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Derwick Associates goes into cable: media assault keeps apace in Venezuela

Hugo Chavez was a media product. When he got caught in 1992, leading a coup against democratically-elected Carlos Andres Perez, he was allowed to address the nation, live. His call to fellow putschists to depose arms and "por ahora" speech made him a national icon, instantly. Chavez knew, better than any politico in Venezuela, what control of the media meant. And so he tried to build a media empire, or as one of his ministers would put it "crear una hegemonía comunicacional, pero desde el concepto gramsciano", meaning "to build a hegemonic media empire modelled on Gramscy's concepts." Berlusconi, or Slim would be proud... Chavez tried his hardest to have this done, he threw countless amounts of public funds at it, but soon realised that his media empire had very little penetration. The people continued to favour traditional channels and newspapers. In fact RCTV, a TV channel sympathetic to the opposition, had the highest ratings nationwide. So what did Chavez do? In 2007 he took away RCTV's license and sent his thugs to take over the channel and millions of dollars worth of broadcasting equipment.

That was the first hurdle. Then it became clear that Globovision, a 24-hour news-only channel critical of his regime, had to be silenced. So instead of repeating what he did to RCTV, roundly condemned by all human rights NGOs, multilaterals, political figures and democratic governments around the world, Chavez choke them with countless legal procedures, visits by broadcasting watchdog, and fines. The situation for Globovision's owners came to be so unbearable that they flee the country and from their exile in the USA sold it to a group of investors, read cronies of the Chavez regime. The purchase Globovision is being challenged, but that's another issue.

The two TV channels that regularly aired criticism taken care of, attention was turned to newspapers. Traditionally, El Nacional, El Universal and Ultimas Noticias have been the biggest in Venezuela, the first two in middle/upper class circles, the latter among the poor. Given that Venezuela has many more poor people than middle or upper class, Ultimas Noticias is, by far, the most-read newspaper. Sources formerly with Ultimas Noticias said to me that it printed more than El Nacional and El Universal combined. In any case, El Nacional was coopted. Its owner, Miguel Henrique Otero, married a woman called Antonieta Jurado. Jurado was PA of Juan Barreto, the thuggish chavista former Mayor of Caracas who used to write columns for El Nacional, and once in power returned the favour by using El Nacional as his office's propaganda outlet. In addition to El Nacional's surrendering, Jurado and Otero also have a controlling interest in, perhaps the most popular news site in Venezuela. El Universal, as far as I know, continues to be independent, while Ultimas Noticias -for most of Chavez's reign clearly partisan with his regime and beneficiary of billions in advertisment- was recently purchased by another "group of investors". This other group, having seen how Globovision has all but flopped since late acquisition and related legal challenges, has allegedly appointed a banker, Carlos Acosta Lopez (a man with his own dodgy past), to manage Ultimas Noticias. Sources familiar with the purchase told me the new owners -among whom banker Victor Vargas- want to remain at arms lenght, and not be identified with Ultimas Noticias for fear that its readership numbers would plummet. The source also said aim behind these acquisitions is to clear trail of multimillion dollar fortunes made through illegal means, in the style of Carlos Slim who benefited from his cozy friendship with Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the PRI in Mexico.

All in all, there is no media of national reach than can cast a shadow on the Gramscian construct controlled by chavismo and its cronies. In the latest turn of events, journalist Nelson Bocaranda informs today:

45 millones de dólares habría sido la suma pagada por algunos “bolichicos”, los muy jóvenes empresarios boliburgueses que crecieron a la sombra del drama eléctrico, por uno de los operadores de cable más importantes del país. La firma fue en Texas… 

Bocaranda likes cryptic language and is having to defend himself in chavista kangaroo courts nowadays, so let me spell his message out: Derwick Associates has purchased Intercable, from HM Capital Partners, for $45 million. Why would a firm whose "expertise" is in the energy sector purchase a cable company? Let me venture a guess. When disgraced Mario Silva was still a respected figure within chavismo, he denounced that cable companies were "sabotaging" Venezuelan State TV channel signal. Silva goes on to claim that he would "investigate the owners and would denounce them daily..." and identifies Intercable, then owned by HM Capital Partners, as one of the culprits. Fast forward four months: a company that has been granted in excess of $3 billion in energy contracts first diversification investment is into cable. 

Chavismo's propaganda channels are over represented in Intercable. While Intercable does not seem to be in the business of producing content, it would be interesting to monitor what channels, if any, are eliminated from its channel listing. Just to be on safe side I sent an email to Sarah Bradley of HM Capital Partners (now known as Kainos Capital):

Dear Mrs Bradley,

I am a Venezuelan investigative journalist based in London.

Two weeks ago, I was informed that a Venezuelan group (Derwick Associates and or its execs Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, Pedro Trebbau Lopez, Francisco Convit and Francisco D'Agostino) had purchased Inter, a cable company operating in Venezuela in which HM Capital Partners had a controlling interest.

Today, Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda informed that the deal was closed in Texas, for $45 million.

Therefore, I would like to ask:

- Can you confirm the deal?
- Can you confirm identity of acquiring party?
- Can you confirm amount paid?
- Did your company do any due diligence as per legitimacy of funds used in acquisition?

I should be grateful if you could answer the above.

Alek Boyd

Let's hope Mrs Bradley can reply.