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On 16 May the Venezuelan government issued Executive Order 2489 to extend the “state of emergency” in Venezuela, in place since May 2016. This new extension authorises internet policing and content filtering. This measure deepens the restrictions to the free flow of information online even more. They include the blocking of streaming news outlets, such as VivoPlay, VPITV, and CapitolioTV. Other serious practices that prevail in Venezuela are the aggressions of military and police personnel to journalists and civilian reporters, and the detention of citizens in the wake of content published on social networks.
This happens in a context of a general deterioration of telecommunications, as a consequence of the divestment in the sector in the last 10 years. This has turned Venezuela into the country with the worst internet connection quality in the Latin American region. Given the censorship practices applied to traditional media, the internet has become an essential tool for the freedom of expression and access to information of the Venezuelan people.
The measures taken by the Venezuelan Government to restrict online content constitute restrictions to the fundamental rights of Venezuelan citizens and, as such, do not comply with the minimum requirements of proportionality, legality, and suitability. The Venezuelan Government has systematically ignored civil society requests regarding the total number of blocked websites. To this date, there is evidence of the blocking of 41 websites, but it is suspected that many more websites are being blocked. The legal and technical processes applied by the government to determine and execute the blocking of websites remain unknown.
These kinds of practices affect the exercise of human rights. In a joint release, the rapporteurs for freedom of expression of the UN and the IACHR condemned the “censorship and blocking of information both in traditional media and on the internet”. During the last few months, three streaming tv providers have been blocked without a previous court order. Moreover, the Government has used unregulated surveillance technologies that affect the fundamental rights of citizens, such as surveillance drones to track and watch demonstrators, while at the same time expanding its internet surveillance prerogatives, through the creation of bodies such as CESPPA.
In addition to this, the government has implemented mechanisms for the collection of biometric data without citizens being able to determine their purpose nor who has access to such information. The official discourse towards the internet, and specifically to social networks, is disturbing: the director of the National Telecommunications Commission has recently declared that social networks are “dangerous” and a tool for “non-conventional war”.
The sum of this factors, aggravated by the passage of time and the deepening of the social and political crisis, outlines the creation of a state of censorship, control, and surveillance that gravely affects the exercise of human rights. Quality access to a free and neutral internet is recognised internationally as a necessary condition for the exercise of freedom expression, communication and the access to information, and as a precondition of the existence of a democratic society. In that regard, the undersigned civil society and academic organisations wish to set our position in the following terms:
We express our condemnation to the extension of the state of exception in Venezuela, as well as to the restrictions to the free flow of online content that derive from it.
We manifest our concern for the growing deterioration of internet access infrastructure and telecommunications in Venezuela. The maintenance of such systems is of vital importance for education, innovation, and the communication of Venezuelans.
We emphasise that the use and implementation of technological tools such as drones and biometric identification systems must fit human rights standards and not affect the fundamental freedoms of citizens, in particular their privacy and autonomy.
We insist that all measures that restrict the free exercise of fundamental rights, such as the blocking of web pages, must comply with the minimum requisites of proportionality, legality and suitability, and in consequence, must be only adopted by judicial authorities following a due process.
We request the ending of the harassing actions and insulting speech conducted by public servants online against NGOs and human rights activists that document and denounce acts through digital platforms.
We demand the cessation of military and police aggressions against journalists and citizen reporters.
We request transparency on the actions taken to restrict internet traffic and content and demand an answer to the requests for public information made by civil society regarding the practices of content blocking and filtering executed by the public administration.
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Acceso Libre (Venezuela)
(DTES-ULA) Dirección de Telecomunicaciones y Servicios de la Universidad de los Andes
Espacio Público (Venezuela)
Son Tus Datos (México)
Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
EXCUBITUS Derechos Humanos en Educación
Sursiendo, comunicación y cultura digital
Red en defensa de los derechos digitales, R3D
Global Voices Advox
Asuntos del Sur
Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders)
Center for Media Research – Nepal
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Like other countries, Venezuela’s young are eager to explore the world. Every opportunity to learn becomes important in the formation of the young mind. In Venezuela, a crippled education system prevents normal development. While the well-born go to private schools and have access to every benefit, the mass of Venezuela’s students confront an educational system that tells them: “You can’t but you tried.”
The most embarrassing and painful thing about the deplorable state of the country’s schools is the level of the government’s indifference. Though the government of Nicolás Maduro offers programmes like “Simoncito”, “Mision Ribas” and “Mision Robinson” these is basic education that doesn’t adequately prepare students to pursue higher studies. The programmes seem to condemn the disadvantaged among Venezuela’s population to a remedial existence. If some of these children make it to higher education, the odds are stacked against them and their families.
In the end, it all comes down to money. Venezuela needs to spend more to let students be students. But with foreign reserves short, all but national priorities are left off the funding list. Every area of science instruction needs improvement. Budgets are not even close to covering the costs of labs, let alone providing learning aids or even actual textbooks. A prize-winning robotics team at Caracas’ Universidad Simon Bolivar works with outdated electronics that are often patched together. When the team wanted to take part in an international competition, they were denied assistance — meaning just a few of the team could do it because that was all they could afford to pay out of their own pockets. Another group, which took part in the Latin American conference of the model UN, found themselves staying in primitive conditions in Mexico because they were denied dollars, the currency they needed to pay bills. Despite the discomfort, the group won six awards.
