Spain: Briefly detained EFE journalists accredited to work in Venezuela

Mauren Barriga, a journalist with Spanish international news agency EFE, speaks to reporters press after being released, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 31, 2019. EPA-EFE/MIGUEL GUTIERREZ

Mauren Barriga, a journalist with Spanish international news agency EFE, speaks to reporters press after being released, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 31, 2019. EPA-EFE/MIGUEL GUTIERREZ


Three Agencia EFE journalists who were released Thursday in Caracas after being briefly detained by Venezuela’s Sebin intelligence service have been accredited to continue working in the Andean nation, Spain’s foreign minister said.

Information obtained earlier Thursday by EFE, Spain’s international news agency, had indicated those journalists were in the process of being deported.

“They’re not going to be expelled. The work of the embassy and consulate allowed them to be accredited, so they can stay and complete their reporting mission,” Josep Borrell said in Romania’s capital, where he is attending an informal meeting of European Union ministers.

“Arrests are rarely random. I don’t know,” Borrell said when asked if he knew why the journalists had been detained by Sebin agents.

“We thought everything was in order but now that things have been cleared up they won’t be deported or expelled, as had initially been said,” the minister added.

Venezuelan government sources said unofficially that the reporters were detained by mistake, attributing the mix-up to conflicting orders and adding that the Sebin agents apologized to the correspondents for their “arbitrary arrest” before releasing them.

The three EFE reporters detained on Wednesday are Colombians Mauren Barriga and Leonardo Muñoz and Spaniard Gonzalo Dominguez. A Venezuelan driver who was accompanying Muñoz, Jose Salas, was taken into custody along with him but has been released as well.

Muñoz, a photojournalist, was detained Wednesday at midday while he (accompanied by Salas) was covering protests called by the opposition-led National Assembly in Caracas. His whereabouts was unknown until 9:30 pm that evening, when Sebin agents detained the other two EFE correspondents at their hotel.

Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister said Thursday amid an outcry over the detention of the three EFE journalists and eight other foreign correspondents that a media plot is being orchestrated against the crisis-hit country.

“It’s unheard of and irresponsible for media companies to send journalists without complying with the minimum requirements of Venezuelan law and then creating an uproar, with their governments joining in. Just another aspect of the media plot against the country,” Jorge Arreaza said in a series of tweets.

This week, Venezuela’s main press workers union (SNTP) also denounced the detention of eight other people, including four foreign journalists.

On Tuesday, four journalists - two Venezuelans and two Chileans - were detained while covering a vigil for the defense of leftist head of state Nicolas Maduro outside the Miraflores presidential palace.

The two Venezuelans - Maiker Yriarte of TV Venezuela and Ana Rodriguez of VPI - have already been released, while Chileans Rodrigo Perez and Gonzalo Barahona have been deported to their homeland.

Two other French journalists affiliated with the French TV program “Quotidien” were released on Thursday, two days after having been detained.

“Pleased to announce that Baptiste des Monstiers and Pierre Caille have been released and will soon be back in Paris,” the program said on its Twitter account.

Dozens of international journalists have arrived in Venezuela to cover the country’s political crisis, which was exacerbated when National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido declared himself interim head of state of Jan. 23 and was recognized by the United States and other countries.

Venezuela has been racked for years by hyperinflation and food shortages and has seen the exodus of millions of its citizens.