HomeInterviewMadelein García, 24/7 correspondent

Madelein García, 24/7 correspondent

During a long conversation with Madelein García, in which we talked about journalism, we remembered the case of South African Kevin Carter, a photographer who in March 1993 captured in Sudan the image of a child fainting from hunger and being stalked by a vulture.

The photograph, an allegory of the famine that Africa was suffering at that time, and that hit the entire world, not only earned Carter a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, but also the nickname "the second vulture." What happened after Carter captured the photograph was relegated to the debate. It is true that the photographer took the photo and scared the bird away, but the idea of ​​what was right, whether he should take the photo or help the child, never disappeared from his life... until he committed suicide.

This is relevant because in 25 years of journalistic practice, Madelein has been a correspondent in different scenarios of armed conflicts, but also in disaster zones, and the question always arises about the ethical conflicts that a journalist must resolve in a matter of seconds. For example, if you are recording a conflict and you observe a person advancing with a firearm towards another person who has his back turned and does not know that they are going to be shot, should the journalist alert the unsuspecting person or wait until he is lying on the ground? the ground in a pool of blood to have “the photo” of the moment? It is a lesson that he had to learn the hard way, during coverage in Haiti, when a group of people captured a former repressor and, in the middle of the street, lynched him. Once the beating was over and while the man exhaled his last breaths of air, one of the protesters raised a considerable size rock over his head, with which he would deliver the final blow. She, without knowing any Venezuelan, began to yell for her not to do it, that he was already dead. The protester looked at her for a second and dropped the rock next to her, then removed the shoes from her corpse and showed them to the group as a war trophy. The excitement of that moment had not yet ended, when Madeleín turned around and she then had to face the complaint of the other correspondents, who rebuked her for having, perhaps, taken away the photo of the moment. However, that episode, the experience, does not resolve the debate, at least not for her.

Born in Maracaibo, Madelein graduated as a Social Communicator from the Cecilio Acosta Catholic University (UNICA), and before joining the TeleSur channel, where she has spent the bulk of her professional career, she spent time on several radio stations and on the Venevision and Televen.

As often happens in this profession, he had to learn the hard way as a correspondent in conflict zones. She was sent to cover the coup d'état against President José Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, which occurred in 2009. She was a novice in these matters and more than once, she tells me, she was overcome by tears and uncertainty. But the following year, when she had to cover the earthquake in Haiti, she discovered that the scab that formed in Honduras still required other layers. And who is prepared to walk on a carpet of corpses?

For her audiovisual work, Madelein has twice won the National Journalism Award and her documentaries have been shown at festivals in Buenos Aires and Havana.

I could say that at this point and with her experience, she is a brave woman, with a developed instinct for news and that, in the old way, she cultivates her sources of information with jealous rigor, and that does not mean she misses details that are your ABCs when faced with a complicated job. This refers to identifying in each place: security posts, first aid, food, connectivity and, of course, a hairdresser...

The first time I met Madelein was in the hallways of UNICA, since then we have been colleagues in an increasingly challenging profession. And precisely for that reason, because I know her, this interview becomes much more difficult.

—Shall we start? —I ask him.

—Whenever you want…

“No one prepares us to see death.”

-Good. Madelein, for a good part of your professional career you have had to work as a correspondent in conflict or disaster zones. The first thing I want to ask is, what things can prepare a journalist to look death in the face?

—No one prepares us to see death in conflict zones. The first thing that comes to mind is that popular advice that “God saves the innocent”, that is, I can remember many occasions in which I was faced with events that were much more serious than I believed.

I have learned to think in advance what I should do, where I should try to get out, what things are a threat. You never notice if you are going to die or not. In fact, Ernesto, I think I only thought about it once: if I went to war, well, I would be affected the same as a soldier. I mean, I'm here, this is what I'm passionate about, this is my life, and it was my turn, and that's it. But you are certainly never prepared for that, because death can also surprise you, even without being in a conflict zone.

