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February 27 2014

Uruguayan President José Mujica Rejects “Foreign Interference” in Venezuela

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The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and his Uruguayan counterpart, José Mujica, in 2013. Photo published by Secretaría de Comunicación on Flickr under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Uruguayan president José Mujica declared his opposition to any “foreign interference” in the current volatile situation in Venezuela, where the government and the opposition are involved in a bitter conflict. In an interview with TV channel Telesur, the head of state expressed his solidarity with the government and people of Venezuela and urged respect for the Venezuelan Constitution.

“Today I want to express the wish that within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution, which, if respected, is ample – possibly the most ample in Latin America – a peaceful solution to the conflict can be found,” said Mujica, adding that “the weakest end up paying the price” in violent conflicts.

He ended his statement with a call to avoid external intervention in the conflict, appealing to reason as a way to mediate tensions: “Staying prudent in tense moments is a recommendation that should be kept in mind. Again, I emphasize my hope that no one will interfere with events in Venezuela.”

The official Twitter account of the Presidential Secretary of Communication [es] posted a summary of President Mujica's interview on the channel Telesur:

Mujica reaffirms his solidarity with the government, institutions, and people of Venezuela.

On February 14, the National Political Bureau of the Broad Front, Uruguay's governing party, released a statement [es] against the violent situation in Venezuela, calling it “an attempt [by radical sectors of the political opposition] to destabilize the constitutional government.” The Broad Front urged the nations of Latin America to remain strong and alert.

On February 17, the National Executive Committee of the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP) also voiced their opinion [es] on the situation in Venezuela, showing their concern about the conflicts taking place in its sister nation. The members of the MPP expressed their solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela, reaffirming their confidence in a peaceful and democratic solution to the unstable situation, placing the responsibility on the most conservative sectors of the Venezuelan right. They also emphasized their solidarity with the victims of the conflicts and their families.

The protests began in the state of Táchira on February 4, initiating a surge of violence that spread to other cities, including the capital. The conflicts have left at least 13 dead [es] and hundreds injured and detained.

For his part, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro blamed right-wing groups for the incidents and called on his backers to show their support of the government.

Colombian journalist Javier Arana [es] voiced his appreciation for the Uruguayan president's diplomatic speech:

‘Pepe’ Mujica, the renowned president of Uruguay, admired for his tact and peaceful overtures, very diplomatic in face of the violence in Venezuela.

Communications strategist Jorge Ruiz Crespo [es] also shared his opinion on Mujica's speech:

Careful, people: the violence in Venezuela is objectionable, but they need to solve it themselves. Be careful, Latin America…

Elisa Escovar (@elisaescovar [es]) commented:

Pepe Mujica is the most honest guy on this continent: the only one who has spoken out in support of Venezuela.

Mujica's statement against foreign interference in Venezuela gave rise to questions and criticism of the presence of Cuba in that country. User @Rerr1 [es] commented with irony:

Mujica says that foreign interference in Venezuela would be a coup, maybe he's referring to the Cuban helicopters and elite squads?

Simon José Antonio (@BolivarOfficial) [es] stated categorically:

President Pepe Mujica rejects “any foreign interference” in Venezuela. He only accepts interference from Cuba.

Caribbean: How the Media Shapes Perception

Both Venezuela and Haiti have been facing anti-government protests. However, the international media’s escalation of the Venezuelan crisis and their complete silence when it comes to Haiti, raises some important questions about the United States’ inconsistency in upholding the values of human rights and democracy.

Kevin Edmonds calls out the mainstream media.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 25 2014

PHOTOS: Venezuelan Women March for Peace in Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela. 22nd February 2014 -- Thousands of women rally in Caracas to demand an end to the violence sweeping the country. A woman holds a sign that reads: 'Hail to peace and love'. Photo by Jesus Gil, Copyright Demotix.

Caracas, Venezuela. 22nd February 2014 — Thousands of women rally in Caracas to demand an end to the violence sweeping the country. A woman holds a sign that reads: ‘Hail to peace and love'. Photo by Jesus Gil, Copyright Demotix.

Women who support the government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro took to the streets on Saturday, February 22, to demand an end to the violence that has been sweeping the country as protests continue.

Photographer Jesus Gil shared photos of the demonstration on Demotix:

Caracas, Venezuela. 22nd February 2014 -- Thousands of women rally in Caracas to demand an end to the violence sweeping the country.  A woman with a Hugo Chavez poster joins the march. Photo by Jesus GIl, copyright Demotix.

Caracas, Venezuela. 22nd February 2014 — Thousands of women rally in Caracas to demand an end to the violence sweeping the country. A woman with a Hugo Chavez poster joins the march. Photo by Jesus GIl, copyright Demotix.

