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LATIN AMERICA | 20-04-2021 13:52

Venezuelan newspaper boss decries US$13-million damages ruling

Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice orders 'El Nacional' newspaper to pay Diosdado Cabello US$13.4 million as a punishment in a defamation case.

The president of a Venezuelan newspaper hit with a US$13-million damages judgment, on Monday accused the state of "expropriation."

The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on Friday ordered El Nacional to pay Diosdado Cabello – the second most powerful person in Venezuela after President Nicolás Maduro – US$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 US$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 less than US$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 US$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 bolívares, worth around US$600 on the black market at that time.

The newspaper described that as an attack on freedom of expression.

El Nacional 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 Chavismo movement of the late former president Hugo Chávez 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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