The Venezuelan government and state-run media have gone to great lengths to combat critics. According to a new report by BuzzFeed News, President Nicolás Maduro and his supports have even gone as far as inventing a fake White House staffer to cite in state-run media reports and by members of parliament.
The alleged staffer, named Jim Luers, was first quoted by Caracas weekly Quinto Día denying allegations by Spanish newspaper ABC that the President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello had been tied to international drug trafficking. Luers's comments regarding the allegations were picked up by both pro-government politicians and state-run media, BuzzFeed News reported.
Rodulfo H Peréz H, the vice minister of education, tweeted about Luers's comments denying Cabello's involvement. "According to Jim Luers (American spokesman) the accusations of Leamsy Salazar (a traitor to the nation) against @dcabellor are FALSE! Poor people".
The made-up denunciation was picked up by two government-owned TV channels, VTN and AVN, BuzzFeed reported. The story, which was titled "White House looks down on denunciation against Cabello," was eventually removed by AVN.
On 21 April, the National Assembly called for criminal prosecution of the editors who republished the ABC article for defamation. According to BuzzFeed, Cabello has also sued local papers that ran the story and has threatened to sue ABC and news outlets in the US.
A very elusive man
El Nacional, which was one of the newspapers criticised by Cabello and the National Assembly, began to investigate Luers and discovered he was not who the media portrayed him to be. Katherine Vargas, the White House's Director of Hispanic Media, told the newspaper that there was no one by that name working for the White House or the State Department.
In an email to IBTimes UK, Vargas confirmed, "The White House does not have any spokesperson named Jim Luers."
Despite El Nacional's findings, pro-government supporters continued to cite Luers. A federal judge ruled in May that 22 media executives would be barred from leaving Venezuela and would be forced to stand trial for defamation, BuzzFeed reported.
El Nacional continued its investigation, calling the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the FBI's New York City offices, but still did not find the elusive Jim Luers. Instead the newspaper learned that the fictitious American government employee had been cited in a number of articles dating back to 2010.
Luers, in the span of five years, had been described as an FBI agent, spokesman for the Treasury Department and a representative of The Inteligence Week.
Although evidence continued to mount against the mythical Washington staffer, Jim Luers has developed quite the online presence. A Twitter account, under the username @RealJimLuers, has linked back to a blog and has a supposed photo of Luers that just happens to be the spitting image of Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew.
In his latest tweet, @RealJimLuers vowed to "prove with documents in hand the wrongdoings I am a victim of".