|A Obstacles to Access||5 25|
|B Limits on Content||13 35|
|C Violations of User Rights||10 40|
Internet freedom in Venezuela further deteriorated; connectivity was frequently disrupted by infrastructural failings and service providers temporarily blocked key sources of independent news and information during politically sensitive moments. Independent reporters, many of whom work online, showed signs of increasing self-censorship, while a number of outlets were victims of cyberattacks. State surveillance remained rampant, including through the assistance of telecommunications companies.
As Venezuela’s economic and political crisis deepens, President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has sought to tighten its grip on power and clamp down on dissent. Changes aiming to strengthen the government in power, such as the installation of a new National Constituent Assembly in August 2017, have been accompanied by new laws curtailing freedom of expression and privacy and continuous attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and the opposition. The country’s severe humanitarian crisis has left millions struggling to meet basic needs, and driven mass emigration. Following the contested 2018 presidential elections, tensions escalated in January 2019 when Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, assumed the role of interim president according to constitutional processes. Despite this, Maduro has maintained his power because of widespread support in the military, his tight control over the country’s institutions, and a sustained and repressive intimidation campaign against the opposition.
- A series of power outages throughout the coverage period hindered users’ ability to connect to the internet (see A1).
- During politically sensitive moments, including those involving activities of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and during the COVID-19 pandemic, service providers blocked access to communications platforms and independent sources of information (see A3 and B1).
- Amid the deterioration of internet freedom in Venezuela over the last year, online journalists showed signs of increasing self-censorship (see B4).
- Social media users and online journalists continued to be arbitrarily arrested, including for sharing information about the country’s controversial fuel shortage and the COVID-19 pandemic (see C3).
- An online platform created by the Venezuelan opposition to provide health workers with financial assistance was subjected to a phishing attack. Separately, the former director of the country’s intelligence services contended that telecommunications companies help facilitate state surveillance (see C5 and C6).
- A number of independent online media outlets were targeted with distributed denial-of-service (DDos) attacks, likely perpetrated by military forces (see C8).
During the coverage period Venezuelans experienced frequent internet service failures and poor-quality connections, which have continued to hinder reliable access to the internet, as did a series of major blackouts. Communications platforms continued to be blocked, typically during politically sensitive moments, while plans to establish an internet exchange point could further facilitate state censorship and surveillance.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||2.002 6.006|
Venezuela’s economic crisis, marked by multiple years of recession and hyperinflation, has hindered the country’s telecommunications infrastructure and the quality of internet access. The country’s decaying infrastructure suffers from failures, theft, and vandalism, resulting in more frequent blackouts and poor connection speeds.1
During the coverage period many power outages, some for hours at a time, occurred in several regions of the country including the capital city. One of them, originating in Caracas in August 2019, reportedly affected around 12 out of the country’s 23 states for one to two hours, while Puerto Cabello’s February 2020 blackout lasted over 36 hours.2 A major power outage on March 1, 2020 disabled 35 percent of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure for several hours.3 Connectivity was similarly disrupted by outages on March 8 (affecting thirteen states), 20 (affecting seven states),, and 25 to 26 (affecting six states).4 A major outage on May 5 interrupted connectivity in more than 10 states, which the government blamed on an attack on one of the transmission lines of the national grid.5 Also around this time, nearly 100 families in a neighborhood in the state of Portuguesa reported a blackout of at least two weeks after a transformer exploded and was not properly replaced.6
In addition to disruptions stemming from blackouts, cities such as Maracaibo and San Cristóbal remain under constant electricity rationing schemes that impact connectivity,7 while a fuel shortage has hindered the use of generators upon which many people and institutions are dependent.8 Moreover, in April 2020, a fire broke out at the state-owned provider CANTV, reportedly due to issues with the headquarters’ backup power supply, leading to service disruptions that affected at least six states.9
According to analysts, demand for connectivity exceeds the supply, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine orders.10 During the pandemic, in March 2020, major mobile provider Movistar asked customers to use data “rationally” as consumption had sharply increased on a network “already operating at maximum capacity.”11
Internet service has also been suspended for long periods of time in pockets of the country; parts of Caracas were reportedly without internet service for at least three months beginning in June 2019 when a blackout occurred, while in July 2019 residents in two areas of the municipality of Baruta protested over claims that service had been unavailable for over a year.12 Residents of the city of El Tigre reached three years without CANTV service in May 2020.13 During the same month, residents in one area of Caracas protested amid reports that they had been without internet and phone service from CANTV for three years.14
Internet penetration rates vary by source. According to official figures regarding the second quarter of 2019, 59 percent of Venezuelans used the internet. Mobile subscribers account for 80 percent of total subscribers to internet services. Mobile penetration was estimated at 69 percent, down from 78 percent in 2018.15 June 2019 estimates from the Venezuelan Observatory of Public Services, though, reported that just 46.6 percent of households had home internet access, while 63.8 percent have it through mobile phones. Of those who access the internet through mobile phones, nearly 60 percent of users felt that the quality of mobile internet service was very poor; over 40 percent had experienced daily service failures.16 The market research company Tendencias Digitales placed internet penetration at 65 percent in 2019.17
As of June 2020, Venezuela continued to occupy last place for fixed broadband speed on the Speedtest Global Index, with an average download speed of 3.50 Mbps. For mobile speed, Venezuela ranked third to last with an average download speed of 7.80 Mbps.18
- 1David Belson, "Internet Disruption Report," November 2019, https://internetdisruption.report/2019/12/15/internet-disruption-report…; See also: David Belson, “Internet Disruption Report,” January 2020, https://internetdisruption.report/2020/02/23/internet-disruption-report…; See also: Mickey Veliz, “43 hours without telecommunications was the capital of Amazonas [43 horas sin teleomunicaciones estuvo la capital de Amazonas],” El Pitazo, June 4, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/guayana/43-horas-sin-telecomunicaciones-estuvo-la-…; See also: "Massive robberies at Movistar station in Anzoátegui keep part of the entity without service [Masivos robos a estación de Movistar en Anzoátegui mantienen parte de la entidad sin servicio]," NTN 24, January 23, 2020, https://www.ntn24.com/america-latina/venezuela/masivos-robos-estacion-d…; See also: Genesis Carrero Soto, "More than a million failures collapse the Cantv system [Más de un million de averías colapsan el Sistema de Cantv]," El Pitazo, September 14, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/pitazo-en-la-calle/mas-de-un-millon-de-averias-col…; See also: Ronny Rodríguez, "Netblocks says there is a drop in connectivity in 12 states of Venezuela," Efecto Cocuyo, September 20, 2019, https://efectococuyo.com/la-humanidad/netblocks-dice-que-hay-caida-de-c…; See also: Arnaldo Espinoza, @Naldoxx, "This is how one of the @MovistarVe radio stations was in Bolívar, after the electrical backup equipment was stolen. The theft compromises the signal in Guri, Tocoma, Ciudad Piar, La Paragua, El Amparo and El Puerto Ordaz-Ciudad Bolívar road axis," May 28, 2020, https://twitter.com/Naldoxx/status/1266011543315062785
- 2Fabiola Sánchez and Joshua Goodman, "Much of Venezuela in the dark again after massive blackout", AP, July 22, 2019, https://apnews.com/cd341fe1a24546cfa6d5506a33bb47b8; See also: "New massive blackout in Venezuela leaves millions in the dark," Debate, August 23, 2019, https://www.debate.com.mx/mundo/Nuevo-apagon-masivo-en-Venezuela-deja-a…; See also: Francisco Chirinos, "Blackout affects Puerto Cabello more than 36 hours ago [Apagón afecta a Puerto Cabello hace más de 36 horas]," February 28, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/centro/apagon-afecta-a-puerto-cabello-hace-mas-de-… /; See also: “Venezuela once again without electricity: a massive blackout affects 11 states in the country [Venezuela, otra vez sin luz: un apagón masivo afecta a 11 estados del país],” Infobae, August 20, 2019, https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2019/08/20/sinluz-venezolanos…
- 3“Venezuela suffers major power outage knocking out internet connectivity,” Netblocks, March 01, 2020, https://netblocks.org/reports/venezuela-suffers-major-power-outage-knoc…; See also: Netblocks.org, @netblocks, “Power outages in #Venezuela appear to be increasing in frequency and duration sending whole regions offline as shown by real-time network data; rise in incidents comes days before anniversary of national power grid collapse,” photo, March 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/netblocks/status/1235626581432901634; See also: Ronny Rodríguez Rosas, “Blackouts do not give truce in western Venezuela #3mar [Apagones no dan tregua en el occidente de Venezuela #3Mar],” Efecto Cocuyo, March 3, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/la-humanidad/apagones-no-dan-tregua-en-el-occi…
- 4Gabriel Ramos, “Six states suffer internet crash due to blackout registered on March 25 [Seis estados sufren caída de internet por apagón registrado el 25 de marzo],” El Pitazo, March 26, 2020, https://elpitazo.net/regiones/seis-estados-sufren-caida-de-internet-por…; See also: Ronny Rodriguez Rosas, “At least 13 states in the country with Internet failures, Netblocks reports this # 8Mar [Al menos 13 estados del país con fallas de Internet, reporta Netblocks este #8Mar],” Efecto Cocuyo, March 13, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/la-humanidad/al-menos-13-estados-del-pais-con-…
- 5Netblocks @Netblocks, "Confirmed: A power outage has knocked out internet connectivity in multiple states of #Venezuela from 3:40 pm local time; real-time network data show significant impact with national connectivity down to ~60% of ordinary levels; incident ongoing # 5May # Blackout #SinLuz," May 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/netblocks/status/1257765317314588672; See also: Mariana Souquett, “Electricity failure is registered in Caracas and 10 eastern states # 5May [Falla del servicio eléctricio se registra en Caracas y estados del país este #5May],” Efecto Cocuyo, May 5, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/la-humanidad/falla-del-servicio-electrico-se-r…
