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“It would have been easier to look the other way”: A journalist’s investigation into corruption in Maduro’s Venezuela

In a voiceover, director Juan Ravell asks Venezuelan journalist Roberto Deniz: “Was this investigation worth it?”

Deniz thinks about the question and then answers: “In my professional life, I always say that it was worth it.”

“And personally?” Ravell asks.

“This answer is more complicated,” says Deniz, adding: “…It would have been easier to look the other way.”

This conversation is part of FRONTLINE’s new documentary. A dangerous task: uncovering corruption in Maduro’s Venezuela, created in collaboration with independent Venezuelan news site Armando.info. The 90-minute documentary, premiering May 14 on streaming platforms and PBS stations (see local listings), tells the story of a corruption scandal that stretches from Venezuela to Europe to the United States, and what happened to the journalists happened that helped uncover the story. including Deniz.

Deniz remembers in the excerpt above: “I didn’t know who I was investigating. I didn’t understand all the connections I would find or the sheer size of the operation.”

In the documentary, Deniz describes how an Armando.info investigation into complaints about the poor quality of food distributed by a Venezuelan government program uncovered a connection to Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who was a close confidant of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the largest contractor was for the food program.

The food program, known as the Local Committees for Supply and Production (Comité Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción or CLAP), was implemented by President Maduro in 2016 when the Venezuelan economy was in free fall and the country was ravaged by hunger. As the documentary shows, Deniz and his colleagues discovered how the CLAP program enriched Saab.

Following Armando.info’s reporting in early 2017, Saab sued Deniz for criminal defamation, disputing the facts of her reporting. Facing threats, harassment and possible prison time, Deniz and his editors made the difficult decision to leave Venezuela.

Nevertheless, Deniz continued his reporting from exile. As Deniz began to untangle the web of the Saab business network, he discovered that he was not the only one investigating the Colombian.

Around the world, other journalists and governments were also investigating Alex Saab.

The journalists’ work helped uncover a larger corruption scandal that reached the highest levels of the Venezuelan government and spanned continents, drawing the attention of law enforcement.

Pursuing this story made Deniz and his colleagues a target of the Maduro government. Not only was Deniz charged by Saab with criminal defamation, but an arrest warrant was also requested against him over his reporting and his family’s home was searched.

As Deniz notes in the excerpt: “Alex Saab’s story shows us how a regime maintains power.”

A dangerous task is a story about corruption in Venezuela and what happens when journalists investigate those in power.

You can find the whole story here A dangerous task: uncovering corruption in Maduro’s Venezuela. The documentary can be viewed beginning May 14, 2024 at 7/6c at pbs.org/frontline and on the PBS app. It will premiere on PBS stations (see local listings) and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel at 10/9c and will also be available on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel. The documentary is a commissioned film production for GBH/FRONTLINE in collaboration with Armando.info. The director is Juan Ravell. The producer is Jeff Arak. The reporter is Roberto Deniz. The executive producer of Armando.info is Ewald Scharfenberg. FRONTLINE’s editor-in-chief and executive producer is Raney Aronson-Rath.


Max Maldonado

Max Maldonado, Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Newmark Journalism School Fellowships, FRONT LINE