MIAMI — A Miami Herald journalist was detained by Venezuelan authorities while reporting on politics and the chronic shortages in the South American country, the newspaper said today.
Jim Wyss, the Herald’s Andean bureau chief, was detained initially in San Cristobal, a western city near the border with Colombia, by the National Guard. He was then transferred to the custody of military intelligence, the newspaper said.
Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez issued a statement calling for his immediate release.
“We are very concerned,” Marques said. “There doesn’t seem to be any basis for his detention and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.”
The newspaper said that Herald editors had been trying to secure the reporter’s release. It said on a story posted on its website that Venezuelan journalists reported seeing him in custody today but were not permitted to approach him.
The president of the Florida Society of News Editors, Bob Gabordi, said his organization is joining the Herald in calling on authorities to release Wyss and ensure his safety.
Wyss was in Venezuela to report on upcoming municipal elections and the chronic shortages of such staples as milk, toilet paper and automobile parts amid an economic crisis.
Economists have blamed the situation on government mismanagement and currency controls set by the late President Hugo Chavez. The government blames the shortages on hoarding and speculation by the private sector, and accuses right-wing agitators and the U.S. government of being behind a destabilization campaign it calls an ‘economic war.’”
Journalists have encountered harassment while reporting on the economic crisis. Last week, three reporters for Caracas newspaper Diario 2001 were detained, and one allegedly beaten by police, after witnessing a group of frenzied shoppers break through a barricade to receive a government-provided Christmas food basket.
Government officials have sometimes publicly vilified members of the international media as opponents of the Chavista revolution. On the day in March when Chavez’s death was announced, supporters beat a Colombian TV reporter outside the military hospital in Caracas where he was said to have died.