Venezuelan newspaper boss decries $13 million damages ruling

The president of a Venezuelan newspaper hit with a $13 million damages judgment, on Monday accused the state of “expropriation.”graphical user interface, website: El Nacional newspaper once employed 1,100 people but is now down to a skelton staff of 100 working on an online editionEl Nacional newspaper once employed 1,100 people but is now down to a skelton staff of 100 working on an online edition

The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on Friday ordered El Nacional to pay Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful person in Venezuela after president Nicolas Maduro $13.4 million as a punishment in a defamation case.

In 2015, Cabello, second in command of the governing Socialist Party, took the newspaper to court for reproducing a report by Spanish newspaper ABC that accused the politician of having links to drug trafficking. The court said Cabello had been the “victim” of “very serious moral damage.”

“With this sentence they are going to charge $13 million, we’re going to tell them we can’t pay … so they will seize the building, the equipment, everything there is here … and give it as compensation to Diosdado Cabello,” said Miguel Henrique Otero, also the newspaper’s director who is highly critical of the governing party. “It’s a covert expropriation… which is making a lot of noise at a world level,” Otero added in a video conference call with foreign media.

Otero said El Nacional’s infrastructure, including it’s headquarters in the wealthy eastern part of the capital Caracas, is worth “no les than $20 million” under “normal” circumstances. Venezuela, though, is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis after seven years of recession. Otero said it wouldn’t be possible to cobble together $13 million “for Diosdado Cabello’s morality.”

El Nacional has asked the court to explain how it came to the astronomical figure given a previous decision reached in 2018 ordered the newspaper to pay one billion bolivars, worth around $600 on the black market at that time. El Nacional described that as an attack on freedom of expression.

The emblematic newspaper was founded in 1943 by Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva, but ceased its print version in 2018 due to a lack of funds and paper that is tightly controlled by the state, which limits it to friendly media.

It has spent two decades clashing with the Chavism movement of the late former president Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro, who accuses the newspaper of conspiring with the opposition to overthrow him.

Having once employed 1,100 people and produced various sections including a magazine, El Nacional is now limited to 100 employees working on an online edition.

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