- 690 families have spent 14 days without electricity in Portuguesa state, El Pitazo, May 15, 2020, https://en.elpitazo.net/english/90-families-have-spent-14-days-without-…
- 7Francisco Rincón, "The electrical apartheid of Zulia [El apartheid eléctrico del Zulia]," Cinco 8, February 20, 2020, https://www.cinco8.com/periodismo/el-apartheid-electrico-del-zulia/; See also: Ana Barrera, “Electricity rationing in Táchira will be 8 hours each day [Racionamiento eléctrico en Táchira será de 8 horas cada día],” Cronica Uno, March 16, 2018, https://cronica.uno/racionamiento-electrico-en-tachira-sera-de-8-horas-…; See also: Ana Barrera, “The rationing in Táchira is raised to 15 hours a day [Elevan a 15 horas diarias el racionamiento en Táchira],” Cronica Uno, April 19, 2019, https://cronica.uno/elevan-a-15-horas-diarias-el-racionamiento-en-tachi…
- 8Gustavo Ocando Alex, “If Sísifo were a Venezuelan journalist: the challenge of telling news without electricity or gasoline [Si Sísifo fuera periodista venezolano: el reto de contar noticias sin electricidad ni gasoline],” VOA, May 19, 2020, https://www.voanoticias.com/venezuela/venezuela-periodismo-reto-noticia…; See also: Gustavo Ocando Alex, "This is going to last": Venezuelans turn off electric generators for lack of gasoline [“Est ova para largo”: venezolanos apagan generadores eléctricos por falta de gasoline],” VOA News, April 28, 2020, https://www.voanoticias.com/venezuela/venezuela-plantas-electricas-sin-…
- 9Netblocks.org, @netblocks, “Confirmed: Internet connectivity with #Venezuela’s state-run operator ABA CANTV has been falling gradually after a reported fire at the company’s offices in #Chacao, Caracas; national connectivity now at 50% of ordinary levels,” photo, April 5, 2020, https://twitter.com/netblocks/status/1246973747682324481; See also: “Cantv asks not to restart the modem after fire registered in Chacao on #5Apr [Cantv pide no reiniciar el modem tras incendio registrado en Chacao el #5Abr],” TalCual, April 6, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/cantv-pide-no-reiniciar-el-modem-tras-incend…
- 10María Josefa Maya, “Connectivity in Venezuela does not support more demands [Conectividad en Venezuela no soporta más exigencies],” RunRunes, April 15, 2020, https://runrun.es/rr-es-plus/404303/conectividad-en-venezuela-no-soport…
- 11Movistar, “Letter from the president of Movistar in Venezuela to public [Carta del president de Movistar en Venezuela a la opinion pública],” March 30, 2020, https://facebook.com/notes/movistarve/carta-del-presidente-de-movistar-…
- 12María Jesús Vallejo, "Prados del Este and Curumo cry for fixed telephony and Internet [Prados del Este y Cubres de Curumo claman por telefonía fija e Internet]," El Pitazo, July 2, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/gran-caracas/habitantes-de-prados-del-este-y-cumbr…; See also: "Several areas of Caracas have Internet failures for three months [Varias zonas de Caracas presentan fallas de internet desde hace tres meses]," NTN24, August 27, 2019, https://www.ntn24.com/america-latina/venezuela/varias-zonas-de-caracas-…
- 13Marinelid Marcano, “Neighbors from sectors of El Tigre arrive to three years without Cantv [Vecinos de sectores de El Tigre cumplen tres años sin Cantv],” El Pitazo, May 8, 2020, https://elpitazo.net/oriente/vecinos-de-sectores-de-el-tigre-cumplen-tr…
- 14“Protest in Guarenas for lack of telephone and Internet service from Cantv [Protestan en Guarenas por falta de servicio de telefonía e Internet de Cantv],” El Nacional, May 18, 2020, https://www.elnacional.com/venezuela/protestan-en-guarenas-por-falta-de…
- 15Conatel, "Figures Report, 2nd Quarter 2019 [Informe Cifras del Sector Segundo Trimestre 2019]," 2019, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/informe-cifras-del-sector-segundo-trimestre-2…
- 16Observatorio Nacional de Servicios Públicos, “Measurement June 2019 – Telecommunications [Mediciones los Servicios de Telecomunicaciones],” May 2020, http://www.observatoriovsp.org/telecomunicaciones/
- 17Margaret López, "The number of Internet users in the country grows despite the crisis [Crece el número de usuarios de Internet en el país pese a la crisis]," Efecto Cocuyo, September 18, 2019, https://efectococuyo.com/economia/crece-el-numero-de-usuarios-de-intern…
- 18Speedtest, “Speedtest Global Index – Venezuela June 2020,” June 2020, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/venezuela#mobile
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||0.000 3.003|
The economic crisis has impacted Venezuelans’ ability to afford internet services and devices, as many devote their meager salaries to cover basic needs such as food and health. A digital divide also became more evident during the coverage period; as the economy has become informally dollarized, the gap between those who have access to US dollars to purchase goods and services and those who do not has exacerbated inequality in internet access.1
Affordable access to the internet is out of reach for many Venezuelans. The purchase of a mid-range smartphone—around $400—was worth approximately 250 months of pay at minimum wage in April 2020, compared to around 60 months of pay at minimum wage in May 2019.2 The high cost of smartphones, coupled with connectivity and electricity problems, sets the stage for high rates of misinformation (see B5).3
Fixed and mobile plans have also risen in cost. Mobile service providers have stopped publishing their plans, and those that do make available information that is not necessarily accurate. However, based on consultations with users, a minimally reliable fixed 4MB monthly plan costs on average approximately 10 months of pay at minimum wage in 2020.4
Less costly mobile plans are also available. The cheapest plan from Movistar, a subsidiary of Telefónica, costs almost two months of pay at minimum wage, with a consumption cap of 5 GB per month.5 Regarding broadband service, the state-owned company CANTV also announced new rates in February 2020. The most popular plan, available only to existing customers, of 1.5Mbps increased from a monthly cost of 1,348 to 14,508 bolivars.6 Although an extremely low rate, the service, when available, is of very poor quality.7
Venezuelans continue to experience a significant geographical divide in internet access. According to official figures from the second quarter of 2019, higher rates of internet use are concentrated in the Capital District and states on the more developed northern coast, such as Miranda, Aragua, and Carabobo. The state of Amazonas, which has a high indigenous population, only reached 18 percent penetration.8 There is also inequality in available speeds. While speeds of up to 2.9 Mbps were recorded in Caracas during the first four months of 2019, they did not even reach 1 Mbps in the states of Apure, Barinas, Delta Amacuro, Falcón, Mérida, Portuguesa, and Táchira.9 Residents of towns along the Colombia-Venezuela border have resorted to purchasing services from Colombian operators10 .
The economic crisis has also affected a variety of sectors. Due to financial constraints, for instance, universities struggle to reconnect in the face of electricity deficits and thefts.11
- 1"Venezuela: between dollarization and despair [Venezuela: entre la dolarización y el desespero]," Semana, January 4, 2020, https://www.semana.com/economia/articulo/venezuela-entre-la-dolarizacio…; See also: Guillermo Olmo, "The dollar in Venezuela: how those who only have bolivars survive [El dólar en Venezuela: cómo sobreviven quienes solo tienen bolívares]," BBC News, November 22, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-50497749
- 2The minimum wage rose to 250,000 bolivars in January 2020, compared to 40,000 bolivars as of May 31, 2019; due to extreme inflation, it is difficult to assess the value of the bolivar in US dollars. At the exchange rate of approximately 185,000 VES/USD in April 2020, this means a monthly salary of $1.35, compared to less than $7 in May 2019. Alex Vasquez, “Venezuela’s Maduro Hikes Minimum Wage Again, This Time by 275%,” Bloomberg, October 14, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-14/venezuela-s-maduro-h…; Nicolle Yapur, “Venezuela’s Maduro Starts Year With a 67% Minimum Wage Hike,” Bloomberg, January 10, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-11/venezuela-s-maduro-s…; “Exchange Rate Reference [Tipo de Cambio de Referencia],” http://www.bcv.org.ve/estadisticas/tipo-de-cambio.
- 3Personal interview with Luz Mely Reyes, Director of Efecto Cocuyo, February 11, 2020, Panama City, Panama.
- 4Consultation with users, spring 2020.
- 5Prepaid mobile plans, Movistar, accessed spring 2020, http://www.movistar.com.ve/Particulares/planes_prepago_movil.html
- 6This was calculated at the mid-February 2020 exchange rate of 75,000 VEF/USD.
- 7“OSVP: Cantv increased internet rates despite poor quality of service [OSVP: Cantv aumentó tarifas de internet pese a mala calidad de servicio],” Analitica, May 9, 2019, https://www.analitica.com/economia/ovsp-cantv-elevo-tarifas-de-internet…; See also: Yardenis Pacheco, “These are the new rates of Cantv ABA [Estas son las nuevas tarifas de Cantv ABA],” ACN, February 19, 2020, https://www.acn.com.ve/nuevas-tarifas-cantv-aba/
- 8Conatel, "Figures Report, 2nd Quarter 2019 [Informe Cifras del Sector Segundo Trimestre 2019]," 2019, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/informe-cifras-del-sector-segundo-trimestre-2…
- 9Mariengracia Chirinos, "Venezuela, Internet at a minimum [Venezuela, Internet al mínimo]," Prodavinci, May 25, 2019, https://prodavinci.com/venezuela-internet-al-minimo/
- 10"Communicating in the Alto Apure is expensive and is paid in pesos [Comunicarse en al Alto Apure es caro y se paga en pesos]," Descifrado, February 22, 2020, http://www.descifrado.com/2020/02/22/comunicarse-en-el-alto-apure-es-ca…
- 11María Fernanda Rodríguez, "Almost half of the ULA in Mérida is without telecommunications [Casi la mitad de la ULA en Mérida está sin telecomunicaciones]," El Pitazo, January 24, 2020, https://elpitazo.net/los-andes/casi-la-mitad-de-la-ula-en-merida-esta-s…; Personal interview with Alejandra Stolk, Head of Networks and Connectivity of Universidad de Los Andes vía email, February 19, 2020
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||2.002 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because, though interruptions to social media platforms are common during politically sensitive events, users are not subjected to intentional, prolonged blocking of fixed and mobile internet connectivity.
The state owns most of the infrastructure of the national network through CANTV. Deliberate shutdowns and throttling may seem practically unnecessary given the state of the country’s infrastructure and recurring power outages. However, disruptions in connectivity have coincided with rising political tensions in Venezuela.
Users do not experience intentional, prolonged restrictions on fixed and mobile internet connectivity. However, “tactical blocks” on communications platforms are employed to minimize coverage of politically sensitive news.1 During the reporting period, internet monitoring groups such as Venezuela Inteligente and Netblocks documented a series of such restrictions.
