El Nacional Newspaper to Pay Diosdado Cabello $13.6m Libel Damages

The Supreme Court ruled that the opposition newspaper landed unsubstantiated accusations that the socialist deputy was linked to drug cartels.

By Paul Dobson
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El Nacional may be forced to close operations following the libel case. (Rayner Peña / DPA)
El Nacional may be forced to close operations following the libel case. (Rayner Peña / DPA)

Mérida, April 19, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) has ordered one of Venezuela’s largest newspapers to pay Chavista number two Diosdado Cabello US $13.6 million in libel damages.

The move could force El Nacional to shut down, with the corporation’s current assets valued well below the unprecedented award, and executives announcing that the “astronomical” damages are impossible to pay.

Diosdado Cabello sued the newspaper for slander in 2015 after it reprinted an article alleging that the current National Assembly deputy and United Socialist Party (PSUV) vice president led a drug-running gang called the Cartel of the Suns.

The article, which quoted a former bodyguard of President Hugo Chávez who defected to the US, had originally been published in Spain’s rightwing ABC newspaper and provided no evidence to back up the claims. At the time, journalist and fellow PSUV Deputy Earle Herrera explained that “El Nacional says that its source is Madrid’s ABC, ABC says that its source is the [US-based] Diario las Americas, Diario las Americas says that its source is El Nacional and they all start to wash their hands of responsibility (…) through this communicational technique called ‘source dissolution.’”

In Friday’s ruling, the TSJ concluded that the article had caused Cabello “grave moral damages (…) in his personal and family environments as well as in his social activities in general in which he was forced to face public ridicule without any justification.”

While Cabello is yet to comment on the ruling, in October he claimed to want to “demand that they [El Nacional] pay out.” The high-profile PSUV deputy is also currently awaiting rulings in lawsuits against news outlets La Patilla and TalCual which share El Nacional’s anti-government editorial line and ran the 2015 article.

For its part, El Nacional was quick to reject the ruling, claiming it “had never had the intention of defaming anyone.”

It also alleged “political and legal persecution” and a “covert expropriation” of its operations by the government politician. No evidence was offered to back up these fresh allegations.

Additionally, the newspaper’s legal team has lodged a request for legal clarification, claiming not to understand how judges arrived at the amount which was suggested to be closer to US $12,500 in 2018. The lawyers also claim that the damages, which were fixed as 237,000 of Venezuela’s Petro cryptocurrency, should rather be assigned in Venezuela’s Bolivar currency.

The National College of Journalists (CNP) struck a similar tone on Saturday, describing the ruling as “the criminalization of a public service.” The CNP, which has been consistently vocal in its anti-government stance, went on to express its “solidarity” with El Nacional’s owners.

This is not the first time El Nacional, which is owned by Venezuelan media mogul Miguel Henríque Otero, who now resides in Madrid, and has run for more than 70 years, has had to pay libel damages.

In 2013, the outlet was forced to pay fines worth 1% of its income for printing explicit photographs of a Caracas morgue, a practice which is banned in Venezuela. Likewise, in 2013 its bank accounts were frozen following a successful libel lawsuit by former Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña. A year later, it was forced to pay damages to Adolfredo Pulido Mora, a doctor it had accused of medical malpractice.

Venezuela’s anti-government private media has frequently peddled Washington’s line that Cabello, President Nicolás Maduro and a number of other high-ranking officials are linked to drug cartels, defending unsubstantiated opinions as “freedom of expression.”

Last year, US authorities indicted Cabello on drug charges, offering a US $10 million reward for his capture. Maduro and thirteen other Venezuelan politicians and military leaders were likewise indicted, with a US $15 million reward offered for Maduro’s capture. At the time, Caracas blasted the move as “racist cowboy methods.”

The indictments were followed by a large-scale US military deployment on an “anti-narcotics” mission in the Caribbean Sea off Venezuela’s northern coast as the Trump regime looked to pressure for regime change in the Latin American nation.

Washington has consistently failed to provide evidence of its narcotics accusations, with US agency data showing that only a fraction of drug routes pass through Venezuelan territory while the majority of Colombian-produced drugs enter the US via the Pacific and Central America.