EFE reporters say they’re in good condition after detention ordeal
Three reporters from Spanish international news agency EFE who were freed on Thursday after being detained overnight say they are doing well both physically and emotionally following their distressing ordeal.
Photographer Leonardo Muñoz, video editor Mauren Barriga, both of whom are Colombian, and Spanish editor Gonzalo Dominguez were released Thursday after spending the night at El Helicoide, the headquarters of Venezuela’s Sebin intelligence service.
Despite earlier reports indicating the three journalists were in the process of being deported, they also will be able to stay and carry out their journalistic work in Venezuela.
The reporters were accompanied at the time of their release by Deputy Spanish Consul Julio Navas and the charge d’affaires at Colombia’s embassy, German Castañeda, both of whom had worked since Wednesday night to have them freed from custody.
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 had apologized to the correspondents for their “arbitrary arrest” before releasing them.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Thursday in Bucharest that the journalists had been accredited to stay and work by Venezuelan authorities.
Earlier in the day, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Twitter Thursday that the journalists had not completed the required procedures at their consulates before their trip to Venezuela, adding that the uproar over the detentions was “another aspect of the media plot against the country.”
Muñoz told EFE that he was surprised at the amount of media attention that had been given to his disappearance at around midday Wednesday while he was covering an opposition demonstration in Caracas.
His Venezuelan driver, Jose Salas, also was detained by Sebin agents but then subsequently released.
Muñoz, who like his colleagues works at EFE’s bureau in Bogota, had traveled with Barriga and Dominguez to Caracas on Jan. 24 to help EFE staff in Caracas cover the political crisis in Venezuela.
“They’ve let us go completely free. We weren’t deported or expelled,” Dominguez said for his part.
The Spaniard said he and the others were “doing well physically and emotionally” even though they had spent the night in handcuffs as part of what was described to them as a “security protocol.”
“There was no physical or psychological mistreatment, or anything of the sort,” he added.
Barriga, for her part, said the ordeal was terrifying, especially on Wednesday night when she and Dominguez were met by five armed Sebin agents upon arrival at their hotel.
The agents were waiting for the journalists after having entered their rooms and rummaged through their belongings, she added.
“Then those hours in El Helicoide were very distressing, at the end of a hall, handcuffed in a corner next to two agents who were watching us. We didn’t even know what time of day it was because there wasn’t a single window,” Barriga said.
After enduring that traumatic experience, the three plan to stay in the country a few more days to help their Caracas colleagues cover the turbulent situation in Venezuela.
That country’s long-simmering political crisis entered a more acute phase on Jan. 23 when National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido proclaimed himself to be the country’s legitimate leader and was formally recognized as president by the United States and other countries.
Harsh new US sanctions on the nation’s vital oil industry, which accounts for nearly all of its hard-currency income, could further exacerbate the economic crisis in Venezuela, which is already facing shortages of basic goods and hyperinflation.
“It’s a tough one. I’d like to stay because I love my work, but there’s my family on the other hand telling me to come back soon,” Barriga said.