On June 18, 2019, both CANTV and the private internet service provider (ISP) Supercable restricted access to Instagram and Twitter for two hours during the live broadcast of a National Assembly session in which deputies were set to discuss topics including a political prisoner and a corruption case.2 On June 19, during the visit of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, CANTV blocked access to YouTube for just over half an hour.3
On November 16, 2019, further restrictions by CANTV targeted Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The restrictions coincided with planned protests demanding credible elections. At the start of a speech by Guaidó, YouTube, Google services, and Bing were blocked. They became accessible after his address ended.4
On January 5, 2020 as the opposition-controlled National Assembly was scheduled to swear in new leadership, CANTV blocked access to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for two and a half hours. Opposition members, including Guaidó, as well as journalists, were physically blocked from entering the building by security forces.5
On May 31, 2020, as the National Assembly met to reject both the rise in and dollarization of gasoline prices, CANTV restricted access to YouTube and Instagram via domain name system (DNS) blocking.6
In March 2020, the National Commission of Telecommunications of Venezuela (CONATEL), the country’s regulatory body, launched a series of discussions with private operators about the creation of an internet exchange point (IXP). Academics and activists have opposed such a project, as administration of the IXP would fall to the government. The government’s control of this infrastructure would beget high risks of censorship and surveillance that would outweigh the technical benefits of the IXP’s creation.7
- 1Carolina Alcalde and Luisana Solano, “On the rise and with their own characteristics: digital censorship in Venezuela [En aumento y con sus propias características: la censura digiral en Venezuela],” VOA News, May 6, 2020, https://www.voanoticias.com/portada/censura-digital-en-venezuela-en-aum…
- 2Netblocks, “Twitter and Instagram restricted in Venezuela during National Assembly session,” June 18, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/twitter-and-instagram-restricted-in-venez…
- 3Andrés Azpúrua, “Censorship on the #InternetVE is not known for Michelle Bachelet’s visit [Censura en #InternetVE no se de tiene por visita de Michelle Bachelet],” Vesinfiltro, June 21, 2019, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/la_censura_no_se_detiene_por_visita_de…
- 4Netblocks, “Twitter, Facebook and Instagram restricted in Venezuela on day of planned protests,” November 16, 2019, https://netblocks.org/reports/twitter-facebook-and-instagram-restricted…; See also: “Blockades to Social Networks during the march on November 16,” Vesinfiltro, November 16, 2019, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/alerta-2019-11-16/
- 5“Maduro’s dictatorship restricts internet access ahead of key vote to elect parliament officials [La dictadura de Maduro restring el acceso a Internet antes de la votación clave para elegir a las autoridades del Parlamento],” Infobae, January 5, 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2020/01/05/la-dictadura-de-ma…; https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-restricted-in-venezuela-on-d…; “Social networks blocked during election of the NA board [Bloquean redes sociales durante elección de directive de la AN],” Vesinfiltro, January 5, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/alerta-2020-01-05/; “Venezuela’s Guaidó forces his way into assembly after stand-off,” BBC, January 7, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/51018928
- 6VeSinFiltro, @vesinfiltro, "Alert: they block @YouTube and #Instagram in the main internet provider of #InternetVE #CANTV. This is a #DNSlocking, different from the vast majority of previous blockages, which used to be more sophisticated #keepiton," https://twitter.com/vesinfiltro/status/1267133917192208388
- 7“Conatel convenes first meeting to promote Internet IXP in Venezuela [Conatel convoca primera reunion para potenciar Internet IXP en Venezuela],” VTV, March 3, 2020, https://www.vtv.gob.ve/conatel-convoca-primera-reunion-pinstalar-intern…; See also: Roison Figuera, “Cantv and Conatel Project will increase control of communications in Venezuela [Proyecto de Cantv y Conatel aumentará control de las Comunicaciones en Venezuela],” Tal Cual, March 13, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/191292-2-proyecto/
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||1.001 6.006|
Although there are private providers, the state dominates the information and communications technology (ICT) market. Telecommunications companies have struggled to remain financially sustainable during the economic crisis. At the same time, new, smaller companies have been able to enter the market.
CONATEL's latest report shows the progressive increase of new ISPs. According to two telecommunications companies’ chief executives who asked to remain anonymous, the market is difficult and expensive for large operators that have high fixed costs. With smaller investments, and in the absence of the exchange rate control, the new companies can provide services, available in US dollars, for consumers with high and medium purchasing power. Politically, companies must remain neutral and refrain from expressing any kind of opinions against the government.1
According to CONATEL’s figures on the second quarter of 2019, state-owned provider CANTV represents around 66 percent of fixed internet subscriptions. Three major players dominate the country’s mobile internet market: state-owned Movilnet (39.5 percent), Telefonica’s Movistar (43.5 percent), and locally owned Digitel (17 percent). Digitel and Movistar are the leading long-term evolution (LTE) network operators, a technology that has not been fully utilized—of all the subscribers with smartphones, only 18.47 percent use LTE services.2
A May 23, 2019 government decree created a new state-run Socialist Telecommunications and Postal Services Corporation of Venezuela, to be headed by CONATEL’s president. According to Article 3, its aim would be to manage the state’s telecommunications companies, enabling it to “acquire all or part of the shares in all those companies and services directly or indirectly related to its corporate purpose, whether owned by national or foreign entities, or merge with them, with prior authorization of the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the Council of Ministers.”3 After the announcement, Maduro also said that Venezuela would sign agreements with Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE to promote the introduction of new technologies.4
As of May 2020, the only development related to the new Socialist Telecommunications and Postal Services Corporation occurred in December 2019, when 91 percent of CANTV shares and 100 percent of Movilnet shares were transferred to the company.5 The move sparked speculation that the companies may have been sold to Huawei, but fact-checkers warned that this speculation was based only on unconfirmed rumors.6
- 1Personal interview with two executives of two Venezuelan ISPs who asked to remain anonymous, October 10, 2019, Panama City, Panama.
- 2Conatel, "Figures Report, 2nd Quarter 2019 [Informe Cifras del Sector Segundo Trimestre 2019]," 2019, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/informe-cifras-del-sector-segundo-trimestre-2…
- 3Decree 3854, Official Gazette No, 41.639; "Created National Telecommunications Corporation of Venezuela [Creada Corporación Nacional de Telecomunicaciones de Venezuela],” MINCI, May 23, 2019, http://www.minci.gob.ve/creada-corporacion-nacional-de-telecomunicacion…
- 4Andrelys Carrasquel, "Created National Corporation of Telecommunications of Venezuela [Creada Corporación Nacional de Telecomunicaciones de Venezuela]," Ministry of Popular Power for Information and Communication, May 23, 2019, http://www.minci.gob.ve/creada-corporacion-nacional-de-telecomunicacion…
- 5"New state holding assumes ownership of Cantv and Movilnet shares in the BVC [Nuevo holding estatal assume titularidad de acciones de Cantv y Movilnet en la BVC]," Banking and Business, December 6, 2019, http://www.bancaynegocios.com/nuevo-holding-estatal-asume-titularidad-d…
- 6"Alleged purchase of Cantv and Movilnet by Huawei [Presunta compra de Cantv y Movilnet por Huawei]," Cazadores de Fake News, August 26, 2019, https://cazadoresdefakenews.info/presunta-compra-de-cantv-y-movilnet-po…
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||0.000 4.004|
CONATEL is the entity responsible for regulating and licensing the telecommunications sector and is administratively dependent on the Ministry of Information and Communication. The Law on Social Responsibility on Radio, Television, and Digital Media (Resorte Law) grants the regulatory body the power to make decisions on the blocking or deletion of content, and to sanction service providers, an ability it has exercised without granting due process to the affected parties.1
While Article 35 of the Organic Law of Telecommunications provides for CONATEL’s operational and administrative autonomy, Article 40 states that the president has the power to appoint and remove the agency’s director and the other four members of its board,2 highlighting CONATEL’s lack of independence from the executive.
- 1National Assembly, Law of Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media, July 2012, http://www.leyresorte.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Ley-de-Responsa….
- 2National Legislative Commission, Organic Law of Telecommunications, Art, 35-48, http://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/cyb_ven_ley_telecomunicaciones.pdf.
Censorship continued during the coverage period as service providers blocked access to independent sources of news and information, including about the COVID-19 pandemic. A fire that broke out at CANTV’s headquarters, however, destroyed some blocking tools and left some websites newly accessible for a brief period. Self-censorship among online journalists increased over the last year, while state-backed disinformation campaigns appeared to continue during the reporting period.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||2.002 6.006|
As the political crisis continued into 2020, Maduro’s government continued blocking digital media and social networks. A December 2019 report by the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (IPYS Venezuela) detailed widespread and persistent online censorship. Using the Open Network Interference Observatory’s mobile application, 57 journalists from eighteen states tested 25 news sites and social media platforms in October 2019, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Venezuelan and international media sites. The study found that while the state-owned CANTV was responsible for most of the restrictions, private operators including Movistar and Digitel were not far behind.1
Local media sites faced the most blocking; the online TV channels Vivoplay and VPItv and the independent news site El Pitazo were the most frequently restricted, and by all three ISPs tested. Independent media sites Armando.info, Efecto Cocuyo, and La Patilla were also blocked, as were the news sites Caraota Digital, Noticia al Día, Punto de Corte, and even Aporrea—an outlet considered to be friendly to the government. The websites of traditional media outlets like newspapers El Nacional, Correo del Caroní, Correo del Orinoco, 2001, as well as international media like Colombian television channel NTN24, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Argentinean news site Infobae, the BBC, Spanish newspaper El País, and EVTV Miami were blocked. DNS blocking was the most common technique applied by the three operators. Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) blocking and server name identification (SNI) filtering were also used by CANTV and, to a lesser extent, Movistar and Digitel.2
Moreover, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a website created by the National Assembly and Guaidó (coronavirusvenezuela.info) was blocked through HTTP and DNS methods. The National Assembly’s site, intended to provide information about the COVID-19 virus, redirected to Guaidó’s site presidenciave.com, which was also blocked in March 2020, as was the alternative domain pvenezuela.com. According to VeSinFiltro, all three sites were filtered by CANTV, while Movistar, Digitel, and Supercable applied a DNS block to presidenciave.com.3 They remained blocked through the end of the coverage period.
Between January and April 2020, IPYS Venezuela tested 26 news sites and internet speeds in sixteen states. The results revealed that all of the sites had been blocked, some temporarily. VIVOplay faced the most blocking through DNS and HTTP methods, followed by VPItv and NTN24, using the same methods. Digitel led the three companies in blocking, likely because CANTV’s headquarters caught on fire in April 2020.4 The fire rendered some equipment unusable, including those that allowed HTTP, SNI, and TCP blocking, and caused numerous websites, such as El Cocuyo, coronavirusvenezuela.info, and Vivoplay, to become temporarily accessible. However, sites that were DNS blocked, the most common technique, remained restricted.5
The online outlet Punto de Corte was blocked after publishing a January 2020 investigation detailing the severe deterioration of CANTV’s facilities. According to VeSinFiltro, Punto de Corte was blocked by DNS filtering by the main internet providers in Venezuela, including CANTV, Movistar, Digitel, Inter, Supercable, and Movilnet.6 It remained inaccessible at the end of the coverage period. In April 2020, the portal Alberto News was added to the list of news sites blocked by CANTV’s broadband network,7 and in May, the news site Runrun.es was also blocked by CANTV and the provider Inter.8
Editors of online media outlets have noted that the state is selective in its blocking decisions. Censorship orders are tied to concrete events in which the outlet has criticized or undermined the government. For example, the blocking of Efecto Cocuyo began in January 2019 when the site decided, by editorial policy, to refer to the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president of Venezuela.9 However, the site was accessible as of May 2020.