Women march for peace in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo by Jesus Gil, Copyright Demotix.

Women march for peace in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo by Jesus Gil, Copyright Demotix.

The day before the march, Andreína Tarazón, Minister of Women's Affairs and Gender Equality in Venezuela, invited women to join the demonstration:

 We march to demand an end to vandalism and violence, and [to demand] respect for the Constitution.

You can see more photos, reports and opinions under the hashtags #MujeresPorLaPaz (Women for peace) and #MujeresContraElFacismo (Women against fascism)

Protesters who oppose the government also denounced violence during demonstrations held that same day. You can read more about the opposing marches under the hashtag #22F.

List of Deceased in Venezuela Protests Available in 5 Languages

In the blog Panfleto Negro [es], John Manuel Silva and Emiliana Duarte are keeping a list of confirmed deaths from the ongoing protests taking place in Venezuela. The list -originally in Spanish- has been translated into English, German, Italian and French.

February 24 2014

Brief Summary of the Situation in Venezuela for the Curious or Poorly Informed

The protests are being carried out in many parts of the country and are lacking in center and direction, having being called through social media networks. Among the protesters themselves, there are many diverse opinions about the opposition political parties, so it’s possible to find many expressions of support and also rejection at the same time.

In the case of Caracas the middle class and college students are the primary actors in the demonstrations. On the other hand, in other states, many popular sectors have joined the protests. In Caracas the majority of the demands are political, including calls for the freedom of the detainees and the resignation of the president [Maduro], while in other cities social demands are incorporated, with protests against inflation, scarcity and lack of proper public services.

Human rights defender, sociologist and journalist Rafael Uzcátegui (@fanzinero) [es] writes a “brief summary of Venezuela’s situation for curious people and/or the poorly informed,” originally published in Spanish [es] but now translated into English.

The Venezuela I'll Always Remember

Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela. Image by flickr user danielito311. Used with Creative Commons licence (BY-NC 2.0).

Back then in Peru, terror and fear was part of our daily lives.

I had just graduated from law school in Lima. It was late 1993 and my beloved Peru was recovering from 12 years of internal conflict which had claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas was coming and I decided it was time for my first journey abroad to visit a dear aunt. 

My mother's elder sister moved to Venezuela in the late 1950s. She got married in Caracas and settled there with her husband and two sons. After my younger cousin died in a car accident, my mother and her sister strengthened their bond and never let distance deter them from staying in touch.

When I stepped foot outside Simón Bolívar International Airport [es] in Maiquetía, I was instantly struck by how different everything looked, compared with Lima.

Caracas was a shiny modern city, with high-rises, highways, flyovers, and recently repaved roads.

All the cars looked like they had just rolled off the factory assembly line, glossy and splendid. New cars was something we were just starting to get used to in Peru, after out-of-control hyperinflation [es] had made all of us billionaires with little purchasing power.

The road signs looked like they had been painted the day before.

I could feel progress everywhere I looked, and this was just on the way from the airport to my aunt's house. Rain welcomed me on this adventure, something we Limeans are not used to at all.

The next day I started my tour of the city. I didn't feel like a total outsider. My generation grew up watching Venezuelan soap operas on TV, so some popular areas were familiar to me: Chacao, Chacaíto, the Virgen of Chiquingirá. So was the rhythmic speaking that I noticed was following me everywhere, after a few days.

During a visit to one museum, I saw a guy looking at a list of battles fought by Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia. There were the names of the battles with no indication of the where they'd been fought, and I stood by next to this tourist and started with a lesson learnt long ago at school: Carabobo, Venezuela; Boyacá, Bogotá, Pichincha, Ecuador; and Junín and Ayacucho, Perú (country of yours truly).

On that trip, during a visit to a beach whose name I have forgotten, my toes first felt the waters of the Atlantic, I owe that to Venezuela too.

But what impressed me above all was the freedom people had, simply living their lives. We could enter any building and there was no military officer waiting to check our bags and belongings. There were no metal detectors or special machines that we had to pass through at the entrance of shopping centers or museums or anywhere for that matter.

I even walked in front of government buildings and ministries, as if that was the most normal thing to do. No one stopped me from being there, no one checked my documents, and no one made me feel like there was something to fear.

That is why I have been overwhelmed with sadness, as the recent stories and images have been trickling out of Venezuela.

Venezuelans are suffering. Venezuelans are crying. Venezuelans are mourning.

Protesters are rallying for liberty and demanding their rights be respected. Young people are dying in the streets, as police and government supporters battle protesters. Brothers are fighting brothers. 

I prefer to remember the Venezuela I knew in 1993. Joyous Caribbean music mingling with traditional Christmas songs wherever I went. Smiling faces greeting me, people welcoming me with kind words open arms, upon learning that I was Peruvian. 

