Venezuela

Venezuela loses fresh attempt to gag website in U.S. courts

DolarToday — the Venezuelan website that Caracas has been trying to sue into silence — has survived the latest legal assault.

The U.S. District Court of Delaware this week dismissed “with prejudice” an amended suit by the Central Bank of Venezuela, which alleged that DolarToday was undermining the economy and helping fuel Venezuela’s record-breaking inflation.

DolarToday, which is registered in Delaware and run by three Venezuelan exiles, publishes the bolivar-dollar exchange rate that’s being offered in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta, Colombia.

But Venezuela claims the site is undermining the currency with fake rates. In its lawsuit, it called DolarToday an “illegal conspiracy to manipulate the value of Venezuela’s currency by widely publicizing false and misleading information about it.” It has also referred to the site as an act of “cyber-terrorism.”

Adam Fox — with Squire Patton Boggs, which represents the Central Bank — said the institution is still “reviewing its options” with respect to an appeal.

“While we respect the court, we also vigorously disagree with its assessment of its own power to consider the controversy, which continues to impact the lives of millions of Venezuelans as well as the Central Bank,” he said in a statement.

Rick Gonzalez, the defense attorney with Miami’s Greenberg Traurig, said the Central Bank’s next option would be to file an appeal with the Third Circuit Court.

Appeal?

“It’s an uphill battle for them, given that they’ve already had two chances,” he said.

Since its launch in 2010, DolarToday has often found itself in government cross-hairs. Along with the exchange-rate information, the site publishes a mix of red-meat articles for those in the opposition.

The Central Bank filed its first lawsuit in 2015, but it was rejected by the court in February. The bank filed an amended complaint in March.

Before the lawsuits, the government repeatedly tried to take down the site, said founder Jesus Altuve. And he doubts the administration will back down now.

“The lawsuit was a little rough interruption, but at the end we kept going and we prevailed,” Altuve said. “We’re trying to do something for the country [Venezuela] and publishing information that has to be published because we believe in the freedom of information and freedom of speech.”

Economic Malaise

Suffering from collapsing oil prices, Venezuela is trapped in a severe economic crisis.

The International Monetary Fund is predicting Venezuela’s inflation could hit 720 percent this year, and the shortage of even basic goods is raising tensions in the country.

Due to the country’s strict exchange-rate controls, many are forced to go onto the black market to buy dollars. And DolarToday has become a benchmark for many. The currency, which just a few years ago traded at 80 bolivares to the dollar, is now trading in excess of 900 on the black market.

The government often blames the crisis on “economic warfare” waged by its foes and the international community. The economic malaise is one of the primary reasons the opposition is trying to force President Nicolás Maduro out of office through a recall referendum.

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