Experts have noted that this new escalation of censorship is becoming more sophisticated and harder to circumvent, as HTTP, hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS), and SNI filtering require the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) or anonymization services to bypass censorship.10 In turn, CANTV had blocked some censorship circumvention tools, such as Tunnel Bear and Windscribe in 2019.11 Commentators have linked these increasingly sophisticated tactics with the Chinese government’s influence in the country. The Chinese company ZTE notably won a contract with CANTV to implement the government’s “Patria” platform (see C5).12
Though the censorship circumvention tools were subsequently made available, VeSinFiltro reported in August 2020, after the coverage period, that the websites of VPNs Psiphon and Tunnelbear, and anonymization service Anonymouse had been blocked by CANTV, Movistar, Digitel, and Supercable, mostly through DNS methods. The blocks were implemented as the National Assembly tried to promote its health program for medical workers.13
- 1Daniela Alvarado Mejias and Mariengracia Chirinos, "Intercortados 2019: Mass Censorship in Venezuela [Intercortados 2019: Censura masiva en Venezuela]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, December 12, 2019, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2019/12/12/intercortados-2019-censura-masiva-…
- 2Daniela Alvarado Mejias and Mariengracia Chirinos, "Intercortados 2019: Mass Censorship in Venezuela [Intercortados 2019: Censura masiva en Venezuela]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, December 12, 2019, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2019/12/12/intercortados-2019-censura-masiva-…
- 3“Block site on coronavirus COVID-19 organized by the AN and Juan Guaidó [Bloquean sitio sobre coronavirus COVID-19 organizado por la AN y Juan Guaidó],” Vesinfiltro, March 18, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/bloqueado_portal_coronavirus_AN
- 4“Disconnection and censorship | Annual Report on Digital Rights IPYSve 2019 [Desconexión y censura | Reporte Anual Derechos Digitales IPYSve 2019],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, May 17, 2020, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/17/desconexion-y-censura-reporte-anua…
- 5“Sophisticated CANTV blockades lifted after a fire at one of its facilities [Levantados bloqueos sofisticados de CANTV luego de incendio en una sus instalaciones],” Vesinfiltro, April 8, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/2020-04-06-levantados_multiples_bloque…
- 6"Punto de Corte is blocked after publishing report 'CANTV in the ruins' [Bloquean Punto de Corte luego de publicar reportaje ‘CANTV en las ruinas’]," Vesinfiltro, February 1, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/alerta-2020-01-31/
- 7María Josefa Maya, “Connectivity in Venezuela does not support more demands [Conectividad en Venezuela no soporta más exigencies],” RunRunes, April 15, 2020, https://runrun.es/rr-es-plus/404303/conectividad-en-venezuela-no-soport…
- 8VeSinFiltro, @vesinfiltro, “Confirmed Stop Sign: #inter also blocks [runrun܂es] @RunRunesWeb #17may. Ironically this happens on #diadeinternet #diamundialdeinternet [rnrunrun es] was already blocked by #CANTV. #InternetVE”,” https://twitter.com/vesinfiltro/status/1262128767478173699
- 9Personal Interview with Luz Mely Reyes, director of Efecto Cocuyo, February 11, 2020. Panama City, Panama.
- 10“Press release on the blocking of tor and websites in Venezuela,” [in Spanish,] ISOC Venezula, July 2018, accessed August 2018, https://isocvenezuela.org/noticias/comunicado-sobre-el-bloqueo-de-tor-y….
- 11“CANTV blocks VPN services: TunnelBear and Windscribe [CANTV bloquea de servicios de VPN: TunnelBear y Windscribe],” Espacio Público, February 15, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/cantv-bloquea-de-servicios-de-vpn-tunnelbear-….
- 12William Peña, "Special ND: China, the mastermind behind the censorship of the Internet regime [Especial ND: China, la mente maestra tras la censura del regimen a Internet],” Noticiero Digital, March 1, 2019, http://www.noticierodigital.com/2019/03/especial-nd-la-empresa-china-zt…
- 13“Block against circumvention tools in Venezuela to prevent access to aid for healthcare workers,” VeSinFiltro, August 28, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/2020-08-28-block-VPNs/.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||1.001 4.004|
Several laws provide avenues for limiting speech by making intermediary platforms and websites responsible for content posted by third parties. According to observers consulted for this report (who preferred to remain anonymous), this legal framework has resulted in preemptive censorship, mainly among media executives who exert pressure on their reporters’ coverage for fear of suffering closure or reprisals.1
In March 2020, two journalists from the online site Crónica.uno who were reporting on movement restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were arrested. Police forced them to delete their material, which could “misrepresent the information in a delicate situation.”2
Transparency reports produced by Twitter, Facebook, and Google did not show significant numbers of removal requests by the Venezuelan government during the past year. Between July and December 2019, Google registered one removal request for defamation.3 Artists have frequently complained about the removal of content by Facebook, for allegedly violating its terms of service when publishing works or photographs that contain nude figures.4
- 1Pedro Rodríguez, "Conditional Freedom, a censored text by Ricardo Azuaje [Libertad Condicional, un texto censurado de Ricardo Azuaje]," Esto tampoco es una pipa (Blog), June 10, 2018, https://estotampocoesunapipa.wordpress.com/2018/06/10/libertad-condicio….
- 2“#AlertaSNTP | Efectivos de la Policía Municipal de #Caracas detuvieron este #16Mar a la periodista @Ariadnalimon y a la fotógrafa @TairyGamboa, de @CronicaUno [#SNTPAlert | On March 16, members of the #Caracas municipal pólice detained journalist @Ariadnalimon and the photographer @TairyGamboa of @CronicaUno],” @sntpvenezuela, Twitter, March 16, 2020, https://twitter.com/sntpvenezuela/status/1239586618702430211.
- 3Google, “Transparency Report: Government requests to remove content – Venezuela,” https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/VE…
- 4"Content removal: the new practices of digital censorship that have reached Venezuela [Balance Especial IPYSve | Remoción de contenidos: las nuevas practices de la censura digital que han llegado a Venezuela]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, October 15, 2019, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/balanceespecialipysve-suspensiones-y-r…
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||0.000 4.004|
In the absence of rule of law and without institutions offering avenues for appeal, Venezuelan authorities have restricted digital content with no independent oversight and accountable procedures.
Blocking has been implemented by state-owned providers CANTV and Movilnet, but also by private companies such as Movistar and Digitel.1 Digital rights organizations and groups have denounced the lack of transparency of blocking procedures that are not made public.
Frequently blocked online news outlets, such as El Pitazo, have disclosed emails demonstrating how CONATEL gives blocking orders to private operators. In June 2019, El Pitazo published an email from CONATEL ordering Movistar, Inter, and Digitel to block the website without citing an administrative or court order. César Batiz, director of El Pitazo, requested explanations from both CONATEL and the ISPs but received no responses. In July 2019, Batiz and other directors filed a complaint with the Victim Care Unit of the Public Ministry that has also gone unanswered.2
Legislation places excessive responsibility on intermediaries and leave room for abuse. The Law on Social Responsibility on Radio, Television, and Electronic Media (the Resorte Law) establishes that intermediary websites can be held liable for content posted by third parties, and grants CONATEL discretionary capacity to impose severe penalties for violations. Its provisions notably forbid messages that promote anxiety among the population, alter public order, disregard legal authorities, or promote violation of existing laws. Promulgated in November 2017, the Law Against Hatred for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance (known as the Law Against Hatred) establishes that intermediaries must remove content containing “hate speech” within six hours of being posted or face fines. The law also empowers authorities to block websites when, in their opinion, they promote hatred or intolerance.3
- 1Participation of private mobile telephony in blockades to news portals is denounced [Denuncian participación de telefonía móvil privada en bloqueos a portales de noticias]," El Tiempo, June 21, 2018, https://eltiempo.com.ve/2018/06/21/denuncian-participacion-de-telefonia….
- 2"This is how Conatel orders the blockade of Venezuelan media [Así ordena Conatel el bloqueo a medios venezolanos]," El Pitazo, June 18, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/gran-caracas/asi-ordena-conatel-el-bloqueo-a-medio…; See also: "Director of El Pitazo denounces Movistar, Digitel and Conatel before the MP for systematic blockade [Director de El Pitazo denuncia ante el MP a Movistar, Digitel y Conatel por bloqueo sistemático]," El Pitazo, July 18, 2019, https://elpitazo.net/gran-caracas/director-de-el-pitazo-denuncia-ante-e…
- 3Marianela Balbi, “The law against htred seeks to end the vestiges of democracy in Venezuela [La ley contra el odio busca acabar con los vestigios de democracia en Venezuela],” The New York Times, November 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/es/2017/11/20/la-ley-contra-el-odio-busca-acaba….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||2.002 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because self-censorship, particularly by online journalists, increased over the last year.
Legal and extralegal restrictions on certain forms of online speech have encouraged increased self-censorship and preemptive censorship within media outlets.1
An October 2019 annual report by the Venezuelan nongovernmental organization (NGO) Medianálisis based on interviews with 365 journalists from 141 media outlets, showed evidence of journalists’ vulnerability and their progressive loss of autonomy and independence, due in part to both censorship and self-censorship. According to the report, 38 percent of journalists said they had changed or omitted information to protect their sources.2
Prominent journalist Nelson Bocaranda, the founder of the news site Runrun.es, noted in a February 2020 interview that practicing self-censorship, more than the presence of state censorship, allows independent media to continue functioning. He also stated he had self-censored over fear of what might happen to his family.3
On the other hand, many reporters courageously pursue their responsibility to inform despite experiencing frequent harassment, threats, and violence. A notable example during the coverage period was that of the journalists, including online journalists, who attempted to report on the security forces’ physical blocking of opposition representatives into the building of the National Assembly in January 2020; several were physically attacked and robbed due to their work (see C7).4
- 1“’Free journalism in Venezuela is an endangered species’: Luz Mely Reyes [‘El periodismo libre en Venezuela es una especie en extinción’: Luz Mely Reyes," FNPI, 2019, http://fnpi.org/es/etica-segura/noticias/el-periodismo-libre-en-venezue….