Venezuela, you will always be in my heart.

Gabriela Garcia Calderon is a Peruvian lawyer specialized in Arbitration and Civil Law. She comes from a family connected to the media in Peru. Gabriela has been a member of Global Voices since November 2007.

February 23 2014

Venezuelans in Mexico to Protesters: “You Are Not Alone”

The situation in Venezuela continues to be extremely tense, with enormous marches and gatherings around the whole country that have left ten people killed and hundreds wounded. Venezuelans around the world who oppose their government have organized peaceful gatherings to make their voices heard and ensure local governments understand what their compatriots are living through. Mexico has been no exception.

Mexico City, February 16th

Mexico City, February 16th. Photo by Patricia Acosta, author of original article.

Venezuelans resident in Mexico used social media to arrange a march on February 16th. After meeting at the Simon Bolivar (Venezuela's founding father) obelisk in the Polanco area, demonstrators walked down the main Reforma Avenue towards the Angel of Independence. There, with the support of several Mexicans, Venezuelans demanded freedom of information in the presence of media censorship and shouted in unison “freedom”, “peace”, and “no more deaths”, then sung the Venezuelan national anthem as seen in the following video [es]:

After this march, Venezuelans arranged a vigil in front of the OAS (Organization of American States) headquarters in the Mexican capital on February 18th. 

Vigil, Tuesday February 18th

Invitation to the February 18th Vigil

 
Wearing white and carrying candles, Venezuelans prayed for the students who died on February 12th. “Here is my message for Venezuela: You are not alone”, exclaimed a woman at the vigil. 

In Mexico City

Mexico City Vigil, Photo by Patricia Acosta, author of original article.

Walkie-Talkie App Zello Blocked in Venezuela

This early Thursday, Venezuelan netizens started to report that Zello, the push-to-talk “walkie-talkie” app, had stopped functioning on mobile phones. Many Venezuelans have been using the app to organize and exchange information about the protests that have escalated rapidly over the last eighteen days now. Zello reported more than 15,000 local downloads in a single day last week. The blockage happened a day after President Maduro declared that the government was intercepting communications sent using Zello in order to monitor protesters.

On Twitter, Andrés Azpurua said:

Apparently Zello is being blocked. It's unaccesible from CANTV/Movilnet, we're researching #BlackoutVE #freeinternetVE

The company asked users to report back using technical tools in order to understand the issue:

Loris Santamaria, a consultant in network infrastructure services, did a traceroute and reported:

On Thursday night, the company declared to Associated Press that the origin of the blockage was Venezuela's state-run telecommunications company, CANTV, which covers over 80% of the telecom market in the country. Later, they developed a new version, hoping that it would prove useful to circumvent the blockage:

Meanwhile, TunnelBear, the VPN company, who has been providing unlimited free service Venezuelans for several days, tweeted to Zello their approach:

Surveillance and censorship are increasingly serious concerns for all Internet and mobile phone users in Venezuela. Yesterday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement pressing upon the need for free access to information:

La Comisión Interamericana reitera a las autoridades venezolanas que es indispensable que en una sociedad democrática existan garantías suficientes para asegurar que la población tenga acceso al pluralismo y la diversidad informativa, especialmente en relación con temas de interés público y el acontecer nacional.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates to Venezuelan authorities that it is indispensable in a democratic society to ensure sufficient guarantees assuring that the population has access to pluralistic and diverse information, especially in relationship to matters of public and national interest.

February 22 2014

Venezuela: The Internet Goes Dark in Táchira

After sixteen days of protests across Venezuela, the Internet went dark in the state of Táchira, reportedly for 36 hours. Twitter users and news sites reported that electricity also appeared to have been cut in the area. On February 21, the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal tweeted:

10:59 pm Neighbors from state of Táchira report that they have gone 24 hours without Internet service from CANTV.

Moises Maldonado, an engineer in Táchira, tweeted:

In Táchira we were without Internet, water, light, food, gasoline, [public] transport, commerce. But we do have balls, which is what Venezuela needs right now.

It was in Táchira that the protests began. Violent repression of demonstrators has been especially severe in the state, and many have reported military helicopters flying over head. Noticiero24 tweeted:

TÁCHIRA: militarized without Internet http://t.co/81M2oHarsj The flyovers return and barricades are maintained.

Internet blackouts of this magnitude are unprecedented in Venezuela. But web blocking is not. Over the last six months, as inflation has soared to over 50%, foreign currency valuation sites have been blocked en masse. Since protests escalated last week, hundreds of blogs and websites covering news and political issues have been reported as blocked, both on Twitter and on the crowd-sourcing platform, Herdict. For over a week, users throughout the country have reported difficulty accessing Twitter and a dramatic overall drop in Internet speed.

