There's a lot of talk in Venezuela these days about whether Edward Snowden is going to end up in Caracas, protected and supported by chavismo. Snowden, already famous worldwide for revealing how the US government spies on its people, said recently that Venezuela had his "gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless..."
Cesar Batiz is not a whistleblower but an award winning journalist. Venezuela is a country where the Thin Blue Line isn't the police but, rather, intrepid journalists and muckrakers in the best sense of the word. Batiz works in Ultimas Noticias (Venezuela's most-read newspaper). In 2011 Batiz published a couple of articles about a developing corruption scandal in the energy sector. Derwick Associates, a company that came out of nowhere, was granted 12 contracts in 14 months to, basically, solve Venezuela's power crisis. Derwick overbilled in the hundreds of millions of dollars and likely split the difference with their friends in the Chavez government. And how did Chavez's cronies in the private sector, and the Venezuelan government itself react to this journalist's corruption exposé?
Meet Franklin Chaparro (pictured). He owns a security company called Servicios de Seguridad Consolidados (SERSECO). Chaparro started out as a fireman, got into security, was at one point "commissar" of DISIP (former intelligence police force) and ended up in the private sector. His work in the security field is widely known and respected in Venezuela. He has a radio programme. He is also a leading voice within FEDECAMARAS (business group) and his success has been featured in business publications. His company is therepresentative for Venezuela and the Caribbean of Garrett.
Sources inside SERSECO have revealed that Chaparro, who pontificates about "the huge moral crisis" affecting Venezuela and how he "respects the dignity of people", has done work for Derwick Associates. His remit, however, is not confined to merely providing Derwick Associates execs with dozens of bodyguards. Derwick's young turks were getting paranoid about the level of detail in Batiz's journalistic reports about their crimes, and so they wanted to establish whether anyone within their organisation was leaking information to Batiz. And so, Chaparro was asked to spy on Cesar Batiz.
Chaparro, who has a history with the intelligence police, must have gotten hold of his old chums to lend a hand. When I asked Batiz about this he said that a satellite tracker was placed in his car. Men in motorcycles were commissioned to follow his every move. His work diary -where Batiz kept copious notes of his investigations, contacts, telephones, appointments, etc.- suddenly got "lost" in his own home. His email was hacked. In addition, his elderly mother got threatening phone calls from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN). The SEBIN is the new DISIP, where Chaparro was a commander. Batiz himself was also called in, repeatedly, by SEBIN operatives, who demanded that he presented himself in their offices to be questioned about his sources.
Unlike Snowden, Batiz is not revealing secret official surveillance plans (but it's about time someone blew the whistle on how Venezuela spies on its own people). Instead, Batiz is publicising corruption in the billions of dollars, in a country with a government supposedly devoted to the poor. Batiz's rights have not been respected. His work has been sought to be discredited, not in the press as would happen in true democracies, but by a private security company working in cahoots with the country's intelligence services, while Derwick Associates used its contacts with high government officials to have the country's intelligence services act as its private security contractors. Imagine the front page coverage in America if a private security firm partnered with the FBI, without official sanction, to persecute Glenn Greenwald, hack his email, track his car, harrass his mother, and bring him in for questioning. Not for publishing the government's surveillance system, but for exposing theft and graft. That's the Venezuela that Snowden respects...