- 2"When journalism is news: aggressions and precarious conditions beset media and journalists [Cuando el periodismo es noticia: agresiones y condiciones precarias asedian a medios y periodistas]," Medianalisis, October 15, 2019, https://www.medianalisis.org/situacion-del-periodismo-en-venezuela-2019/
- 3Jolguer Rodríguez Costa, "Nelson Bocaranda: "Self-censorship pressures more than censorship” [Nelson Bocaranda: “Autocensura presiona más que la censura del regimen”]," El Tiempo, February 6, 2020, https://eltiempo.com.ve/2020/02/06/nelson-bocaranda-autocensura-presion…
- 4"Journalists were attacked and robbed by Chavista groups outside the Assembly of Venezuela [Periodistas fueron agredidos y robados por grupos chavistas en las afueras de la Asamblea de Venezuela]," Fundamedios, January 8, 2020, http://www.fundamedios.us/incidentes/periodistas-agredidos-chavistas-as…
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||1.001 4.004|
The government has sought to expand its influence online, using state-controlled media and progovernment trolls, and encouraging loyal social media users to harass those with opposing views.1 With a high number of politicized users, Twitter has frequently been used to spread disinformation.2 Studies released during the coverage period continue to demonstrate the government and Maduro-aligned outlets’ manipulation of online information.3
The political battle on Twitter is fierce, which has led to the foundation of NGOs that analyze this online environment. The digital observatory ProBox, launched in March 2020,4 has developed a tool to monitor political and social conversations that are trending in Venezuela. According to ProBox, the chavismo state mainly seeks to fill space on Twitter with messages that show alleged support to the government; that divert attention away from events that could negatively affect the government or favor the political opposition; and that create division within opposition groups. The executive director of ProBox noted that the abundance of messages produced by Maduro-aligned accounts limits the potential for other actors to have an impact through the platform. Through its tools, the observatory has shown that more than 70 percent of the posts associated with civil society groups come from real users, while 60 percent of messages issued by chavismo accounts come from bots.5
In recent years, the government and progovernment actors have flooded the digital sphere with coordinated content from both official and automated accounts, among other tactics.6 In May 2020, for instance, ProBox detected a large number of posts on Twitter with false information originating from the Ministry of Communication and Information. Virtually all the posts had been produced by bots.7
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020 Twitter removed a post by Maduro that had violated its rules against false information related to the coronavirus. In the message, Maduro shared links of alleged investigations into the virus as a bioterrorist weapon, and provided homemade remedies to counter it.8
Fact-checkers have noted that when a specific political event occurs that could reflect poorly on the government, distractive hashtags are amplified; for example, in late February 2020, a trending hashtag about COVID-19 in Venezuela was displaced by one that railed against interim president Guaidó.9 Fact-checkers have also verified the existence of a group of fake news portals that largely seek clicks from users to gain money and post each other’s false articles, contributing to filling the Venezuelan cybersphere with digital garbage.10
According to Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), in January 2020, during the disputed swearing-in of proregime National Assembly member Luis Parra to replace Guaidó as the body’s president, a coordinated campaign to elevate two anti-Guaidó hashtags, #NoQueremosAWaido (We Don’t Want Guaidó) and #HastaNuncaWaido (Until Never Guaidó) were deployed on Twitter. The hashtags appeared to be spread through accounts that “had signs of inauthenticity.” The Twitter campaign was also accompanied by false and misleading information that was published by state media and posted by several foreign and Venezuelan politicians.11
Also in January 2020, Twitter suspended several accounts belonging to public entities and officials, including the central bank, petroleum ministry, army, navy, and national guard. IPYS Venezuela noted that some accounts had been restored while others had created new accounts.12 In September 2019, Twitter suspended Tuiteros Patriotas (@tuiteros_vzla), an account with more than 70,000 followers that was actively used by the communications ministry to amplify progovernment hashtags. Twitter did not elaborate on why it was suspended.13 Observers have noted that to evade Twitter’s detection of inauthentic behavior, progovernment accounts have changed their names and posted at different times.14
Reports from past coverage periods also affirm the state’s widespread efforts in online manipulation. A February 2019 study by the DFRLab showed how the Ministry of Communication and Information led a coordinated operation by setting a “hashtag of the day.” Users registered their Twitter accounts via the app and posted with hashtags promoted by the government. A parent account detected the most active users and transferred money to their digital wallets (see C5).15
In 2017, IPYS Venezuela reported on a plan by the interior ministry to manipulate online conversation between citizens through the use of a “digital army” made up of trolls.16
In response to disinformation efforts, a group of journalists, in alliance with the Communication Research Institute of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) teamed up to create a "verified news" platform. They produce newscasts disseminated via WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram, SoundCloud, and their website.17 Digital media have also created data verification sections such as Cocuyo Check.18 NGOs such as Transparencia Venezuela and Medianálisis have created their own verification units.19
- 1"Networks of Maduro trolls influence trends over the UN Assembly", Fake News Hunters, September 19, 2019, https://cazadoresdefakenews.info/redes-de-trolls-maduristas-influencian…; See also: Maolis Castro, “The virtual troops of the Chavista revolution have their Matrix [Las tropas virtuales de la revolución chavista tienen su Matrix],” ArmandoInfo, January 14, 2018, https://armando.info/Reportajes/Resume/2385; See also: Abril Mejías, “Constituent Tuitometer | The aircraft carrier of grievances [Tuitómetro Constituyente | El portaviones de los agravios],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, August 10, 2017, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2017/08/10/tuitometro-constituyente-portaavio…
- 2Borja Andrino and Jordi Pérez Colomé, “This is how Venezuelan propaganda works on Twitter [Así opera la propaganda venezolana en Twitter]," El País, February 16, 2019, https://elpais.com/tecnologia/2019/02/07/actualidad/1549571078_716504.h…; See also: Digital Forensic Research Lab, “Protests Go Viral in Venezuela,” Medium, January 25, 2019, https://medium.com/dfrlab/protests-go-viral-in-venezuela-28491d3f4a94; See also: “Fake News in Venezuela: laboratories, abuse of power and propaganda ‘in pasticho’ [Fake news en Venezuela: laboratorios, abuso de poder y propaganda ‘en pasticho’],” Medianalisis, February 28, 2018, http://medianalisis.org/fake-news-en-venezuela-laboratorios-abuso-de-po…
- 3Digital Forensic Research Lab "Misleading claim against Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó spread abroad," Medium, Jan 28, 2020, https://medium.com/dfrlab/misleading-claim-against-venezuelas-guaid%C3%…
- 4ProBox, @ProBoxVE, “Somos un observatorio creado por investigadores que estudia los #TrendingTopics posicionados en #Venezuela, especialmente los vinculados al ámbito politico. Analizamos su contenido, procedencia y la influencia de #bots,” March 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/ProBoxVE/status/1238226852407201792
- 5Personal Telephone Interview with Mariví Marín Vásquez, Executive Director of @ProBoxVE, interview on April 7, 2020
- 6Bradshaw, S., & Howard, P. (2017). Troops, Trolls and troublemakers: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation. Digital Forensic Research Lab, “Protests Go Viral in Venezuela,” Medium, January 25, 2019, https://medium.com/dfrlab/protests-go-viral-in-venezuela-28491d3f4a94; See also: Iria Puyosa, “Chavism information war strategies on Twitter,” Observatory of Disinformation and Propaganda in Latin America, September 2018, https://www.counterpart.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/INFORMATION-WAR-…
- 7ProBox, @ProBoxVE, "Until now, the label with the most false messages that we have registered in May comes from the MIPPCI and almost all of its content was produced by bots pretending to be real users. This is one of the ways in which #oficialismo generates #desinformacion," May 27, 2020, https://twitter.com/ProBoxVE/status/1265793916160430080
- 8Ymarú Rojas, “Twitter deletes a message from Maduro in which he points out that the coronavirus is «a bioterrorist weapon» [Twitter elimina un mensaje de Maduro en el que señala que el coronavirus es «un arma bioterrorista»],” March 23, 2020, https://www.abc.es/internacional/abci-coronavirus-twitter-borra-mensaje…
- 9Cazadores de Fake News, @cazamosfakenews, "Last night, at around 11 PM, a mysterious trend was positioned at No. 1 of the Venezuelan TT: #CoronavirusEnVzla. It was a trend that lasted about 3 hours, artificially created for TAPAR the real news of yesterday: the attack on President @jguaido," March 20, 2019, https://twitter.com/caremosfakenews/status/1234078714494885890
- 10“Online Lies: 7 Venezuelan Fake News Portals,” Fake News Hunters, June 11, 2020, https://cazadoresdefakenews.info/7-portales-venezolanos-de-noticias-fal…
- 11"TOP STORY: Inauthentic activity pushed anti-Guaidó hashtags on National Assembly election day," Digital Forensic Research Lab, January 7, 2010, http://go.atlanticcouncil.org/webmail/219312/627199733/3b3ba9be7cd7bcae…
- 12"Internet failures, attacks and censorship violated digital rights in January [Balance Especial IPYSve | Fallas de internet, ataques y censura vulneraron los derechos digitales en enero]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, January 31, 2020, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/balance-especial-ipysve-fallas-de-inte…
- 13"Top story: Twitter suspended a top account in Maduro’s ongoing information," Digital Forensic Research Lab, October 29, 2019, http://go.atlanticcouncil.org/webmail/219312/546644205/3b3ba9be7cd7bcae…
- 14Jackelin Díaz, "The strategies of Maduro bots to evade Twitter policies [Las estrategias de los bots de Maduro para evader las políticas de Twitter]," El Diario, February 21, 2020, https://eldiario.com/2020/02/21/las-estrategias-de-los-bots-de-maduro-p…
- 15Digital Forensic Research Lab, “#InfluenceForSale: Venezuela’s Twitter Propaganda Mill,” Medium, February 3, 2019, https://medium.com/dfrlab/influenceforsale-venezuelas-twitter-propagand….
- 16"Government promotes surveillance in social networks and the dissemination of false news [Gobierno impulse la vigilancia en redes sociales y la diffusion de noticias falsas]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, June 7, 2017, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/gobierno-incentiva-la-vigilancia-redes…
- 17Servicio de Información Pública (website), accessed March 2019, https://serviciodeinformacionpublica.com/; Jasmine Garsd, “Amid Chaos, Venezuelans Struggle To Find The Truth, Online,” NPR, January 26, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/01/26/688868687/amid-chaos-venezuelans-struggl….