In this most recent incident, some citizens explained that the blockage was only on government-run ISP CANTV, and that they were able to access the web through mobile connections. But others said that they were unable to get online using other ISPs. Journalist Lorena Arráiz tweeted:

It's been now 24 hours without internet connection from the ABA service.

After two days of darkness, service returned. Science and Technology Minister Manuel Fernández apologized for the disconnection, saying that there had been “problems at northern Táchira and in San Cristóbal,” caused by the “many fires in the city.”

February 21 2014

GV Face: Venezuela Protests

Venezuela is going through an economic, political and social crisis which brought about thousands of citizens taking the streets to express their discontent. For more than a week, Venezuelans have been involved in mass protests that, until now, have caused eight deaths, hundreds of injuries and hundreds of arrests. What's going on?

In this edition of GV Face, our Latin America editor Silvia Viñas and I talk to Global Voices author and digital rights lawyer Marianne Díaz Hernández who has been tracking citizen media and web censorship amidst a government-imposed media blackout in Venezuela.

Marianne talks about everyday life in Venezuela – how shortages of food and medicine affect people, and how newspapers in the country have been reduced to as few as four pages because of lack of paper. She recommends alternative online news sources that focus on fact-checking, including Elperiodistacivico.com, at a moment when disinformation and propaganda is confounding those trying to make sense of events.

Venezuela Protests: ‘Dear International Media: Step it Up!’

Dear International Editor:

Listen and understand. The game changed in Venezuela last night. What had been a slow-motion unravelling that had stretched out over many years went kinetic all of a sudden.

What we have this morning is no longer the Venezuela story you thought you understood.

In the blog Caracas Chronicles Francisco Toro reacts to the lack of media coverage about the escalating violence and the events on February 19.

Francisco shows screen captures of news sites like the BBC, The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Al Jazeera English, and Fox News on the morning of February 20 –all missing articles on the violent events from the day before.

He concludes:

The level of disengagement on display is deeply shocking.

Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.

Let me put this clearly. Y’all need to step it up. The time to discard what you thought you knew about the way things work in Venezuela is now.

You can check out our special coverage page about the protests in Venezuela here.

February 20 2014

Violence Escalates as Protests Continue in Venezuela

Manifestantes esquivan gases lacrimógenos lanzados por la Guardia Nacional. 19 de febrero, 2014. Altamira, Caracas. Foto de Sergio Alvarez, copyright Demotix.

Protesters avoiding tear gas thrown by the National Guard. February 19, 2014. Altamira, Caracas. By Sergio Álvarez, copyright Demotix

After Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced [es] in a national broadcast that he would carry out special measures in the Táchira state to control demonstrations, internet users from different cities started to report irregularities related to police officers, the National Guard and some armed civilian groups in motorbikes.

Venezuela is going through an economic, political and social crisis which brought about thousands of citizens taking the streets to express [es] their discontent. For more than a week, Venezuelans have been involved in mass protests that, until now, have caused five deaths and hundreds of wounded and incarcerated people.

On February 19, Twitter and Facebook were used by protesters and witnesses to denounce the day-to-day repression carried out by security forces. However, this is not new, since a viral video by the research unit of the Últimas Noticias newspaper showed some members of the secret police SEBIN (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) in the same moment and place where people were found dead last February 12. 

This Youtube video allegedly shows members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB for its initials in Spanish) destroying everything they find in their way in Valencia, the capital city of Carabobo state, located nearly 250km away from Caracas.

Ortega Brothers shared a photo related to the situation in Valencia.

Most of the reports in Caracas came from the east and downtown areas of the city. As a matter of fact, repression started in Altamira, the scenario for most of these street protests. In his Twitter account, José Márquez not only recounts his experience in this area of the city, but he also denounces that the GNB threw expired tear gas at protesters.

In Altamira, the GNB throws tear gas which expired in 2010, today, February 19.

Some users also posted videos reporting that they were being attacked by both security forces and armed men in motorbikes.

Similarly, citizens also denounced that people were being repressed in another residential area in the east of Caracas. Carlos Bruguera posted on Twitter that even though there were no protesters around, they were being repressed.

The GNB roams through the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue, throwing gas and shooting towards the buildings. It is important to note that there are no protesters. What is this!?

Jorge Estevez also described what was happening:

Minutes ago a GNB contingent crossed the Rómulo Gallegos avenue shooting.

Other people asserted there were armed groups attacking buildings.

 Carmela Longo asked for help and described what she was witnessing: 

Help! groups are shooting at buildings in Horizonte

However, Luigino Bracci reported that protesters provoked the National Guard:

Minutes ago, opposition groups in Montecristo provoked the GNB by throwing firecrackers at those who were in the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue

Downtown Caracas was the most repressed area. During the night users shared two videos that allegedly showed National Guard Forces shooting at civilians, leaving a wounded man in the road (Warning: the following videos may contain strong images).

