“Take her cell phone, break it and shut her mouth,” was the order given to the Bolivarian National Guard to keep González from finishing her report for Caracol Radio on March 31 2017.
The punches, kicks, yanks on her hair, shouts and threats came later, as she resisted being dragged away from a protest near the Supreme Court building in Caracas.
That day, a group of students was protesting a Supreme Court ruling that weakened the national legislature and removed the immunity enjoyed by its elected deputies. The move by the Nicolas Maduro government immediately sparked a wave of protests that left more than 150 dead, hundreds injured and more than 600 in prison.
González, today a staff reporter with Univision Noticias in Miami, was then a Caracas correspondent for Univision and Caracol Radio in Colombia. She was doing her job when the attack changed her life and the life of her family.
She was on the air when National Guard agents surrounded her and ordered her to leave. They demanded her cell phone and recorder and then beat her, turning her into the key player of a hellish spectacle that a person nearby recorded on a cell phone. The video went viral.
A year later, González said the complaint she filed with prosecutors on April 7, 2017 has gone nowhere. Her lawyer was jailed and the prosecutor who was investigating the case had to leave the country.
When the video started recording, National Guard agents wearing boots had already kicked the journalists and yanked off a good chunk of her hair. They dragged her, smashed her phone and caused injuries detailed in the records of the Trinidad Teaching Medical Center – lesions to her backbone and left shoulder.
One year later, she says that she lost a lot – her country, her home, her peace. Her husband also lost job as a criminal court judge, part of the government's reprisals for the scandal that followed her attack.
As she was beaten, a soldier shouted that her husband would be affected as well. Sure enough, six days later the husband, Santos Montero Tovar, was fired, according to this court document.
What González did not lose was her vocation. She now works as a journalist in Miami and said her goal is to highlight what is going on in Venezuela.
She gets to Univision very early every day because she works for the morning show, Despierta América (Wake Up America). She covers everything from the Parkland school massacre to events in Venezuela, from the statements of Sen. Marco Rubio to the plight of a Venezuelan boy who lacks the medicines for his cancer treatment.
“A year after the attack, that beating changed my life and the life of my family,” she said.
Q&A with Elyangélica González
Is this the first time you are telling your story since you came to the United States?
“Yes … I want to say two things. My mother is a U.S. citizen. She's been here for 25 years and all my family lives outside of Venezuela. But for me, leaving my country was never an option. I also want to say that even now I don't know who recorded the video … but I am very grateful. It was a way of making more visible an everyday problem in my country. Sadly, I was the protagonist.”
Do you have any hope of justice?
“The lawyer who helped me to file the complaint with prosecutors is now being persecuted by the Maduro government,” she said. “And as for the prosecutor, the last I heard was that he had left the country.”
Did any institutions condemn your attack?
“The first to speak out were the Colombian Foreign Ministry, the InterAmerican Press Association, the Organization of American States and the regional journalists' organizations,” she said. “In Venezuela, the National Assembly, the Press and Society Institute, other non-government organizations. Of course Univision, Caracol Radio.”
“I also received, and still receive, the solidarity of hundreds of thousands of people through my social networks,” added Gonzalez, who has more than 250,000 followers on Twitter.
“Since that March 31, I understood perfectly well that was not about me, but an attack on freedom of expression, on each and every one of my colleagues who go out every day looking for news, looking to overcome the official censorship and their own fears.”
Could you return to Venezuela and work as a journalist?
“I would love to, but I think that although it's legally possible, it would be very risky. From the time I filed my complaint, I started to receive telephone calls, first from an unlisted number and then from an apparently U.S. number. They would say that they were going to screw me, to kidnap my husband and my children, that they were going to return the children chopped up, in boxes.”
“That terrorism sparked panic attacks. I started with a nervous tic in the eye. I got dizzy, cried all the time, with or without a reason. Covering the protests the first two months was terrible because I felt that I was being persecuted, that they were going to hurt me. I never told my husband or family the details of those threats or what was happening. I didn't want to scare anyone. I remember that I asked someone in counterintelligence for help figuring out the source of the calls, but heard nothing.”
Have you had threats?
“One day, I got a call from the school of my daughters, then nine and three years old. They tell me that two men were there to pick them up, with my authorization. I immediately told them no and ran to the school. As I went in I received an international call and they tell me, 'This time we were close. The next time we'll take them.' That day I realized there was nothing more to be done in Venezuela.”
You say this changed your life and the life of your family. How?
“It definitely changed my life. A new start, a new country, a new language. A return to things that I though were in the past, like paying rent, because we owned a home in Caracas, or a car because my husband and I were settled in Caracas. It was a drastic, radical change for everyone involved.”
“The change is difficult, feeling that you don't belong here but also not there, because you don't know that Venezuela. Leaving behind old friends. For example my oldest son (of three) would be graduating from high school this year and he will not be at the ceremony with friends he has studied with since he was a boy. Although all this change generates a certain amount of resistance, once you accept it you understand that all the pain and frustration are also part of growing, part of understanding that you started a new life.”
Your experience highlighted the issues of Venezuela. Is there anything positive that came of it?
“Despite all the negatives of being uprooted from your country, I can tell you that it's all been for the best. I feel that my voice is much stronger now, the voice of millions who don't have their own voice because they live oppressed, with fear, and at times even in the middle of the ignorance promoted by those who want to shut off all possibilities for people to be informed in Venezuela.”
“I am very grateful for this opportunity to continue working and highlight the issues of Venezuela and the United States.”
How do you see the issue of censorship in Venezuela one year later?
“I think it's worse. Censorship is now a government policy. There are well-structured actions designed to avoid any leaks in the official media of anything that can damage the government, disqualify what is published in the independent media and punish anyone who dares to challenge that.”
“Thank God many colleagues have not surrendered and every day manage to circumvent the iron censorship through the digital media, the different foreign news media that have correspondents and those who reinvented themselves to publish abroad everything that happens at home. Society is our accomplice. We receive a lot through other means, from good sources that are inside their institutions but don't want to stay silent. That gives me a lot of hope about who will eventually win against the censorship.
What do journalists from other countries ask you?
They want to know if my complaint has moved forward, if at least some investigations took place. They are surprised that after complaints like mine, against police or military officers, the attackers receive awards rather than sanctions.
National Guard Col. Bladimir Lugo gave the order to attack Gonzalez and three months later ejected the president of the legislature, Julio Borges, from the National Assembly. Maduro later awarded him a medal.
Do the English-language news media provide enough coverage of Venezuela?
“I think the foreign news media cover certain parts of what's happening in Venezuela, but they are not following the profound crisis. Even though some English language media have correspondents there, it's not generally on their radar. That is very sad, but any time they do a story on what's happening in Venezuela it's very important.”