Obviously, in a conflict zone you run more risks, but in the end, I believe, we have a written destiny and it is God who takes you on your path. I have had to cover areas where earthquakes, coups d'état, and crossfires occurred, but I have a strong conviction: this is what I wanted to do. If I were born again, I would be a journalist again. I do not doubt it. It is what I am passionate about and I believe that passion and defense for telling the truth is vital for me. Journalists have an enormous responsibility. According to what you can tell, and how you can tell it, you contribute to love or war. Our responsibility reaches that point.

-Look at this. In our environment it is said that crime journalists, for example, are so exposed to violent events that they look at a corpse and no longer feel anything. Did that happen to you? Can a journalist become desensitized to a scenario of terrible images?

—I'll tell you this. When there was the earthquake in Haiti we were literally walking over a pile of corpses. In another circumstance, if I had not been working, that image would have shocked me, it would have scared me a lot, and let me tell you, Ernesto, I am too sensitive. But well, I saw the corpses and narrated and told what was happening there, that was my job. I think that, faced with an event of that nature, as a university psychology professor explained to us, one becomes depersonalized. Often happens. If a journalist is afraid, let's say, of dogs, during coverage he is able to push it away with his hands to continue working. Journalists in conflict zones become depersonalized. It's the only way to see so many terrible things and not have them make such an impression on you. But then a moment of calm comes and, in my case, you shudder, and it has happened to me that I cry uncontrollably. You see the whole movie in your mind. I have never been able to stop feeling that, to sympathize with the other, and that is also part of the story, of the story we are telling, but how do you tell it then? But despite everything I have seen and experience, I have never become insensitive. In the end you get into the story and end up living what is happening. It happened to me in Haiti. I didn't understand the Venezuelan language, but the gestures of the people. The same in Türkiye. All emotions are extreme.

—During your career I have seen you in places devastated by earthquakes, in displaced areas or covering elections in countries where TeleSur is not very funny. Have you ever felt your personal safety was threatened?

—Yes, more than once...

OK. Does it count?

—Let's see... I'll tell you this one. During the events after the death of President Jovenel Moïse, in Haiti, we went to cover the funeral in his hometown. The inhabitants, (as was later confirmed) blamed the foreigners, especially the whites, and had erected barricades along many streets. We had to abandon the vehicles and take motorcycles to take us back to the hotel. We crossed shortcuts, bushes, trails, wanting to evade the barricades, because the people were armed. And despite all that we left right on a street where the first barricade was. When they saw us with cameras, they stopped us. They warned us not to record. We waited for the vehicle, and the driver who spoke some Spanish told us where there were people crouching, so that we wouldn't record. So I chose to take shots with my cell phone. It was a journey of a few kilometers, but I almost died of anguish since at the same time I wanted to record. I also remember that, during the coup d'état in Honduras, we went to a place where peasants disappeared. Some military coup plotters approached us. They took our passports. I told the cameraman to be alert because they could plant drugs on us. It occurred to me to pretend that he was talking to the minister, it was a lie, but it helped the soldier give him two points. Then I had to embolden myself, because when women see us weak they want to step on us. Let's say that that time I lost my temper (laughs).

Madelein and a moment like this, how do you protect yourself? Do you act out of survival instinct or is that also training that the job gives you?

—I believe that having covered conflict situations gives you a background about how to act, where to protect yourself. Something happens and that is that all situations are different, but obviously the job allows you to have a reaction to situations that could be similar. On the other hand, I think there is an angel, some luck in being attentive to what is happening around you, because if you don't protect yourself you end up being the news. The journalist's task is to tell, that is why you have to be careful, prudence, but obviously the job gives you that training.

Now, I want to ask you about this topic. While it is true that when you work for a medium, you understand that that medium has an editorial line, that is, a way of seeing the world, but have you ever been censored or were you forced to modify a work due to the line? channel editorial?

-No not at all. I have always had a lot of freedom. Yes, it happened to me, working for the Televen channel during the coup d'état in 2002. They didn't change anything about me, but they censored me, that is, the channel decided not to publish any of my work because I was interviewing Chavismo leaders in the state of Anzoátegui. They did it because, evidently, Televen supported the coup d'état. But once the blow was reversed, they needed to balance the screen, that's when they started publishing my work. It was a clear censorship. At TeleSur we have always gone out to tell stories, and things, in a rigorous way. That I can assure you. There may be many nuances in a story, but the principle of all things is that you are going to arrive at the site to see what may be happening and you are going to tell it. That's called being rigorous at work to tell the truth.