 

Although there was no official information about what happened to these civilians, the Twitter account for El Universitario [es] affirmed that two people had died

Two people confirmed dead during protests tonight in Caracas: one in La Candelaria and another one in Panteón Avenue.

Update: Alba Ciudad [es] reports that “the crime reporter for the opposition newspaper El Nuevo País, Altagracia Anzola, informed through her Twitter account that both individuals were alive and one had been discharged [from the hospital].”

Other states are also experiencing moments of high tension. Citizens affirm that Táchira state is under siege [es], and some users reported that their internet service was suspended.

Marc Bonet reported about this situation.

Táchira right now with no internet service and no light in many areas. The army is in the streets. State of siege implemented but not declared.

Frases Únicas shared a photo about the situation in Táchira. 

Barricade in Carabobo Avenue, Tachira. Waiting for GNB attack from Faro. Táchira will not kneel down.

Some of the citizens used their Twitter account to provide a brief analysis on the escalating violence. One of them was Sinar Alvarado, who asserts that there could be even more repression if the government feels more threatened.

Chavismo [government supporters] will display even more violence as they see their power threatened.

Others criticized that the state channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), was not covering these events. Victor Amaya (@VictorAmaya) affirmed this on his Twitter account:

On VTV they are denouncing that buses were attacked by the fascist right. They don't say anything about the wounded and those shot dead. Poor buses.

Finally, Audrey M. Dacosta in the blog Caracas Chronicles writes the following about the protests on February 19:

A grave line has been crossed. Real, physical violence is finally catching up with the huge reserve of pent-up rhetorical violence we’ve suffered through since 1999.

We’ve spent 15 years fearing this.

Now we’re living it.

Venezuelan Beauty Queen Dies from Gunshot Wound Received During Protests

Génesis Carmona, Venezuelan beauty queen, another victim of the political crisis.

Génesis Carmona, a young Venezuelan beauty queen and student, died [es] on the 19th of February from a bullet wound to the head that she received [es] the previous day during the anti-government protests.

This is how they transported the student Génesis Carmona who was shot in the head while protesting in Valencia.

@pabloaure in the Guerra Mendez clinic talking with the mother and another family member of Genesis Carmona who has a bullet wound to the head.

According to the specialists who treated her at the Dr. Rafael Guerra Méndez Clinic in the city of Valencia, Miss Tourism Carabobo 2013 was hit by the projectile in the right-hand side of the occipital lobe, which hosts the brain's visual centre. There was speculation that she would have lost her vision even if she had been able to recover.

Genesis Carmona (23) wounded by a bullet at the protest in Valencia comes out of the operating theatre, is now in intensive care.

A Caracas newspaper has published a collection of tweets [es] from the user Héctor Rotunda (@Hecalo), who narrates the events from the moment Génesis Carmona received the gunshot wound until her death. Rotunda was in the same part of the protest as the late beauty queen.

We were at the march in front of the Cedeño subway station. We heard a burst of gunfire and threw ourselves to the ground…

On Twitter the reactions of anguish and accusations continue. The Governor of the State of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach, has been singled out as the main instigator of the attack on the protest in Valencia. A few days ago the Governor sent messages over Twitter that the protestors are now using to accuse him of inciting violence [es]. In the following tweet, for example, he mentions the UBCH [es], the Bolívar – Chávez Battle Units (Unidades de Batalla Bolívar – Chávez) of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV – Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela), the country's governing party.

UBCH get ready for the forceful counter-attack. Diosdado will give the order.

Diosdado Cabello is currently President of the National Assembly (Venezuelan Parliament).

Meanwhile the Member of Parliament Francisco Soteldo made a statement [es] to the media asking for justice for the death of Carmona:

Soteldo: “We demand justice for the death of Génesis Carmona”

Thus Carmona has become the fifth casualty in the protests that have been taking place in Venezuela.

February 19 2014

PHOTOS: Venezuelans Abroad Support the Protests in Venezuela

Thousands of Venezuelans that now live outside of Venezuela have organised demonstrations to support the actions on the streets in the South American country. The images of these gatherings have been shared widely on social networks.

On Facebook the page SOS Venezuela [es] collects a large number of photos, which are also published with the tags #iamyourvoicevenezuela #SOSVenezuela and #PrayForVenezuela on Twitter and Instagram.

My cousin sent me this photos of Venezuelans and foreigners protesting today in Malta.

Some Venezuelans abroad took advantage of the protests to deliver documents to international organisations or to the Parliaments of the countries where they live. This was the case with a group of citizens who demonstrated in The Hague.

