The baseless accusation, first issued days before the April 2013 presidential election by Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, resurfaced again this month after Spanish daily El Pais ran a similar hit-piece titled “Where was Maduro born?” Citing the same source that knowingly released false images of President Hugo Chavez during his deadly bout with cancer, opposition media are now desperately trying to put the brakes on Maduro’s growing popularity with claims his presidency “might violate” the Constitution “if it turns out he is Colombian”. Venezuela’s Minister of Information and Communication Ernesto Villegas brushed off the accusation, saying they are part of a larger strategy “to generate distrust” between the Venezuelan people and the national government.
Media vs. Maduro
Speaking to a group of reporters attending a war correspondents training in Caracas, Venezuelan Minister of Information and Communication described the attacks on Maduro as part of a “media-based campaign against the President”.
“There is a renewed line of attack against our President, Nicolas Maduro”, Villegas explained, “and it seeks to seed the idea that he was born in the sister Republic of Colombia”. “Maduro is Venezuelan and was born right here (in Caracas)”, Villegas affirmed. “This has been demonstrated over and over again, and needs no further explanation. Nevertheless”, Villegas said, “the attacks continue”.
“Regardless of the facts”, he added, “opposition forces continue their cyclical attacks, their attempts to activate anachronistic mechanisms in certain sectors of our society so as to generate distrust and add arguments to the right-wing thesis that the Maduro presidency is illegitimate”.
Three months into a presidency in which Maduro increasingly demonstrates he is both able to govern Venezuela and lead the Bolivarian Revolution, the country’s rightwing minority appears increasingly desperate to slow him down. An example of their despair, the opposition recently turned to Panama’s Guillermo Cochez, the discredited politician who knowingly circulated false images of what appeared to be former President Hugo Chavez lying in a hospital bed, kept alive with tubing used for artificial feeding and respiration. The image, which ran front-page in Spanish daily El Pais as Chavez battled for his life, was later retracted after it was found to be of another person undergoing medical treatment. Released during the Venezuelan leader’s failed bout with cancer, the image was clearly intended to produce angst in the Venezuelan populace.
In a similar attempt to produce discontent among Venezuelans, and again with the support of Spain’s El Pais, the Panamanian politician turned anti-Chavez advocate recently published an article titled “Where was Maduro born?” In it, Cochez tried reigniting debate by writing that “the controversy over Nicolas Maduro Moros’ place of birth” is now “the source of many discussions” and “is converting itself into a new dilemma among the many that the new president now faces”. In spite of his assertion, the story is largely disregarded by most Venezuelans. Cochez’s argument, which seems more focused on disseminating false claims than making a strong argument, begins by stating that “on May 25th Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) threw out a request to nullify the April 14th presidential election based on accusations that Nicolas Maduro Moros is not Venezuelan by birth, making his candidacy invalid and his election null and void”.
Paraphrasing the lawyer who first submitted the nullification request, Cochez asserted the CNE decision “doesn’t prove Maduro was born in Venezuela - it simply reduces the importance of the claim, without investigating fully, and belittles its pretension”. As such, Cochez argues, Maduro must have been born abroad.
What proof exists? According to Cochez, “Colombian media have investigated the issue” and “old friends of Nicolas (Maduro) in Cucuta (Colombia) remember playing soccer and sharing time with him as adolescents”. Apart from the unconfirmed soccer matches, Cochez also cited Colombian press reports that affirm Maduro’s parents may have been “born in Colombia”.
A rabid anti-Chavez critic, earlier this year Guillermo Alberto Cochez was removed from his post as Panamanian Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) after issuing a series of violent tirades against the Chavez government. For similar conduct, Cochez was granted the 2012 Order of the Venezuelan Exile “Romulo Betancourt”, a public recognition granted to anti-Chavez advocates by the extreme right, Miami- based Organization of Venezuelan Politically Persecuted People in Exile (VEPPEX).
As part of the anti-Maduro campaign described by Minister Villegas, private media outlets tied to the Venezuelan opposition issued their own interpretations of Cochez’s claim. In an article titled “What if Maduro is Colombian?”, Venezuelan daily El Universal published a piece by rightwing blogger Alexander Cambero in which he warns that “if Nicolas Maduro is proven to have been born in the Colombian city of Cucuta, in the state of North Santander, we will be facing the greatest fraud ever committed against the good will of the Venezuelan people”.
Citing Panama’s Cochez as his source of concern, Cambero adds that Maduro’s place of birth “might be a giant act of deception that not only violates the Constitution, but also serves to demonstrate the lack of suitability of he who has usurped power from Miraflores (Presidential Palace)”.
In another example based on the same faulty logic, online publisher www.entornointeligente.com titled its piece, “Nicolas Maduro wasn’t born in Venezuela”. In it, author Nelson Ramirez Torres warns of the “grave significance of having a foreigner as President of the Republic and Chief of the Armed Forces”. Part of an editorial policy aimed at weakening the Maduro presidency, these right-wing media attacks choose to simply overlook the fact that the Venezuelan President was born and raised in Caracas, participated actively in grassroots politics, and served as a working-class union organizer before joining socialist leader Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) in the struggle to transform Venezuelan society.