What kind of stories would you like to be able to tell on TeleSur that you haven't had the opportunity to do yet?

-The tourism. Because it is an activity, it is linked to identity, also to politics, and to the way people feel. I consider that that is what I would like to tell: tourism seen from experience. Now that I have it, I would love it.

—Madelein, You ventured into the production of documentaries, particularly on local political issues, however, in a country like Venezuela, where political biases are two waters, often irreconcilable, what function does it have to make a documentary?

—Very much. As I told you, stories have to be told rigorously, and in the documentaries I made there are plenty of documents, sources, and rigorous facts. It is the facts that speak. Their function is that they allow, over time, to confirm that what happened was true. They help discover the truth of an event. Documenting what happens is very important. I think it's the genre I like the most.

“In this social media scenario, a lot of journalism has been lost.”

Could you name at least one journalist, woman or man, who you consider a reference in your professional career, and why you consider him or her a reference?

—In this scenario of social networks, a lot of journalism has been lost. It is difficult to find a reference that allows you to be an example of how, even with your political or subjective opinion, to overcome that subjectivity to be able to make way for what is really happening. In the case of Venezuela, I get the impression that it will take about two decades to have quality journalism again. Internationally, I identify with the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, (killed by the Israeli army). She was telling what happened and took a risk. She always took risks to tell the truth about what was happening in Palestine. I identified with her a lot, because I knew that at any moment she could die, but if she died, she would do so seeking to tell the truth.

Madelein, after everything that has been said, I want to know how being a correspondent in events such as the coup d'état in Honduras (2009) against President José Manuel Zelaya or the earthquake in Haiti (2010) has marked your career?

-Very much. I am a different person before and after those two experiences, because they were two extremes: one a coup d'état and the other a blow of nature. From there I was hooked on the history of Haiti and its people, the same as with Honduras. It is striking that time proved the people of Honduras right. Xiomara Castro, wife of then-President Zelaya, is now serving as president, and that is a great historical lesson about the resistance of that people.

Are there any of those events that we have looked at that you consider the most difficult story you have had to cover and why?

—Each of those coverages had its own complexities. In Honduras, TeleSur was the only media that told the truth, which is why it ended up being a military objective. They chased us, they took us out of a hotel twice. At one point I left that country and to re-enter, the cameraman and I had to hide in the suitcase of a vehicle, under the luggage, in cars that belonged to a caravan of international journalists. They protected us and even though each media outlet will cover its story, the work was a common cause. It was risky, I know, but if I started telling myself “I'm not going to do it” for that reason, I wouldn't have gotten the story. I live my profession with great intensity. I cannot conceive life without passion and intensity.

-…and talking about difficult events. In recent years, Venezuelan migrants have occupied a lot of space in the international press. What is your opinion on this matter?

—That is a phenomenon derived from the attack against Venezuela, and you will tell me that that is very subjective.

I see it like this. In any country in the world, where there is not a favorable situation, economically speaking, people migrate. That is a fact, an economic fact and a social fact: people emigrate for economic reasons. In our case they tried to strangle the economy and people will obviously look in another country for what they cannot get here. It was an escape route.

—You made a documentary on that topic, “Venezuelan Migrants”.

-That's how it is. It was a documentary about how that phenomenon occurred. We find alarming things. In Colombia, migrants were called “The Walkers.” It is assumed that, on the Colombian side of the border, they had received money to help them since they entered Cúcuta. There was a hallway where the offers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were. They saw the migrants passing by like a reality show They never provided them with transportation, so that they could move to a point. They were only interested in recording the face, the pain, the suffering of the Venezuelan Walkers.

The same thing happened on the border with Brazil. In that country I posed as a migrant and a UNHCR official told me that at that time I could pass as a refugee seeker and not as a simple migrant. I told him that I was looking for economic improvement, that no one is persecuting me. But the signing of those files, with refugee requests, went to the United Nations and that became a business. Each signature of these requests meant resources that were appropriated by NGOs, at the expense of the suffering of Venezuelans. So the whole issue of migrants has its political background and reason.