- 18Cocuyo Chequea, accessed spring 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/category/cocuyo-chequea/
- 19About Us [Nosotros], EsPaja, https://www.espaja.com/about-us; Venezuelan Fake News Observatory [Observatorio Venezolano de Fake News], accessed spring 2020, https://fakenews.cotejo.info/
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||1.001 3.003|
Digital media face various difficulties in Venezuela, hindered by the cost of equipment, the lack of financing, as well as the exodus of professionals seeking better living conditions abroad. Due to the economic crisis, some specialized digital media, such as Cochino Pop, had to close.1
Independent media do not receive advertising from public entities. Although it is practically impossible to obtain public statements from private companies regarding the pressures they receive, the few companies that still exist in the country are under pressure to refrain from advertising in independent media. Some publishers have said publicly that there is no way to be sustainable in Venezuela, and that “digital media exist thanks to Google Ads."2
Digital media have tried various business and financing models: crowdfunding campaigns, international support, payment gateways, digital advertising, and media alliances.3 According to some editors, though, one of the problems of receiving philanthropic support is that they receive grants in US dollars, necessitating the payment of operating costs through a combination of methods. Employees, for example, can be paid through a mix of PayPal and cash in US dollars and in Venezuelan bolivars. Another problem is that because dollarization has not been formalized, the government can arbitrarily confiscate funding using US currency. Moreover, access to a reliable connectivity service has become extremely difficult because the new dollarized rates comprise a large share of the budget.4
- 1Alejandro Fernandes Riera, "See you soon, Cochino Pop [Hasta pronto, Cochino Pop]," Cochino Pop, February 1, 2019, http://cochinopop.com/noticias/especiales/hasta-pronto-cochino-pop/
- 2PENVenezuela, @PenVenezuela, “Iniciamos nuestro conversatorio #CierranLosMediosAlzamosLaVoz ¡sigue nuestra transmisión!,” video of David Morán, editor of digital outlet La Patilla in a PEN Venezuela’s forum, November 2, 2019, https://twitter.com/PENVenezuela/status/1058367217908084736.
- 3Nilsa Varela Vargas, "In Venezuela, the Rebel Alliance innovates commercially in independent journalism [En Venezuela, la Alianza Rebelde innova comercialmente en el periodismo independiente],” Sembramedia (blog), January 31, 2017, https://www.sembramedia.org/en-venezuela-la-alianza-rebelde-innova-come….
- 4Personal interview conducted on February 11, 2020 in Panama City.
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||2.002 4.004|
Compared to traditional media, the digital sphere presents a relatively more vibrant space for political and social expression, though connectivity problems and recurring blocks hinder access to diverse and independent sources of information online.
An October 2019 survey by Medianálisis reported that 90 percent of the participating journalists that are based in Caracas work in digital media. However, the majority of those surveyed from other regions of the country work in traditional outlets, particularly radio and television.1 The absence of coverage beyond the capital has thus hindered the diversity of online information. El Pitazo, one of the only online outlets with correspondents throughout the country, is very frequently blocked (see B1).
Wikipedia has been used as an independent newspaper. Although it was blocked for one week in January 2019 and was then available during the coverage period, it is very difficult to edit, as many of the volunteers have left the country. Some have been accused of working for foreign governments. Nevertheless, the dozen or so key editors remaining continue to contribute information to articles.2
Newspapers have migrated to the web due to restrictions on printed content, while broadcast media have also forged an online presence. Some long-established media such as El Nacional (which had to discontinue its print edition in December 2018),3 Radio Caracas Radio (which has a digital broadcast), as well as most of the new digital media that have emerged since 2014, maintain an independent editorial line.4
Online news initiatives have also emerged in remote areas. The news portal Tana Tanae, for example, is directed by indigenous Warao journalists. Based in the state of Delta Amacuro, it covers a range of stories relevant to indigenous communities.5 The news site Efecto Cocuyo, meanwhile, is led by a team of women, and covers topics little explored by other outlets, such as gender and sexual diversity.6
The use of VPNs or other anonymization tools, in addition to being unknown to most common users, slow down the already precarious connections. In March 2020, El Pitazo updated its app on Google Play, allowing its content to be download and consumed offline.7 In October 2018, Google launched a new application called Intra, aimed at fighting censorship online, after several months of testing in Venezuela with local reporters.
According to a February 2020 HootSuite report, Venezuela has about 12 million active users on social media, an increase from the previous year.8
Interim President Juan Guaidó said that because of the blocking of platforms and outlets, he had to increase engagement on WhatsApp, “but limited information also means (…) no way of separating fact from fiction. Misinformation has flourished on the app.”9 Venezuelans abroad, usually better informed, also provide information to the Venezuelans inside the country.10
- 1"When journalism is news: aggressions and precarious conditions beset media and journalists," Medianalisis, October 15, 2019, https://www.medianalisis.org/situacion-del-periodismo-en-venezuela-2019/
- 2Stephen Harrision, "Wikipedia Has Been Unblocked in Turkey, Finally," Slate, January 29, 2020, https://slate.com/technology/2020/01/wikipedia-ban-turkey-venezuela-chi…
- 3“The National will stop circulating in its print edition [El Nacional dejará de circular en su edición impresa],” El Nacional, December 13, 2018, http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/mundo/nacional-dejara-circular-edic…
- 4César López Linares, "Independent digital media is helping to regain the trust of people in Venezuela, says journalist Laura Weffer," Journalism in the Americas, February 27, 2019, accessed March 2019, https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-20622-independent-digital-media….
- 5Tane tanae, https://tanetanae.com/mundo-indigena/; See also: Natalie Southwick, “From power cuts to powerful threats, Venezuela’s indigenous journalists face a series of challenges in their reporting,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 13, 2017, https://cpj.org/blog/2017/09/from-power-cuts-to-powerful-threats-venezu…
- 6Efecto Cocuyo, accessed spring 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/tag/mujeres/; See also: Jessica Weiss, “New site Efecto Cocuyo takes on independent reporting in Venezuela,” International Center for Journalists, March 18, 2015, https://ijnet.org/en/story/new-site-efecto-cocuyo-takes-independent-rep…; https://efectococuyo.com/quienes-somos/
- 7El Pitazo app, Google Play, accessed spring 2020, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.elpitazo.app
- 8Simon Kemp, “Digital 2020: Venezuela,” DataReportal, February 18, 2020, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-venezuela
- 9Isayen Herrera, “How Venezuela's vice grip on the internet leaves citizens in the dark during crises,” NBC News, May 16, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-venezuela-s-vice-grip-intern….
- 10“Live con Juan Guaidó (versión completa),” Youtube video, NakyLuisCarlos, Interview to Juan Guaidó by journalist Luis Carlos Díaz via YouTube, April 29, 2019, https://youtu.be/xrnxI7GUE7M; José Peralta, "Between blackouts and censorship, Venezuelans appeal to all their creativity to stay informed," IFEX, July 19, 2019, https://ifex.org/faced-with-blackouts-and-censorship-venezuelans-resort….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Despite limitations to internet access, as the country’s political and economic crisis deepened citizens and opposition leaders actively engaged on digital platforms to express discontent about the government and to make their demands known. An April 2020 report from ProBox found a growth in opposition trends linked to social protest, with grievances stemming from the gasoline shortage, collapse of public services, and high costs for food and medicine.1
On January 15, 2020, the national Teacher’s Day in Venezuela, teachers protested to demand salary increases. The hashtag #15Ene (January 15) served to mobilize people online.2 Similarly, on February 13, journalists, members of civil society, and teachers marched to the ombudsman’s office to protest attacks against the media. The hashtag #13Feb was used on social media.3
The NGO Foro Penal, which provides legal assistance to victims of arbitrary detention and other human rights violations, keeps a list of political prisoners on its website and in recent years has also launched awareness campaigns on Twitter that call attention to people who have been disappeared.4 In March 2020, one year after the arbitrary arrest of journalist and human rights defender Luis Carlos Díaz, the NGO Espacio Público launched the campaign #RedesSinMiedo (Networks without Fear) and #LibertadParaLuisCarlos (Freedom for Luis Carlos) to demand respect for the right to disclose, seek, and receive information through social networks.5
Despite growing restrictions, civil society organizations have continued efforts to raise awareness online and create apps with civic uses. For example, Transparencia Venezuela has developed strategies to collect citizen complaints through a web platform, the app Dilo Aquí (Say it Here), and email.6
Other initiatives have also emerged such as Farmarato, a Twitter account that lists the WhatsApp number of a small pharmacy in Caracas to address the country’s shortage of medicine. In addition to informing people about available medicines and responding to customer queries, Farmarato acts as a medicine collection and distribution channel, facilitating connections between those who need certain medicines and those who have them.7
- 1April report, ProBox (mailing list), accessed April 2020.
- 2Isabella Reimí, “Retired teacher says, “For protesting with a pencil and banners, we were brutally attacked by collectives [“Por protestar con un lápiz y una pancarda fuimos brutalmente agredidor por colectivots,” relata maestra jubilada],” Efecto Cocuyo, January 15, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/la-humanidad/protesta-de-maestros-en-caracas-r…
- 3Provea, @_Provea, “With the so-called “Free journalism, it is a human right” journalists, together with civil society, teachers and organizations, are heading towards the Ombudsman's Office, where they will demand respect for their human rights and integrity after recent violent events #13Feb,” February 13, 2020, https://twitter.com/_Provea/status/1227966487085883397; See also: “Public Space | | Demanding investigation of Aggressors of the Press [Espacio Público | Exigen investigación a los agresores de la prensa],” Provea, February 14, 2020, https://www.derechos.org.ve/actualidad/espacio-publico-exigen-investiga…
- 4Foro Penal, @ForoPenal, “#ATTENTION: TODAY Thursday # 13F at 7:00 pm (CCS time) we will perform a #TUITAZO demanding that #disappeared detainees appear in Venezuela. Attentive to: @ForoPenal and @DefensoresFP Hashtag: #DondeEstanLosDesaparecidos It is important. We count on you.#QueSeHagaJusticia,” February 13, 2010, https://twitter.com/ForoPenal/status/1227984412962324481; See also: Foro Penal, Board of Directors, https://foropenal.com/en/nosotros/
- 5Espacio Público @espaciopublico,“Use your #RedesSinMiedo and publish your opinions, criticisms and information freely. The State has the obligation to protect the expression even if it is uncomfortable, today we demand #LibertyParaLuisCarlos after a year of his release,” March 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/espaciopublico/status/1238283773516681217
- 6“’Dilo aquí’ arraigned for reporting irregularities in the delivery of passports [“Dilo aquí” dispuesto para la denuncia de irregularidades en entrega de pasaportes],” Transparencia Venezuela, https://transparencia.org.ve/dilo-aqui-dispuesto-para-la-denuncia-de-ir….
