Venezuela starts blocking Twitter users as widespread protests continue
posted at 5:01 pm on February 16, 2014 by Erika Johnsen
Stuff really started hitting the fan in Venezuela this week, as public discontent with the ongoing crises of basic goods shortages, runaway inflation, and high crime rates has finally come to a head and protests have started popping up all over the country. Even with the “emergency decree powers” President Nicolas Maduro was granted and started wielding late last year, the economic situation in the oil-rich country has only continued to deteriorate, and the fact that armed motorcycle vigilantes showed up and started shooting to try and break up the protest in Caracas on Wednesday so far hasn’t deterred Venezuelans from keeping it up.
Which means things are going to start getting even more Orwellian in short order. Cue the beginning of a social-media crackdown:
Twitter Inc. said the Venezuelan government blocked users’ online images as opposition groups marched through Caracas for a third day, demonstrating against record shortages and the world’s fastest inflation.
Nu Wexler, a Twitter spokesman, confirmed yesterday in an e-mail that the government was behind the disruption. …
In the absence of information from the government or local television outlets, Venezuelans have turned to foreign reporters and social media for news. Twitter users had been posting their photos of demonstrations that started in provincial towns earlier this month, providing an alternative to state-controlled media. It’s unclear if photos were blocked for users of all Internet providers in Venezuela, Wexler said. …
“We are having a media blackout,” Josefina Blanco, a freelance science journalist and social media user, said in an e-mail from Caracas. Only because of Twitter, NTN24 and radio station RCR 750 “ can we know what is really going on in our streets,” she said.
And the leaders of the political opposition movement know their freedom is no longer guaranteed.
A Venezuelan opposition leader wanted by police in connection with deadly street protests told supporters via Twitter to keep demonstrating, but peacefully, and armed police visited his father’s home, apparently seeking to arrest him.
Authorities accuse Leopoldo Lopez of murder and terrorism in connection with violence around four days of sporadic anti-government protests that have left three people dead and both sides blaming each other for the bloodshed.
The demonstrators have vowed to stay in the streets until Maduro resigns, although there is no sign of that happening.
And on Friday, Maduro introduced a “program of peace and tolerance,” during which he denounced the protestors as “fascists.” I’m not sure how just saying that you’re going to bring about peace and tolerance somehow means that peace and tolerance are going to happen (socialism, for the win?), and Venezuelans don’t sound ready to be convinced. Via Juan Nagel at the Daily Beast:
Venezuelans are accustomed to their government using Orwellian language. Indeed, this is a government that claims the scarcity and inflation caused by its own disastrous economic policies is somehow the consequence of an “economic war” engineered by the opposition. It is a government headed by a man who claims his predecessor died of cancer because his enemies—namely, the U.S.—“inoculated” him with the disease. The feeling that lunatics have taken over the insane asylum is what is driving much of the protests. …
The young are restless, and they have had it. They want solutions to their problems, and an end to the mayhem that chavista Venezuela has become. Their strategy is not clear, and so far they are outnumbered and outgunned.
But they are not going anywhere.