Being a Journalist, Venezuelan & Migrant in Latin America

Maria Ceballos, a Venezuelan journalist working in Peru.

By Ernesto Cabral (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – Tired of media censorship and the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, Maria Jose Vargas gave up her job as a correspondent for a digital TV channel. Leaving her hometown of Anzoategui, she traveled by land for four days until she reached Peru, in 2017. Once in the Peruvian capital, she worked in clothes shops for two years. In February 2019, she put herself forward for a position at a local newspaper, but she didn’t hear anything back.

“I found it really strange not to work in my profession, I had to start all over,” Vargas says. Four months after her application, the newspaper decided to hire her. However, this case is an exception in Peru and in other Latin American countries.

“They told me to my face: ‘you can’t work anywhere here, it’s better you go elsewhere,” Yasmina Hera recalls, who founded the Asociación de Periodistas Venezolanos en Ecuador (Apevec).

A study last year, published by the Ibero-American Observatory on Human Mobility, Migration and Development (OBIMID), warned about shortcomings in the professional integration of Venezuelan migrants in our region.

“I feel lucky to be part of the exception to this rule,” Yasmin Velasco says, another Venezuelan journalist that came to Colombia five years ago, and has been working on Bogota TV for a year and a half.

Challenges finding work

The lack of positions in the media is a problem shared by Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

“If things are hard for a local journalist, just imagine how it is for us who aren’t from here,” Maria Ceballos explains, president of the Asociacion de Periodistas Venezolanos en Peru (APEVEP). This even happens to journalists who have been working in the field for a long time in Venezuela.

Despite her 22 years experience as a journalist for newspapers, on the radio and TV, and hosting a prime time news show in Venezuela, it took Velasco three years and a half to join a media outlet in Colombia, for example.

During this period of time, she had temporary jobs at a real estate agency and selling coffee; although she never stopped her reporting on social media.

These difficulties leave the majority of Venezuelan migrants with two options: dedicate themselves to other professions or accept precarious working conditions. Plus, many of them have to pay rent and send money back to Venezuela.

“People have to get by… but we’re being offered jobs where they want us to work for free basically,” Jasmina Mendez says, from the Alianza de Comunicadores Venezolanos en Antioquia (Acva), in Colombia.

Alliances in the face of hardship

To tackle this situation, a group of Venezuelan journalists in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru came together, between 2017-2019, and mobilized to create three institutions: ACVA, APEVEC y APEVEP, respectively.

“We thought there must be many Venezuelan journalists like us out there who are trying to join media outlets and must be facing the same problems,” Mendez recalls when talking about her motivation to found ACVA.

In addition to supporting Venezuelan journalists to join media outlets, these associations also provide social support. “We have journalists who were evicted from their homes during the pandemic, and we turned to shelters,” Ceballos, from APEVEP, says.

This organization even dealt with the case of a Venezuelan journalist who was left without clothes on his back at the border, on his way to Peru. “He was given psychological support because he wanted to commit suicide,” Ceballos says.

These associations not only bring reporters together, but camera people, photographers and voice-over artists too. Some have even created their own news channels.

For example, ACVA has it’s own news website online and is in the process of incorporating a new news section on Alianza Radio, a digital radio. As well as a newsletter that they send to over 120 WhatsApp groups of Venezuelan migrants.

Covering the diaspora

“We were very concerned about how traditional media were dealing with migration as a problem,” Ceballos says.

For this reason, APEVEP also concentrated its efforts on opening up digital platforms to counteract “people’s fear of the arrival of migrants” and to formalize alliances with Peruvian universities in order to train people about covering the Venezuelan diaspora in Journalism schools.

The organizations in Ecuador and Colombia have also joined these efforts. “Mass media only shows the downside of Venezuelan migration,” Mendez from ACVA says.

One of the main challenges within this context is the fight against misinformation and fake news. Hera from APEVEC, for example, explains that they don’t publish information “that we don’t receive firsthand.”

Vargas is specializing in covering the Venezuelan diaspora, which she forms part of.

“I come from a country where there are so many restrictions… and I feel like practicing journalism in Peru has allowed me to make peace with the profession,” she adds. It is from this position, now, that she reaffirms the importance of giving coverage to migration: “reporters have the responsibility to “tell the story properly” and eliminate the stigma that only causes a great deal of hurt,” she said.

This article was originally published on IJNET the International Journalists’ Network.

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