#AlertaVenezuela: June 2, 2020

#AlertaVenezuela is leading the way in identifying, exposing, and explaining disinformation within the context of one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest crises in recent history, where the fight for control of the information space will continue to pose a challenge for the region.

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Maduro regime blocks internet access to select websites, censors journalists and medical personnel

In May, the Maduro regime restricted access to specific websites, including YouTube and Instagram, during a virtual session of the country’s National Assembly. According to nongovernmental organizations, journalists and medical personnel have also been detained since the COVID-19 pandemic first began spreading in the country.

In mid-May, Venezuela Sin Filtro, a nongovernmental organization that reports on internet access restrictions and provides guidance to Venezuelans on how to circumvent them, reported restricted access to the websites for a number of Venezuelan independent media outlets, including Runrun.es on May 15 and Caracas Mi Convive on May 18, a movement against violence in the country. Later in May, Venezuela Sin Filtro reported limited access to the May 31 National Assembly virtual session, after the Maduro regime temporarily blocked YouTube and Instagram.

The Maduro regime’s actions to censor media for brief periods of time have also happened offline. Nongovernmental organizations that monitor freedom of speech and censorship in Venezuela, including Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Ipys) and Espacio Público, have denounced the temporary detention or other censorship of five journalists who were writing public interest stories between May 1 and 28.

Four out of five cases occurred after the journalists covered the scarcity of fuel in gas stations. According to Espacio Público, which registered one of these cases, a Bolivarian National Guard colonel intervened with Pedro García, a journalist from local television channel UniTV, after he recorded a line of people in a gas station on Venezuela’s Nueva Sparta state on May 26. The colonel took García’s camera by force and erased its contents, including photos of the gas station and testimonies from onlookers discussing the scarcity of fuel.

Another case involved a journalist collecting pictures of hospital facades for her media archive. According to Ipys, 24 journalists have been detained by Maduro regime forces since March 13, when Venezuela’s health authorities confirmed the first COVID-19 case in the country.

Local media and nongovernmental organizations in Venezuela also reported the detention of an obstetrician in Zulia state by Corps for Scientific and Criminal Investigations (CICPC, in Spanish) on May 27, after she published a “viral” meme on WhatsApp of Maduro with a rope around his neck. According to her relatives in conversation with independent media outlet El Pitazo, the doctor was detained in her house without a legal detention order. Previously, on May 13, Diosdado Cabello, president of Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent National Assembly and Maduro’s second in command, asked security forces to “visit” scientists with Venezuela’s Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences who had reported that the country had experienced more cases than the regime had reported since March 13. The BBC’s Spanish service, The BBC Mundopublished a report on the detention of journalists and medical personnel on April 28. During that month, three doctors were detained after posting to social media about COVID-19 cases in hospitals.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On June 1, the BBC published “How Venezuela’s fuel crisis is hitting coronavirus victims.” The video documentary shows how Venezuelans are facing the scarcity of fuel amid the coronavirus pandemic in the country that “has the biggest oil reserves in the world.” The BBC interviewed a funeral-home owner who “is struggling to transport bodies to the cemetery.” The BBC described car owners who can avoid the lines at gas stations by buying fuel on the black market but have to pay $2.50 per liter, which is also the monthly minimum wage of the country, versus $0.03 per liter at the pump. The BBC also reported on a Venezuelan who had to spend over 12 hours waiting in line at a gas station to buy 40 liters of gasoline. The BBC said Venezuelans waiting to buy gasoline at the gas stations “can only watch in despair,” because protesting “is not an option and dissent is harshly punished” by the security forces that guard every gas station. According to the BBC, many Venezuelans blame the state of leading to scarcity of gas, while Maduro’s “government blames international sanctions.”
In Venezuela, independent website Runrun.es published on May 31 “La protesta social en Venezuela también es digital” (“The social protest is also digital in Venezuela”). The article shows a report by digital activity observatory Probox, which analyzes trends on Twitter in Venezuela. According to Runrun.es’ readout, Venezuelans have condemned failures in public services, including scarcity of gas, the lack of food, and human rights violations during the almost two months of lockdown amid the pandemic. Venezuelans have voiced their concerns both on Twitter and in the streets. Probox analyzed 210 hashtags that trended on Twitter in April, of which 63 were related to protests by civil society, representing an increase of 65 percent compared to the previous six months. Probox also found in their analysis that authentic accounts posted 73 percent of protest-related content, while 60 percent of the content produced by chavistas include “possible bot accounts.”

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #FuriaBolivarianaEnEEUU (“Bolivarian fury in the U.S.”) trended on Twitter on May 30, pushed by chavista accounts that supposedly spotted a protester in Washington, D.C., with a Hugo Chávez face printed on his t-shirt. The most active account using #FuriaBolivarianaEnEEUU was @adelso_Car, a self-described chavista account. This account also tweeted a fake video claiming that protesters “broke the siege” and managed to gain entry into the White House. The original video was posted by Reuters showing protesters smashing windows of the Ohio statehouse on May 29. 

Official Statements

[…] La dictadura te quiere callado, invisibilizar nuestra lucha: cerraron RCTV, periódicos y radios, sacaron a Direct-TV, por eso hoy más que nunca tenemos y tienes que convertirte en el mensaje, eso articula, une y organiza la lucha por nuestra libertad.”

“The dictatorship wants you silenced, to hide our struggle: they closed RCTV [independent television station closed on January 24, 2010], newspapers and radio stations, they ousted DirectTV. For this reason, today more than ever, we have to become the message, that articulates, unifies, and organizes the fight for our freedom.” – Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by over 50 countries as interim president of Venezuela, posted to Twitter while quoting the reporting on the YouTube and Instagram blockade during the National Assembly session on May 31, 2020.

EE.UU. sufre la peor crisis humanitaria del mundo con más de 100 mil decesos por #Covid_19.  Sus calles arden ante la furia y la frustración de una población segregada,  excluida y humillada.  Mientras tanto el gobierno Trump insiste en intervenir en asuntos internos de Venezuela.”

“The U.S. suffers the worst humanitarian crisis around the world with over 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. Its streets burn with the fury and frustration of a segregated, excluded, and humiliated population. Meanwhile, Trump’s government insists on intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs.” – Jorge Arreaza, Maduro’s minister of foreign affairs, posted to Twitter on May 29.

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