- 7Arantxa López, “Start from scratch every day [Comenzar de cero todos los días],” Historias que Laten, April 7, 2019, http://www.historiasquelaten.com/comenzar-de-cero-todos-los-dias/; See also: https://twitter.com/Farmarato; See also: Rachel Bierly, “Venezuelands Dying of a Failing Health Care System,” Panoramas, October 10, 2019, https://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/news-and-politics/venezuelans-dying-fail…
Internet users and digital reporters continued to be arbitrarily arrested for sharing critical content online. Significant surveillance occurred throughout the coverage period, including a phishing attack that targeted a platform created by the government opposition to allow health workers to register for assistance. Further, a report emerged that telecommunications companies assist the state in monitoring political opponents. Technical attacks against media outlets appeared to be linked to the armed forces.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||1.001 6.006|
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression,1 the government has passed laws and regulations that curtail this right. Several laws, such as the 2017 anti-hate speech law and the Resorte Law, provide avenues for limiting speech that is deemed to incite hatred, violence, or “anxiety” among the population, including on the internet. Moreover, the prolonged state of exception, in place since 2016, included provisions on countering cyberthreats, authorizing regulations to prevent “destabilization campaigns.”2 Activists and journalists also face charges of defamation under the penal code, which sets out prison sentences for defamation against public officials and the publication of false information.3
Power has increasingly concentrated in the executive, and the judiciary is highly politicized. In June 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the site La Patilla to pay $5 million to Diosdado Cabello, the current, proregime president of the National Constituent Assembly. Cabello had lodged a defamation complaint against the outlet for a 2015 article that linked him to drug traffickers. La Patilla had appealed a lower court’s 2017 order that it pay around $500,000. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that the disproportionate fines imposed on La Patilla constituted an "attempt to bankrupt and shut down a critical outlet” and “is the latest example of how the Venezuelan judicial system is being used to retaliate against critical media.”4
To bring more power to the executive, and acting against the provisions of the constitution, Maduro convened a National Constituent Assembly by presidential decree in May 2017. Installed in August that year and composed exclusively of pro-Maduro supporters, this new de facto legislative body was handed sweeping powers over other state institutions. According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020, which evaluates 128 countries, Venezuela ranks last.5
Legislative proposals signal moves to further broaden surveillance and control over the digital sphere in Venezuela. In January 2019, a leak to the media revealed that the National Constituent Assembly was drafting a bill called "Constitutional Law of the Cyberspace of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."6 The text revealed plans to create a single authority that would determine the “correct use of cyberspace,” perform unlimited surveillance tasks, apply sanctions, and adopt preventive measures against what the government considers to be cyberthreats. As of May 2020, the bill had not been considered by the assembly.7
- 1“Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Art, 56 and 57, http://www.cne.gob.ve/web/normativa_electoral/constitucion/indice.php.
- 2“New state of exception contemplates “forceful regulations” to Internet content [Nuevo estado de excepción contempla “regulaciones contundentes” a los contenidos en Internet],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, May 17, 2017, http://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/nuevo-estado-excepcion-contempla-regula…; See also: “TSJ certifies constitutionality of new extension of the state of economic emergency [TSJ certifica constitucionalidad de nueva prórroga del estado de emergencia económica],” Banca y Negocios, July 24, 2019, http://www.bancaynegocios.com/tsj-certifica-constitucionalidad-de-nueva….
- 3Official Gazette, Criminal Code of Venezuela , Art, 444, October 20, 2000, www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_ven_anexo6.pdf.
- 4Committee to Protect Journalists, "Venezuela's Supreme Court orders La Patilla to pay US$5m in damages to Cabello," June 7, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/06/venezuelas-supreme-court-orders-la-patilla-to-p…
- 5World Justice Project, “The WJP Rule of Law Index 2020 report,” 2020, https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/WJP-ROLI-….
- 6William Peña, “Special ND: Cyberspace Law implements censorship on the Internet and networks [Especial ND: Ley del Ciberespacio implanta censura en Internet y las redes],” Noticiero Digital, January 14, 2019, http://www.noticierodigital.com/2019/01/especial-nd-ley-del-ciberespaci…; See also: “Anteproyecto de Ley Constitucional del Ciberespacio de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela,” January 18, 2019, https://storage.googleapis.com/wzukusers/user-34427704/documents/5c413f….
- 7“Against the Constitutional Law of Cyberspace bill of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Access Now, January 17, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/against-the-constitutional-law-of-cyberspace-….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||0.000 4.004|
The Maduro government has tightened its grip on online speech through a series of restrictive laws establishing criminal penalties for online activities. A vaguely worded anti-hate speech law enacted in 2017 imposes hefty prison sentences of 10 to 20 years for those who incite hatred or violence through any electronic means, including social networks. It also establishes that intermediaries can be fined if they do not remove the messages subject to sanctions within six hours of their dissemination, with amounts ranging between 50,000 and 100,000 tax units.1
The Resorte Law, which was amended by the National Assembly in 2010, also includes vague prohibitions and severe sanctions that grant authorities sweeping discretion to restrict speech. Article 27, for example, forbids messages that promote anxiety among the population, alter public order, disregard legal authorities, or promote the violation of existing laws.2 The law also establishes intermediary liability for content posted by a third-party and requires online media to establish mechanisms to restrict prohibited content. Websites found in violation of these provisions may be heavily fined, and service providers who do not comply risk temporary suspension of operations.3
- 1Official Gazette, Ley constitucional contra el odio, por la convivencia pacífica y la tolerancia, No.41.271, November 8, 2017, accessed spring 2018, http://www.defensoria.gob.ve/images/pdfs/GO41.274_081117.pdf.
- 2“RESORTEME restricts freedom of expression on the internet and electronic media,” Espacio Público, December 10, 2010, http://espaciopublico.ong/ley-resorte-restringe-la-libertad-de-expresio….
- 3National Assembly Venzuela, Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television, reformed, 2010, http://www.leyresorte.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Ley-de-Responsa….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||2.002 6.006|
Though several digital journalists, publishers, and users were released from prison during the coverage period, many others continued to be arbitrarily detained.1
Journalists’ coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic also led to multiple arrests. For instance, María Luisa Arriaga and Marco Aurelio Antonima, both former employees of the private television outlet Venevision, were arrested in June 2020 and charged with incitement to hatred, under the anti-hate law, which establishes penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Both reporters were ultimately released but remain under house arrest ahead of the trial. The arrest came after they, along with two other journalists, were accused of running the Twitter account "@VV_periodistas" which published what were allegedly censorship directives ordered by Venevision’s management. The account was suspended by Twitter in 2012, but similar anonymous accounts had since emerged.2
In April 2020, Eduardo Galindo, editor of the Senderos de Apure news site, was detained after covering the gasoline shortage. His computer and camera were also seized, while his wife and another relative were arrested at the time for refusing to hand over the devices. Galindo, who also heads the state of Apure’s National Journalists’ Union, was charged with the crime of disclosing false information, under Article 296 of the penal code, while his wife and nephew were charged with not complying with the authorities. All three were released within a few days under precautionary measures; Galindo must appear before a court every 8 days, while his relatives must appear every 15 days.3
The home of Darvinson Rojas was raided on March 21, 2020. Rojas was accused of incitement of hatred and public instigation for reporting on the virus and related posts on social media. Rojas’s parents were also detained briefly. After twelve days of detention, Rojas was released.4
In January 2020, after more than 16 months of arbitrary detention, reporter Jesús Medina Ezaine, who has contributed to the website Dólar Today, was released, although he is similarly prevented from leaving the country and is forced to appear weekly before the authorities.5 The charges against him remained in place at the end of the coverage period. Medina had been arrested in August 2018 while accompanying an international journalist on a reporting project in Caracas.6 A Caracas court charged him with criminal association, inciting hate, and money laundering. Medina was taken before a judge in May 2019, who ruled that the reporter would go to trial deprived of liberty for the crimes of criminal association and inciting hate.7 His trial was repeatedly delayed as he remained under detention in a military prison.8
In December 2019, the prosecutor's office, despite lacking convincing evidence, extended the investigation period of journalist, human rights defender, and cyberactivist Luis Carlos Díaz by one year.9 Government officials had accused him of being involved in a plot to create a blackout in March 2019.10 After being detained the same month, he was released on condition that he reports to authorities every week, does not leave the country, and does not speak to the press about his case; his lawyers were also prohibited from speaking to the media.11 He was charged with the crime of “public incitement” which, according to Article 285 of the penal code, carries a sentence of up to six years in prison. Díaz remained under precautionary measures at the end of the coverage period. In March 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had granted its own precautionary measures that compel members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to respond to urgent requests for immediate injunctive actions in serious and urgent cases, to prevent irreparable harm to Díaz and his family.12
Journalist Víctor Ugas was reportedly arrested in December 2019 by the national police’s special action force (FAES) officers, along with opposition legislator Gilbert Caro, to whom Ugas is an assistant. Ugas disappeared for almost a month, and reappeared in January, though Caro’s whereabouts remained unknown as of May 2020. Ugas had previously been arrested in 2014 after posting photos on Twitter of the corpse of a ruling party leader who had been assassinated.13
Also in December 2019, agents who appeared to be from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) raided the digital news agency Venepress. A prosecutor from the public ministry had signed an order to close its offices while the outlet was under investigation. Agents removed staff from the office and reviewed documents, though no arrests were made. Venepress, though, was reportedly put under investigation for money laundering, terrorism, and association to commit a crime.14 They were able to continue operating.
In November 2019, Ana Belén Tovar was arrested during a raid of the media company Venmedios, which shares an office and management with Entorno Inteligente, a news portal that republishes information from other sources. The prosecutor's office charged Tovar, Venmedio’s operations manager, for defaming, offending, and providing false information about the minister of defense and for discrediting the military.15 During the raid, equipment was confiscated and six journalists covering the incident for the digital media sites VPITv and Caraota Digital were also arrested, and released hours later.16 After five months in custody, Tovar was released from detention in May 2020. Authorities prohibited photos from being taken or statements from being made as she left her place of detention, the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence’s headquarters.17
In July 2019, after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited and presented a critical report of Venezuela, the owner of the site Reporte Confidencial, Braulio Jatar, and 21 other prisoners were all released. Jatar had been imprisoned for nine months and then placed under house arrest in May 2017 following a 2016 arrest coinciding with a report about anti-Maduro protests. Despite his release, he is prohibited from leaving his state of Nueva Esparta and must appear in court every 15 days.18
The 2017 anti-hate speech law has been used against critics of government officials. In July 2019, police officers arrested journalist Wilmer Quintana, who had accused the governor of the state of Guárico and the president of the company Alimentos Guárico of corruption in the provision of public services and food. Quintana made these allegations on Facebook and Twitter. As of June 2020, Quintana remained under investigation for inciting or promoting hate, under the anti-hate law, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Following 37 days of detention, he was moved to house arrest after suffering a heart attack while detained. He is also prohibited from speaking to the media.19
Users have also been detained for spreading critical content on social networks. Other users have been arrested for posting videos to social networks showing the lines at gas stations.