Venezuelans in The Hague, Holland. We presented a document to Parliament. We denounced human rights violations in Venezuela

Gaby Silva published a video on Instagram [es] of the demonstration by a group of Venezuelans in Madrid. The video shows citizens calling for justice, peace and dialogue.

The newspaper TalCual [es] shared a photo of protestors in Times Square in New York City.

PROTESTS IN NEW YORK. Hundreds of Venezuelans protested in Times Square.

There were even demonstrations in Australia:

Venezuelans in Sydney show their solidarity with the student marches

Meanwhile, in Venezuela the opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself in to the authorities and President Nicolás Maduro assured that he will faces charges of sedition and “unawareness of the Constitution”.

Rumours and ‘Fake’ Photos Prompt Calls for Responsible Social Media in Venezuela

[Links are to Spanish-language pages, unless otherwise noted]

The current information crisis in Venezuela, following a surge of protests [en] that mainstream media cannot cover under threat of fines [en] by the government, has compelled netizens to spread news through social media. However, not all users have been sufficiently transparent in their reporting of daily events, which has generated strong criticism about how useful digital media in the country really is. 

Imagen para la campaña #ElMedioEresTu a cargo de @untalhector (Instagram).

“Social media calls out what the mainstream mutes” Image for the #ElMedioEresTu [The Medium Is You] campaign from @untalhector (Instagram).

The group Kaos en la Red, which defines itself as a cultural association fighting capitalism, denounced the republishing of previously used images taken out of context in its post ”Venezuela: Mentiras de medios de comunicación para generar caos de violencia” (Venezuela: Spreading lies in social media to spur violence). The group charges pro-opposition and other digital media users with manipulation “to generate an atmosphere of violence and destabilization that undermines the Government”. The post features a series of contrasts between the images used to criticize alleged abuse of power by the security forces against demonstrators and the original story and source of the publication:

Izquierda: Denuncia de

Left: Denouncing the “repression” in Venezuela from the user @YACUBATWITEA. Right: Image originally published by Al Jazeera about protests in Chile in 2012.

Meanwhile, many Government supporters retweeted a photo of the gathering convened by President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on February 15. In the background, the logo of a famous soft drink company can clearly be seen atop a building, an advertisement that was removed some four years ago. Ironically, the user who published the image on Twitter, the mayor of the Caracas municipality of Libertador Jorge Rodríguez (@JRodriguezPSUV) is also the man who gave the order to remove the logo in the first place:

While the Fascists try to destabilize the country, we are fighting for peace and life. 

Lucía Calderón, writing in Clases de Periodismo, also referred to a fake photo by a supposedly experienced journalist reporting an incident of abuse and violence by government supporters. It turned out to be the picture of a young Basque man tortured in Spain in 2006. Lucía recommeds:

Recuerda revisar estos consejos para certificar información antes de compartirla siguiendo este enlace.

Remember to follow the tips in this link to check the information before you share it.

There are other pages on Facebook such as Venezuela Sin Mentiras (Venezuela Without Lies), created in April 2013 after the presidential election to demonstrate this kind of media manipulation and urge users not to resort to practices that endanger everyone:

Reflexión: “NO CAER EN FALSOS RUMORES! calidad y veracidad en la información para que no estemos desinformados”

Think about it: “DON'T FALL INTO THE TRAP! quality and truth in information so we are not misinformed.”

In light of the situation, the satirical site El Chigüire Bipolar posted the story of an “Imbecil who shares a fake photo and confirms that there are a lot of ignorant people out there.” The fictitious character, Domingo Ugarte, shares a fake shot of student protests and the expected reaction in a series of retweets. 

“La foto me llegó ayer como a las ocho de la noche. Era una imagen terrible, un policía con un traje negro que nunca había visto en Venezuela, maltratando a un estudiante en una calle que claramente no era acá. Pero no me resistí, tuve que darle retweet y compartirla al mundo. Todos tienen que ver el horror de lo que estamos viviendo y en el camino recibir demasiados RTs. Porque eso es lo arrecho, no importa si es una foto de un cangrejo gigante matando estudiantes, la gente se va a horrorizar y la va a compartir.”

The photo arrived at like eight o'clock last night. It was a terrible picture: a police officer with a black uniform that I had never seen in Venezuela mistreating a student in a street that clearly wasn't here. But I couldn't resist, I had to retweet and share it with the world. Everyone needs to see the horror that we are living through and get a few too many RTs along the way. Because that's the turn on; it doesn't matter if it's a shot of a giant crab killing students, people are going to be outraged and share it.”

