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US sanctions against Venezuela force Abby Martin’s “Empire Files” to shut down

The U.S. government is not only seeking to punish the Venezuelan government with its increasingly draconian sanctions, but is seeking as well to cripple the teleSUR media network, despite the fact that it is funded by several other countries.

by Whitney Webb

Recent sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the Trump administration have forced the Empire Files program, hosted by American investigative journalist Abby Martin, to shut down. The decision to officially announce the show’s end came after blocks on wire transfers originating in Venezuela and sent to the U.S. were recently imposed, thereby cutting off the show’s primary source of funding.

Issues with funding caused by the U.S.’ Venezuela policy had, however, been a problem for some time, leading Martin and her staff to halt production in late May. While Martin and her team had hoped conditions would improve, the recent sanctions make that such a distant possibility that the decision to shut down the show was made on Wednesday.

Empire Files, which produces investigative journalism “from inside history’s biggest empire,” is funded by a contract with the teleSUR network, which receives the majority of its funding from Venezuela but is also funded by the states of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Cuba.

According to a statement posted on Media Roots, wire transfers to the U.S. — not just from Venezuela, but from all other countries that fund teleSUR — have been severed. This suggests that the U.S. government is not only seeking to punish the Venezuelan government with its increasingly draconian sanctions, but is seeking as well to cripple the teleSUR media network, despite the fact that it is funded by several other countries. Indeed, other U.S.-located journalists contracted by teleSUR, along with the Empire Files team, have also come under financial attack.

Such financial attacks targeting the network have been on-going, as the U.S. government has been blocking funding sent from teleSUR to its employees located in the United States for over six months. For much of the past year, the U.S.’ Venezuela policy caused payments to be both delayed and sporadic, particularly after as the U.S. Treasury began to push American banks last September to “be on the look-out for suspicious financial activity,” particularly “wire transfers” originating from Venezuela.

U.S. government attacks on the teleSUR network are unfortunate but unsurprising, given the fact that teleSUR has long been a target of U.S. government policy owing to its association with the Venezuelan government. For instance in 2015, a failed coup plot in Venezuela that had been backed by the U.S. included plans to bomb teleSUR’s news building in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

More recently, U.S.-funded opposition forces in Venezuela attacked a teleSUR news team, while another teleSUR reporter was shot in the back in a separate incident. Martin herself was also threatened by violent U.S.-backed opposition protesters for her reporting on Venezuela for the Empire Files.

In a statement, Martin told MintPress that teleSUR has come under U.S. attack because “it is one of the very few outlets in the US that gives an alternative to the corporate media propaganda about Venezuela while the US foments regime change against its elected leadership.” She added that “the sanctions that have severed TeleSUR’s finances are another way for the US government to shut down dissenting voices it deems a threat, but this time in the shadows” and thanked the show’s viewers for “the outpouring of support” that she and her staff have received since the show’s shut down was announced.

Empire Files seeks alternative funding

Since the program first launched in 2015, the Empire Files has produced over 100 documentaries, interviews, and other media content from around the world, focusing on the costs of war, inequality and the far-reaching influence of U.S. empire. Most recently, right before funds dried up, the program had hired a staff of journalists within the besieged Gaza Strip. As a result, the program currently has unreleased footage of recent events in Gaza, including the Great Return March, as well as on-the-ground footage from Colombian “peace zones.”

Given the bleak financial outlook for the program and “no end in sight” to U.S. financial attacks on teleSUR and Venezuela in general, Martin and her team halted production of the series at the end of May, before Season Two had concluded. In an effort to complete the post-production of already recorded Season Two footage and to produce a planned third season, Martin and the Empire Files staff have announced independent fundraisers in order to keep the program alive.

For those interested in donating to the Empire Files, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help meet essential expenses. In addition, those wishing to donate cryptocurrency can also donate BitCoin to the program’s wallet (information at the end of this page) or become a monthly subscriber to the program via Patreon.

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