Is there a story about Venezuelan migrants that you would like to remember?

-Yeah. I told many stories about them. There was one, that of a hairdresser in Brazil. He told me that he left the country because he had a very sick daughter, and he couldn't get medicine. He related that he had decided to save his daughter in any way. He set up a hair salon, it went very well, but he made something clear to me, he said “I didn't come because I was against the government or because they were persecuting me. I am aware of what they did to us, that it affected my family and my daughter almost died. I had to come to save her.” That is a reality.

Then I met a Venezuelan girl who was made to sign a refugee application file and not as an economic migrant. She told me that they gave her that document very quickly, but then she slowed down all the bureaucratic procedures because a refugee application is very different from someone who is just looking for work, and she was persecuted.

I would like to continue telling those stories, to show that behind all that situation, there was an operation against the Venezuelans.

“The great challenge in this country is, precisely, trying to turn journalism around.”

—Let's return to the topic of practicing journalism. I am convinced that political polarization put Venezuelan journalism in a labyrinth of political parties from which it has not been able to escape for a long time. Don't you find current journalism boring?

—The great challenge in this country is, precisely, trying to turn journalism around. That the media allows us to tell what each part of the spectrum says. How one thing happens and how another opposite happens.

You make journalism boring yourself, if you allow yourself to be carried away by that polarization. A journalist asks a question and everyone offers their own answer. I think that is our great challenge.

Madelein, you worked as a journalist in several private television media in Venezuela before moving to TeleSur, I mean, you have an overview of the practice of journalism in Venezuela, for you, what has changed about journalism in recent years?

-Very much. When I joined the Televen channel, there were very strong journalists on all the television channels, and it was investigative journalism, cultivating the source. This situation has caused journalism to decline.

Those of us journalists who have sources and who can maintain them, on both sides of the political spectrum, maintain them because we have a job. But it is very difficult for the new generations to find reliable sources, or those who believe in them, or in communication, it is very difficult, because the way of communicating has changed. And to do it again will take many years.

With the explosion of social networks, is the journalism that we knew at university over?

-Yes, completely. We will have to go back to the beginning. We have a colleague from Últimas Noticias, Eligio Rojas, to whom I always say the same thing, that it surprises me that he never leaves his notebook. While everyone is on their cell phones, he doesn't stop taking notes. That's how it should be, because in the end everything always returns to the same point from which it started.

—Since you're talking about cell phones, I'll ask this question. You are very active on the networks. Your Instagram account has 110 thousand followers and X's almost 150 thousand. How important are these numbers to you?

—Let's see, I have never written thinking about that number. I do my job without thinking that anyone will like it or not. If I did it that way it would limit me. My accounts have grown organically. I think people follow others for many reasons: because of authenticity, because of what they write or because they can relate. For me, they are a platform, and those numbers represent a commitment, a responsibility when communicating. Any number, whether one, two or three should be it.

-Seen the advance of artificial intelligence, will journalism be an extinct profession?

-No! I believe that it will never go extinct, it will mutate and we have to adapt to the new times. Of course. But who makes artificial intelligence: human beings, so with artificial intelligence the great challenge is to maintain ourselves over time, mutate on the basis of what exists and use it as a tool and alternative for the profession.

Madelein, you cover the source that is known as “high government”, so do you do journalism in favor of a political bias in the country, in favor of the government?

—Covering the government does not mean that I follow a political bias. I cover a fountain, that's what I do. It is a source that must be told and I am doing it there.

—I share another opinion with you. It seems to me that, for a long time, Venezuelan journalism speaks only to the political bias to which it feels close. For you, can there be a media or journalism that walks the razor's edge?

—I'm going to talk to you again about the challenge of journalism. You have to talk to the communities, and you would tell me, Ernesto, well that's what political bias does. The truth is that we are called to tell what one party says, and also the other, that is what is ethical. I feel that people are eager to know what one person or another is saying. From there credibility and trust are generated. Let people draw their own conclusions, but you have to give everyone the opportunity to express their voice.

