such a forbidden way from 2011: an influence operation in the United States to improve the image of the government using a mixture of U.S. social activists and Venezuelan consular officials that now hides in falsely independent portals.

Let’s follow the skein

In Venezuelanalysis we highlight the note “What Does the Sale of Venezuelan Oil in Currencies Other Than the US Dollar Mean?” from September 2017, which according to the credits is a note originally published in Spanish by Misión Verdad but translated by “Tortilla Con Sal” for Telesur English.

The note does not appear on the Telesur English website when searching within the site as we did before to find the two republished Mission Truth notes, while Tortilla Con Sal’s profile is only available in web cache, that is, it was deleted from the Telesur website, although it still appears as author in Telesur in Spanish, with no published notes.

In both cases they describe Tortilla Con Sal as “an anti-imperialist collective based in Nicaragua producing information in various formats on national, regional and international issues. In Nicaragua we work closely with grassroots community organizations and cooperatives. We strongly support the policies of sovereign national development and regional integration based on peace and solidarity promoted by the member countries of ALBA” (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, founded by Cuba and Venezuela).

Tortilla Con Sal found a note justifying the Russian invasion of Ukraine under the official Russian propaganda and disinformation narratives of aggression by the Ukrainian army against its own Russophone population and alleged neo-Nazism infiltrating the Kyiv government.

There is also content from Global Research in defense of the Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega and invited to an event held on August 28, 2022 to contrast the ideas of the Summit of the Americas and CELAC. Among the sponsors, Venezuelanalysis and Orinoco Tribune.

Haitian connection

What adds a note of mystery is that the Mission Truth note appears as unavailable. However, thanks to the rebroadcasting network, we can find another node: Montray Kréyol, a site of Haitian origin, which republished it in September 2017.

Montray Kréyol, which defines itself as (our translation) a “site for the defense of the Creole languages and cultures of the Americas and the Indian Ocean” has dozens of notes in support of the Maduro government in Venezuela that allow to impressively open the range of republications in French, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Among the sites republished by Montray Kréyol are the Venezuelan, Cuban and Haitian media Últimas Noticias, Cuba Debate, AlbaCiudad, Granma, Rezo Nodwes (which quotes Global Research) and Revolution Permanente (which is part of the international network Izquierda Diario, made up of 15 newspapers in seven languages and promoted by the Fracción Trotskista por la Cuarta Internacional, which brings together various Trotskyist parties of the world and of which the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo (LTS) of Venezuela is a member).

On the website of the LTS one can see a position of opposition both to the government of Maduro and to the opposition to it, they denounce the invasion of Ukraine while also criticizing NATO. Even in 2008 they already criticized the government of Hugo Chavez for its positions against the trade union struggle.

This reveals, from the Progressive International to the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo, how these contents of political propaganda, disinformative narratives and “credible sources” achieve an expansion of their contents thanks to the ideological solidarity that fails to perceive the coordination strategy behind them, helping to distribute also anti-science disinformation and support to human rights violators.

Nodes to infinity

In this research we found many more interlocking relationships and media, as reflected in the interactive map of relationships. To save text space, and to avoid making it unnecessarily long since the relationship between activist groups, states and allegedly independent media has been demonstrated, only those media relationships that they cite, republish or systematically reference on their sites are shown in the interactive graphic.

Some of these are Red Radio VE (who posted on their Instagram the interview Max Blumenthal did with Maduro), Diario VEA, Contra Hegemonia Web from Argentina, Prensa Rural, Cronica Digital from Chile, the veteran Red Voltaire and Rebelion.org (which do translations in more than a dozen languages), Cuba Informazione, Hispan TV (owned by the Iranian government for a Latin audience in the US, Latin America and Iran) or Geopolitical Economy, as well as highly questionable sites such as MintPress, for their publication of conspiracy theories, pseudo-scientific anti-Israel propaganda, poor use of sources, false verification and disinformation.

All creating such a dense, self-referenced and deep cloud that makes it very complicated to follow the line of quotes, references and republishings to reach the original in the initial language while creating an experience of diversity and community that in the midst of the fast and superficial information consumption habits on the Internet, makes it difficult to determine if the article I am reading was published by a site controlled by a Venezuelan diplomat because it was then replicated over and over again, until it reached my screen.

All this in the midst of a censored country, with less and less free media, which allows the imprint of propaganda and disinformation to be deeper than truthful information.

This work is part of the deliveries of the Coalición Informativa “C-Informa”, a Venezuelan journalistic team that aims to confront disinformation and is integrated by Medianálisis, Efecto Cocuyo, El Estímulo, Cazadores de Fake News and Probox with the support of the Consorcio para Apoyar el Periodismo Independiente en la Región (CAPIR) and the advice of Chequeado from Argentina and DataCrítica from Mexico.

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