Venezuela's long economic slide under Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, has lately turned into a terrifying free fall. Hunger is so widespread that whole families have survived on nothing but mangoes this summer. The luckiest get by with just one meal a day.
Thousands are expected to march across the capital today in a protest dubbed the "Takeover of Caracas," demanding Maduro's ouster over the economic catastrophe in an oil-rich nation. But Maduro evidently doesn't want American readers to know about it.
Last night, the Venezuelan government detained Miami Herald reporter Jim Wyss for hours and then forced him to leave the country. He's just the latest journalist kicked out before the protest — an NPR reporter was turned away at the airport, and an Al Jazeera crew was also denied entry.
Wyss' ordeal was particularly concerning, though, considering that in 2013 the government held the Herald reporter in custody for 48 hours.
Yesterday it briefly seemed Wyss was in for a repeat of that experience. He texted his editors around 5:30 p.m. after landing in Caracas to say immigration authorities were detaining him; for four hours, the Herald heard nothing.
But Wyss, this time, was simply marched onto another airplane and sent along to Panama.
His expulsion from the country echoes Maduro's crackdown on journalists ahead of today's big protest, though.
All is well. On my way home sooner than expected. Venezuelan officials were as professional and kind as possible under circumstances.— Jim Wyss (@jimwyss) September 1, 2016
NPR reporter John Otis was also turned away at the airport Wednesday. A French reporter from Le Monde and a Colombian radio reporter were tossed onto the same flight as Otis, and earlier this week, a crew from Al Jazeera was turned away at the airport.
Maduro might have good reason to worry about the international coverage of the march, which has been organized by opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost an election to Maduro in 2013.
Capriles is pushing for the government to allow a second petition to recall the president. The opposition would need to collect petitions from more than 20 percent of voters in a three-day window to trigger a recall referendum.
In Caracas, tensions will be high today over fears that the march or the government crackdown on the protest will turn violent:
Update 12:30 p.m.: Huge crowds have massed in downtown Caracas for today's protests:
Venezuela blocking press from covering today's big protest. NPR reporter turned back at airport. Miami Herald reporter deported last night— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) September 1, 2016
Llegamos al oeste de Caracas. ¡Aquí estamos en la avenida Victoria! Un pueblo firme que pide libertad pic.twitter.com/9FfJw8hAvz— Lilian Tintori (@liliantintori) September 1, 2016