There are currently a few independent awareness initiatives aimed at promoting responsible use of digital media, as described by Aglaia Berlutti, blogger and Global Voices contributor, in an article for Noticias Venezuela. Aglaia enumerates a series of tips and recommendations to help social media users become efficient purveyors of  information:

No exageres, ni tampoco distorsiones el hecho que deseas transmitir. Redacta noticias sencillas sin incluir tu opinión o hipótesis no verificadas. [...] La intención de tu post o de tu artículo es que pueda ser compartido todas las veces que se requiera y que todos tus lectores puedan comprenderte sin problemas.

Don't exaggerate or distort the facts you want to publicize. Draft straightforward posts without including your own or other unverifiable hypothesis. [...] The goal of your post or article should be that it can be shared as often as needed and that all readers can easily understand it.

And Karelia Espinoza (@Kareta), political scientist and digital activist, shares a graphic about how to put together Internet reports:

Barquisimeto Móvil graphic to help prevent media censorship [Steps include following recognized lists and checking sources as well as configuring your phone to tweet via SMS and sticking to popular hashtags.]

Netizen Report: Censorship Continues as Protests Turn Violent in Venezuela

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El-Gohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Sarah Myers, Bojan Perkov, and Sonia Roubini contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Venezuela, where a wave of peaceful protests over food insecurity and public safety snowballed into a nationwide uprising after the arrests of several student demonstrators last week.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Government officials and supporters are calling protesters “neo-facists” and accusing US government leaders of driving the opposition. Authorities have arrested at least 100 people, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who will reportedly face terror-related charges. Media attempting to cover the protests have been threatened with fines under a law that “prohibits the dissemination of media containing hate speech and violence.” Colombian cable television network NTN24 was taken off the air on February 12, allegedly due to its coverage of protests.

On Twitter and the independent crowdsourcing platform Herdict, users have reported that multiple independent and pro-opposition blogs and news sites are inaccessible via CANTV, Venezuela’s state-owned ISP that has a near monopoly over the national telecom market. Activists and media workers using social media to report on protests are also facing big hurdles. On February 12 and 13, Twitter users were unable to send or receive photos in the country, allegedly due to state efforts to block Twitter’s multimedia servers. In recent days, many have reported that police and National Guard officers are seizing protesters’ mobile phones, reviewing personal information, and erasing protest images. Global Voices authors in Venezuela are running a special coverage section of the protests here.

Free Expression: Philippines’ new online libel law takes media policy “a century backward”

The Philippine Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of online libel, part of the controversial “Cyber Martial Law” that has sparked controversy since it was first introduced in 2012. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the court ruling as “a half-inch forward but a century backward” in terms of advancing media freedom in the country.

Chinese censorship watchdog Greatfire.org reported that Microsoft’s search engine Bing seemed to be filtering simplified Chinese language search results not only in mainland China but in its international version. The site also inconsistently displays censorship notices, making it difficult to determine whether the removal of results was at the request of the government. Rebecca MacKinnon suspects this is likely the result of Microsoft “applying apolitical mathematical algorithms to politically manipulated and censored web content.” Engadget reports that Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz “emphatically confirm[ed]” that Microsoft does not engage in political censorship and promised that Bing is “fixing the issue.”

Surveillance: Ethiopian journalists targeted with Italian spyware

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has uncovered the use of commercial spyware to surveil Ethiopian journalists working in the US. Produced by the Milan-based company Hacking Team, the spyware is capable of stealing documents and contact lists, reading e-mails, and remotely enabling cameras and microphones. In this case, it was used to target journalists working at Ethiopian Satellite Television Service, a US-based news outlet that is frequently critical of the Ethiopian government.

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of the spyware being used in 21 countries including Egypt, Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand and Turkey. While the company’s customer policy states that it sells only to governments, Hacking Team will not confirm whether Ethiopia is a customer.

After Chinese police launched a massive crackdown on prostitution in the southern city of Dongguan, responding to an undercover China Central Television report, Sina Weibo released a heat map reportedly showing the flow of people fleeing the raids. Produced from geolocation data from smartphones collected by Baidu, the map indicates the broad capacity of surveillance systems in China to track massive movements of people within the country.

Internet Governance: Two million SIM cards deactivated in Zambia

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) deactivated the SIM cards of over two million mobile phone users who failed to register their cards under a new nationwide real-name registration policy. Former Zambian Vice President General Godfrey Miyanda, now an opposition party leader, spoke out against the measure, which he says poses a threat to privacy and freedom of expression.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is backing proposals that would seek to create European data networks that keep communications within European territory. Germany plans to partner with France in the effort.

Open Government

Pakistani Senator Osman Saifullah Khan launched an online platform for his constituents to address grievances. Saifullah represents the district of Islamabad, which has higher than average literacy rates and Internet penetration.