How can we not say, for example, that María Corina Machado invoked several times that they sanction the country, that they invade us. Some won't like to be reminded, but it's a fact. The government rejected those sanctions. Those are the arguments of each party. There will be those who choose to leave for death or for life.

Madelein, you are a journalist with very good sources and access to the government. Have you had any problems with Venezuelan government officials because of your journalistic work?

-No. I think they are the perks of the job, I could say normal. A journalist is exposed to many things, no one cuts their wrists because they tell you something in one way, I repeat, it is part of daily work. I don't feel like I had a serious problem. Everything that happens around a situation is part of the job.

I have heard several journalists from private media say that in Venezuela you cannot ask uncomfortable questions to ministers or the president. How do you see it?

—My impression is that politicians thirst for someone to ask them interesting questions. I use a formula: “this is an obligatory question and I ask it with all due respect.” There may be uncomfortable questions, but a journalist must also be willing to receive an uncomfortable answer.

How are you interviewing Venezuelan opposition politicians?

—It's going well for me, mind you. When you earn everyone's respect, and treat everyone with respect, you have access to any type of sources. I have not met, for example, face to face with María Corina Machado, but I did meet Juan Guaidó… and I interviewed him. And he said what he thought, and asked her questions, regardless of what she thought of him. The key is respect for others. They respect me because I am a journalist who is also respectful when asking questions. Perhaps, when I ask a question, a spokesperson will tell me “that's all I need”, because I work for TeleSUR, which belongs to the government, etc… but it doesn't matter, it's the question I should ask.

Have you received condemnations for your political opinions?

-Young guy! (twelve with everything Maracaibero) Look, I publish and I don't read anything, because in one way or another it affects you. You can't imagine the number of accounts they opened after what happened on February 23, 2019, when the opposition's plan on the Las Tienditas bridge was dismantled. After that, they created WhatsApp groups, fake social media accounts, they published photos of men showing their genitals, they said they would look for my mother and they were going to chop her into little pieces... they said a lot of things. That's why I don't see the comments, I post. I usually find out from a friend. But I don't cling to that, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to live. If they have condemned me, my opinion is political. Well, yes, but hey, what are you going to do?

-…and Have you ever had to retract a published matter? How do you deal with a situation like this?

-Yes of course. On some occasion it touched me and well. He faces the truth and with dignity upheld. I was wrong, I said it, I accept it and I rectified it. That's the truth. I think it also takes a lot of humility. Why not make mistakes, one must allow oneself to make mistakes and accept it, it is human to err.

—We're landing. The presidential elections are coming and Venezuela is always placed under the microscope. From your experience, what things will be relevant in this presidential election?

—Look, these days I was asking myself the same question. What would be relevant to me, who has already covered these situations for 25 years? It will be my last electoral campaign, I say, because of my age, which I am not going to tell you. Then I did the math: in 2013 Chavismo voted for Chávez, who had recently died. In 2018 for peace, and at this moment, I consider it to be the time of Nicolás Maduro. It is about his personality, his leadership, what he has built in the heat of many difficult things such as assassination attempts, coup attempts, invasions, illegal sanctions. This is his moment, and I see a sequence of images for me, incredible to tell

When one studies journalism, at least at the time in which we studied, they hammered us about “objectivity.” Should or can a journalist be “objective”?

-No! That doesn't exist. There are objective facts, which is very different. What a journalist should tell: the objective facts and in a rigorous manner, but why take away our subjectivities, it is impossible to separate ourselves from them, now a journalist must have ethics to tell the objective facts and in a rigorous manner.

—Madelein What have you sacrificed to be able to practice journalism as you do, with 24/7 dedication?

—Maybe the time to dedicate to my parents. Share more with family, but this sacrifice is also part of this job. I am undisciplined in some aspects of my life, especially with schedules. I'm always an hour late in my life, but every time I'm early, things never happen. When it came late, on the contrary, they always turn out well for me. That is not a justification, but I do realize that sometimes life goes away for others who wait for me, but it is what it is.


Ernesto J. Navarro is a journalist and writer, author of three collections of poems and the novel Puerto Nuevo. Winner of the 2015 National Journalism Award. RRSS: @ernestojnavarro

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