Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. Immigration authorities in Colombia announced that Venezuela's ousted chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz is on her way to Brazil. Ortega said that Maduro removed her in order to stop a probe linking him and his inner circle to nearly $100 million in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Colombian TV network Caracol taken off Venezuelan airwaves

August 24, 2017 - 3:37 pm

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Colombia's most-popular TV broadcaster has been taken off the airwaves in Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro delivered a scathing rebuke of the neighboring country's media, joining a growing list of news outlets that have been blocked by his government.

Caracol News director Juan Roberto Vargas told Colombian radio that the channel's coverage of ousted chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz appears to have been a "breaking point" that led to its removal Wednesday.

Caracol's removal threatens to further strain already tense relations between the two nations' governments, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos saying Thursday that Maduro is increasingly acting like a "dictator."

"This is another demonstration that this regime doesn't like freedoms," Santos said.

Colombian news channel RCN was also blocked from broadcasting on a Venezuelan local cable operator, though its signal remained active Thursday on DirecTV.

Maduro regularly accuses foreign news outlets of spreading a false narrative about Venezuela's government intended to pave the way for a supposed U.S. military intervention.

"Since the war in Iraq, we have not seen anything as sickening," Maduro said Tuesday at a news conference with foreign journalists, singling out Caracol, Fox News and the BBC for what he considers biased coverage.

Earlier this year Venezuelan authorities shut down CNN en Espanol's feed after the Spanish-language channel aired a report about fraudulent passports that drew angry criticism from officials. In all, about a half-dozen foreign networks have been blocked, including Colombia's El Tiempo and NTN24 and Todo Noticias of Argentina.

Over the years Venezuela's government has also forced a number of critical national media outlets out of business, in some cases by refusing to renew their operating licenses.

In a 2017 report on global press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Venezuela ranked 137th out of 179 nations.

"Freedom of the press is as scarce as food" in Venezuela, Vargas told Caracol Radio, a reference to people's struggles to find basic goods in the country.

Vargas said the move came after escalating government actions against the station. In the last year, he said, three Caracol journalists have been barred from entering Venezuela and some of its equipment was confiscated.

He said Caracol would continue broadcasting over the internet but added that many Venezuelans say they have difficulty accessing the site online, for reasons he did not specify.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said via Twitter that it was "concerned" about Venezuelan authorities' decision to "remove another news channel from the air."

Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have grown especially frigid during the last four months of political upheaval in Venezuela. Santos, one of Maduro's most frequent critics, was the first to announce in late July that his nation would not recognize a vote in Venezuela for delegates to a new constitutional assembly that has nearly unlimited powers.

Ortega, the ousted chief prosecutor who broke with Maduro earlier this year, arrived in Colombia last week after fleeing Venezuela. Santos has offered her political asylum.

The constitutional assembly removed Ortega from her post shortly after it convened in early August. She has promised to deliver evidence to several foreign governments showing that Maduro and top administration officials are involved in corruption.

Venezuelan officials have denied her accusations.


Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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