Netizen Activism: Peaceful demonstration for Darfuri blogger

Human rights activists staged a peaceful sit-in at the government-run Human Rights Commission in Khartoum, Sudan, calling for the release of Tajeldin Arja, a blogger and activist from Darfur who has been in detention without charges since December 2013. Arja was arrested after criticizing government leaders at a press conference.

Vigil in front of the Human Rights Commission demanding the release of Tajeldin Arja was GOOD. Memorandum was handed over to UNHCR

Publications and Studies

 

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February 18 2014

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Leopoldo López Turns Himself in Amid Mass Demonstration

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has turned himself in to the National Guard forces, as he announced he would in the video [es] above.

López, the leader of the Voluntad Popular party, had an arrest warrant that was issued against him by a court in Caracas for allegedly being responsible for crimes related to the protests taking place in Venezuela.    

The massive demonstration where López turned himself in on February 18 was peaceful, with his followers shouting out [es] refrains supporting him. The following tweet contains a photo compilation of the demonstration and of López turning himself in to authorities in Caracas: 

Venezuela- February 18 demonstration

This video [es] captured the moment López handed himself in: 

And in this video [es] you can hear López addressing the crowd of protesters from the police armored car that would take him to the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor's Office.

Up until the moment that the Spanish version of this post was written, people were still on the streets protesting [es].

Venezuela: Police Seize Protester Mobile Phones

Several people have reported that police and National Guard officers are seizing the mobile phones of protesters and detainees in Venezuela. As Venezuela reaches its fifteenth day of protests in the streets, protesters believe police are reviewing their personal information, erasing pictures and video of the protests and sending messages to their families and friends. José Vicente Haro, a Venezuelan lawyer and law professor working to defend the detained students, tweeted:

Detainees in CICPC have been taken away their cell phones [by the police] and [they] said they will return them on Monday. They are reviewing the information on their phones.

Since last week there have been reports that policemen are using the students’ cellphones to send prank messages to their friends and family. Eduardo Lischinsky, a student who has been participating in the demonstrations, said:

They're using the cellphones of the detained students to prank friends and family who are trying to reach them.

Mary Mena, an investigative reporter who has been following the detentions, also said that at least two journalists were detained and that the National Guard took their cellphones:

Journalist @JPBIERIL and @perezvaler17 were detained and the GN took their cell phones. Watch out @espaciopublico @ipysvenezuela

After talking with relatives of the detained, journalist LuisCarlos Díaz posited that the police and National Guard were not only holding the phones to make jokes, but also to erase photos, videos, and other evidence of protests:

Another repressive measure in Venezuela is taking away the phones of detained to erase pictures, videos and review personal information.

Amid the protests and with censored media, Venezuelans have turned to the Internet to share photos, video and information on the demonstrations and their subsequent repression. Protesters in the Chacao district of Caracas streamed video of one of the most violent area protests, which had been viewed by 230,225 people as of February 18.

Collecting Data About Possible Web Censorship in Venezuela

Marianne Díaz, lawyer, digital activist and Global Voices Advocacy author, has been making constant appeals from her Twitter account asking users to collaborate on collecting data related to access to some websites and online platforms from Internet service providers in Venezuela, due to growing reports of partial or total blockage of online content and services.

Do you have some free time? Help me test if the websites on this list are accessible where you are located.

She urges users in Venezuela, and those able to test sites via proxy, to report their findings with Herdict, an online project that collects and shows real-time, crowdsourced information about online censorship.

Marianne believes that putting together this kind of information is very important in the current climate in Venezuela. After three people died in protests on February 12, demonstrations and clashes between protesters and security forces have continued across the country. Marianne states that “data is evidence, and evidence is more resistant than opinion.”

February 17 2014

Invisible Walls and Protests in Venezuela

The Berlin wall was not just physical. There was also an idealogical wall that prevented people from seeing reality clearly. The East Germans were told that the Wall protected the population from Fascist elements conspiring to prevent the peoples’ will from building a socialist state, so it was officially called “The Wall of Anti-Fascist Protection”. 

Venezuelan urbanist Carmen Beatriz Fernández [es] writes for Sesión de Control (“Control Session”) and draws a parallel [es] between Germany during the Cold War and contemporary Venezuela:

A state of generalized discouragement covers the country today. Discouragement can blind us from seeing the opportunity of our wall's collapse… In Venezuela there are 15 protests every day, probably more than any other country in the world. There are protests in Caucagua because a bridge fell, protests in the Carpintero neighborhood because a stray bullet killed a girl, protests in Villa de Cura because people demand decent housing. [...] 

In Caucagua, Villa de Cura, and El Carpintero, people believe that they are protesting different issues. Some of the protesters still have a wall of ideas that prevents them from seeing the reality of a model that collapsed. It is the job of the leadership to make them understand and liberate them from their personal wall. It is not about organizing the protest, it is about accompanying it…

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