November 9, 2013

US reporter still held by Venezuelan authorities

The Miami Herald journalist is expected to be released over the weekend.

By Joshua Goodman
The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela – The Miami Herald journalist detained since Thursday by Venezuelan security forces while reporting on the country’s economic crisis is expected to be released over the weekend, the newspaper said.

Jim Wyss, the Herald’s Andean bureau chief, was detained by the National Guard in San Cristobal, a western city near the border with Colombia. The Herald said in a story on its website that Venezuelan journalists reported seeing him in custody but were barred from approaching him.

After a second night in custody without authorities providing any information about the detention, Wyss’ predicament appeared to have improved Saturday. The Herald’s World Editor John Yearwood flew to Caracas Saturday to usher the reporter out of the country, the newspaper said in the story. U.S. Embassy officials are also working on his release.

“We are eager to bring this issue to a close,” the Herald’s Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez Marques said in a statement. “Our main concern continues to be his safety and welfare. We are working on all fronts to secure his release and are optimistic it will happen soon.”

Authorities haven’t said if Wyss is facing charges or why he was detained. Nor did President Nicolas Maduro mention the case during a four-hour televised speech Friday night.

The Inter American Press Association, in joining the Herald’s call for the reporter’s immediate release, said in a statement that he had been transferred Friday to Caracas and was being held in solitary confinement.

Wyss, who is based in Bogota and has made many trips to Venezuela, traveled to San Cristobal to report on next month’s municipal elections, which are taking place amid an economic crisis marked by 54 percent inflation and shortages of staples such as milk and toilet paper.

Maduro blames hoarding and speculation by the private sector, and accuses right-wing agitators and the U.S. government of waging an “economic war” to destabilize his government. However, economists say that only scrapping the decade-old controls imposed by the late Hugo Chavez can curb a sharp slide in the currency’s value on the black market.

Journalists have encountered harassment before while reporting on the crisis. Last week, three reporters for Caracas newspaper Diario 2001 were detained, and one allegedly beaten by police, after witnessing a group of frenzied shoppers break through a barricade to receive a government-provided Christmas food basket.

Government officials also regularly vilify in public members of the international media as opponents of the Chavista revolution. Still, except for the six-week jailing of an American documentary filmmaker earlier this year, the detention of foreign journalists for more than a few hours is almost unknown.

Wyss himself was nearly barred from entering Venezuela shortly before Chavez’s death in March, according to the Herald report.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of a press freedom committee at the Inter American Press Association, said he was bewildered by Wyss’ detention, calling it a “new demonstration of intolerance by a regime that day after day shows its contempt for the work of journalists.”

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