Even with the obvious deficiencies in education, Venezuela has a large population of well-prepared professionals across a wide spectrum of expertise. But based on political affiliations, these people cannot work for the development of the nation. No wonder Venezuelans have begun to leave the country in search of a better future for themselves and their families. This exodus is manifesting itself worst of all among teachers. The ramshackle education system can ill afford this brain drain. But, again, it’s understandable when even those with advanced degrees from internationally respected institutions earn less than approximately £40 per month. When the government’s own basic food basket is priced at nearly £200 per month, it’s impossible to support a family without second or third jobs. Under strict rules, teachers are not allowed to apply for the loans that could support home or car ownership. In effect, teachers are sentenced to live with relatives for life. Yet they continue to teach out of love for the craft with the hope they they can raise a new generation of Venezuelans who can think for themselves and question dogma. Without them, the youth of Venezuela would be lost.
In recent interviews, the educational minister Hector Rodriguez said: “We are not going to take you out of poverty for you to go and become opposites.” His statement meant that Venezuela’s students should understand that their wings are already clipped and any dream of progress or improvement is invalid.
The government’s approach to education aims to make Venezuelans think it has the absolute truth and will decide what’s right for students. The lower classes won’t have any choice but to believe what they are told.
After 15 years Venezuelans have become accustomed to waiting for the government to wave a magic wand to provide what they need. The sense of personal responsibility now seems lost. Effort doesn’t deliver results, so Venezuelans don’t try. It’s an indirect way for the government to choose a person’s destiny.
At the same time, scarcity – and not just in an educational sense – is the new normal. Everyday basics like toilet paper, coffee or cooking oil are the subjects of long hunts that lead to the back of an equally long queue. Hospitals cancel operations for lack of supplies and cancer patients miss treatment for lack of medicine. And even though the government’s late March devaluation of the bolivar will fill the shelves in the shops, the average Venezuelan will be unable to afford the supplies.
For the government, scarcity is just a glitch — just like the blackouts when “iguanas eat the cables” – and not because the energy minister is not doing his job.
It’s impossible to walk down streets without being paranoid — one eye on the road and the other keeping watch of everything around you. On average 48 people are murdered in the country every day. Venezuelans can be beaten and robbed with no recourse to justice because the police and the criminals are often in partnership.
The Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to bring improvements, but the lack of daily essentials and a robust education system leads one to the conclusion: The basement has a bottom.
This article was posted on April 7, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org
London, 28 February 2014
Mr. Alvaro Sanchez,
Charge dAffaires, Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United Kindgom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
Index on Censorship, an international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression, is writing to you to show our concern for the serious violations of human rights which have been happening in Venezuela, in particular, violations of freedom of expression.
According to the information we have received, during public protests that started 12 February 2014, there have been many threats and attacks against journalists and reporters who were reporting on the demonstrations. Some of these public protests are being repressed in violent ways, with many deaths, people being injured, tortured and arbitrarily detained. In most of these cases, the attackers are police officers, members of the armed forces or civil armed groups supporting the government.
Also, most of the national media have not been publishing information about protests and violent and irregular situations, due to governmental pressure and the fear of retaliation. Over the last few years, the National Commission on Telecommunications (CONATEL) has been developing a policy of vigilance and punishment against media that do not keep an editorial line that is favourable to the government. Recently, on 11 February of this year, the General Director of CONATEL, William Castillo, criticised the media coverage of the violence by some outlets, classifying the content as hate speech and stating that those media outlets would be sanctioned. This current environment is making it difficult for the media to freely transmit information about what is happening.
The independent press has been seriously affected by the lack of foreign currency they need to acquire paper and other essential supplies for printing. Due to the monetary exchange control that exists in Venezuela, several special authorisations are required in order to legally buy foreign currency. The government has set up many obstacles that impede the independent press obtaining foreign currency for buying necessary supplies. This has caused the temporary closure of at least nine papers and problems with circulation, page reduction, edition reductions and print run reduction of at least 22 publications.
The national government has ordered, in authoritarian manner and with no judicial process, that the television channel NTN24 be taken off the air and not shown on cable television. NTN24, a Colombian news station, was one of the few media outlets that were independently transmitting news about public protests. Moreover, the government ordered the blocking of the NTN24 website from Venezuela. The government has also arbitrarily blocked the access to images on Twitter and other similar restrictions in the Internet. Additionally, the government threatened CNN en Español with censorship by prohibiting its broadcast on Venezuelan cable television services. These kinds of international media and social networks are an essential source of information for Venezuelans, due to the censorship of the national media.
All these political decisions lead to a serious problem in the field of freedom of expression and information, with every decision reducing the space for expression and increasing repression for dissenting voices. These problems are made worse in a context of high political tension and serious repression from government employees.
Consequently, we demand that the Venezuelan government show respect for human rights in Venezuela, particularly the right of freedom of expression, and in this sense, should:
1. Stop the threats and attacks against journalists and media.
2. Allow national and international media to freely spread information, including information that criticises the government, without fear of repression from any governmental organisation.
3. Facilitate the procedures for the acquisition of foreign currency by the independent print media, so that they can buy paper and other essential supplies needed for the publications.
Index on Censorship
The headquarters of Venezuelan newspaper Versión Final, in the city of Maracaibo, was shot at nine times on 3 June, making the attack the third of its kind against a media outlet in the northeastern state of Zulia. On 28 May, the headquarters of newspaper Qué Pasa was attacked by a grenade that damaged the front side of the building, although there were no casualties. The following day, the public television station in Catatumbo suffered an armed attack.