In June 2020, for instance, Carlos Ríos and Karelys Betsay were accused of inciting hatred, terrorism, “disqualification of police institutions,” and destructively criticizing the state-created fuel supply system.20
In May 2020, doctor Andreína Urdaneta, who worked in a hospital in Cabimas in the state of Zulia, was arrested after publishing a meme depicting an image of Maduro with a rope around his neck as her WhatsApp status. Her arrest took place without a court order, and a criminal court charged her with incitement to hatred and offending the president.21 After being detained for two weeks, Urdaneta was released on June 9, 2020, and is required to appear before the authorities every 30 days.22
Twitter user Pedro Jaimes Criollo was also released in October 2019, following a request made to the government by the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Jaimes had been detained in May 2018 and held in solitary confinement after facing charges linked to his posts on Twitter about the presidential plane’s route. He was charged in February 2019 with computer espionage and revealing a state secret. His lawyers reported that Jaimes was subjected to cruel treatment and physical torture. However, the case had yet to be dismissed as of June 2020.23
In June 2019, clarinettist Karen Palacios was arrested by military counterintelligence agents after tweeting that she had been denied a contract with the National Philharmonic Orchestra for not supporting the government. She was charged with instigating hatred. After over a month in arbitrary detention she was released with precautionary measures, prohibited from speaking to the media and using online social networks.24
After appearing in a satirical video that circulated on social media, two members of the fire department in Mérida were detained in September 2018. They were accused of inciting hate under the anti-hate speech law, which provides for penalties of up to 20 years in prison. The video mocked Maduro by showing a donkey walking through the fire station, simulating a presidential visit.25 After spending more than a month in jail, they were released but prohibited from leaving the country, publishing on social media, and making public statements. Their charges were changed to crimes of vilification and public instigation against the president, which could lead to sentences of up to six years in prison according to the penal code.26 In June 2019, they were arbitrarily dismissed from their positions by the commander of the state’s fire department,27 and the charges remained in place at the end of the coverage period.
- 1Redes Ayuda, “Repression of freedom of expression during the pandemic [Represión a la libertad de expression durante la pandemia],” Civilis Derechos Humanos, April 17, 2020, https://www.civilisac.org/informes/redesayuda-represion-a-la-libertad-d…; See also: SNTP, “Disinformation Pandemic,” May 2020, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p_LuAxp_TXTp0LGmRsTP7ZSDEtNIGmw-/view; See also: 2019 Report: General situation of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela [El virus de la desinformación. Situación del derecho a la libertad de expression],” Esapcio Público, April 30, 2020, http://espaciopublico.ong/situacion-general-del-derecho-a-la-libertad-d…; See also: “Situation of Journalism in Venezuela [Situación del Periodismo en Venezuela 2019],” Medianálisis, October 2019, https://www.medianalisis.org/category/investigaciones/investigaciones-2…; See also: “Disconnection and censorship | Annual Report on Digital Rights [Desconexión y censura | Reporte Annual Derechos Digitales],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, May 17, 2020, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/17/desconexion-y-censura-reporte-anua…
- 2Committee to Protect Journalists, “Venezuelan journalists charged under anti-hate law, held on house arrest,” June 25, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/06/venezuelan-journalists-charged-under-anti-hate-…
- 3Committee to Protect Journalists, “Venezuelan journalist Eduardo Galindo and family members detained over reporting,” April 17 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/04/venezuelan-journalist-eduardo-galindo-and-famil…; See also: “Journalist Eduardo Galindo was released [Liberan bajo regimen de presentación al periodista Eduardo Galindo],” Tal Cual, April 19, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/liberan-con-regimen-de-presentacion-al-perio…
- 4Paola Nalvarte, Police officers arrest a Venezuelan journalist who reported on the situation of COVID-19 in his country, Knight Center (blog), March 24, 2020. https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-21699-police-officers-arrest-ve…; “DW’s Freedom of Speech Award honors journalists persecuted for coronavirus reporting,” Deutsche Welle, May 3, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/dws-freedom-of-speech-award-honors-journalists-pe…
- 5Committee to Protect Journalists, "Venezuelan photojournalist Jesús Medina released after 16 months in prison," IFEX, January 7, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/01/venezuelan-photojournalist-jesus-medina-release…
- 6“Venezuelan freelance photographer detained, sent to military prison,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 11, 2018, https://www.ifex.org/venezuela/2018/09/11/photographer-medina-ezaine/; "Peruvian journalist tells how they arrested Jesús Medina Ezaine (Video),” [Spanish,] Efecto Cocuyo, August 31, 2018, https://efectococuyo.com/sucesos/periodista-peruana-narra-como-detuvier….
- 7"Venezuela: photojournalist is taken to trial for" instigation and bundling,” VOA, May 22, 2019, https://www.voanoticias.com/a/cpj-y-human-rights-watch-piden-la-liberac…; “CPJ, Human Rights Watch call on Venezuela to release Jesús Medina,” CPJ, May 21, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/05/venezuela-imprisoned-jesus-medina-photojournali…; "Graphic reporter Jesús Medina Ezaine goes to trial," Ipys Venezuela, May 30, 2019, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/reportero-grafico-jesus-medina-ezaine-….
- 8Committee to Protect Journalists, “Venezuelan photojournalist Jesús Medina released after 16 months in prison,” January 7, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/01/venezuelan-photojournalist-jesus-medina-release…
- 9"Luis Carlos Díaz will have a year under unfair investigation [Luis Carlos Díaz tendrá un año más bajo injusta investigación]," Espacio Público, December 9, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/luis-carlos-diaz-tendra-un-ano-mas-bajo-injus…
- 10Con el mazo dando (@ConElMazoDando), “This is how the local right and the rancid gringa right prepared what they called the 'blackout operation', which seeks to collapse the country by sabotaging the operations of the National Electric System, on which most public services depend #8Mar,” Twitter Post, March 8, 2019, https://twitter.com/ConElMazoDando/status/1104089583850012674.
- 11"Luis Carlos Díaz released with precautionary measures,” [Spanish,] Espacio Público, March 13, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/luis-carlos-diaz-excarcelado-con-medidas-caut….
- 12Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, RESOLUCIÓN 17/2019 Medidas cautelares No, 250-19 Luis Carlos Díaz y su núcleo familiar respecto de Venezuela, March 29, 2019, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/pdf/2019/17-19MC250-19-VE.pdf.
- 13"The Chavista dictatorship released the journalist Víctor Ugas after keeping him kidnapped for 28 days [La dictadura chavista excarceló al periodista Víctor Ugas tras mantenerlo secuestrado durante 28 días]," Infobae, January 17, 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2020/01/17/la-dictadura-chavi…; See also: Jesús Yajure, "The tweeter Victor Ugas is released, accused of publishing photo of the body of Deputy Robert Serra [Liberan al tuitero Victor Ugas, acusado por publicar foto del cadaver del diputado Robert Serra]," Runrunes, July 9, 2015, https://runrun.es/nacional/211951/liberan-al-tuitero-victor-ugas-acusad…
- 14"Venezuelan authorities pave the office of the local agency Venepress [Las autoridades venezolanas allanan la redacción de la agencia local Venepress]," EFE, December 18, 2019, https://www.efe.com/efe/america/sociedad/las-autoridades-venezolanas-al…; See also: “SNTP Classified the closure of Venepress and Telecaribe as a new arbitrariness [SNTP catalogó como una nueva arbitrariedad el cierre de Venepress y Telecaribe],” TalCual, December 19, 2019, https://talcualdigital.com/sntp-catalogo-como-una-nueva-arbitrariedad-e…
- 15"Ana Belén Tovar continues unjustly detained [Ana Belén Tovar continúa detenida injustamente]," Espacio Publico, February 5, 2020, http://espaciopublico.ong/ana-belen-tovar-continua-detenida-injustament…
- 16"Dgcim allana Venmedios headquarters and detains press workers [Dgcim Allana sede de Venmedios y detiene a trabajadores de la prensa]," Espacio PúblicoPublico, November 20, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/dgcim-allana-sede-de-venmedios-y-detiene-a-tr…
- 17Ana Belén Tovar: 5 months and 16 days unjustly detained in the DGCIM, Espacio Público, May 20, 2020, http://espaciopublico.ong/ana-belen-tovar-5-meses-y-16-dias-detenida-in…; See also: “Journalist Ana Belén Tovar released after five months in prison [Excarcelan a periodista Ana Belén Tovar tras cinco meses de prisión],” Tal Cual, May 6, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/excarcelan-a-periodista-ana-belen-tovar-tras…
- 18"Journalist Braulio Jatar released 'limited and conditioned’ [Periodista Braulio Jatar en libertad ‘limitada y condicionada’]," Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, July 9, 2019, https://www.sipiapa.org/notas/1213293-periodista-braulio-jatar-libertad…
- 19"House by jail measure is granted to journalist Wilmer Quintana [Otorgan medida de casa por carcel al periodista Wilmer Quintana]," Espacio Público, August 20, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/otorgan-medida-de-casa-por-carcel-al-periodis…; See also: “’Law Against Hate’ in Venezuela Threatens Free Expression in Latin America [‘Ley contra el odio’ en Venezuela amenaza la libre expresion en América Latina],” Espacio PúblicoPublico, November 17, 2017, http://espaciopublico.ong/ley-odio-venezuela-amenaza-la-libre-expresion…
- 20Lidk Rodelo, "PNB arrests a couple for spreading video about irregularities at a gas station [PNB detiene a pareja por difundir video sobre irregularidades en gasolinera]," El Pitazo, June 4, 2020, https://elpitazo.net/sucesos/guatire-pnb-detiene-a-pareja-por-difundir-…
- 21Manuel Tomillo, “Detained doctor in Cabimas for publishing a photo against Maduro on her social networks [Detenida medico en Cabimas por publicar foto contra Meduro en sus redes sociales],” Efecto Cocuyo, May 27, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/sucesos/detenida-medico-en-cabimas-por-publica…
- 22Mayreth Casanova, "A doctor from the Cabimas hospital is released from prison for a "hate crime" [Excarcelan a medico del hospital de Cabimas presa por “crimen de odio”," TalCual, June 10, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/excarcelan-a-medico-del-hospital-de-cabimas-…
- 23“Pedro Jaimes was released after one year and five months of arbitrary detention [Excarcelado Pedro Jaimes tras un año y cinco meses de detención arbitraria]," Espacio Público, October 17, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/excarcelado-pedro-jaimes-tras-detencion-arbit…
- 24"From a tweet to DGCIM: Karen Palacios was arrested for expressing herself on Twitter," Redes Ayuda, July 17, 2019, https://redesayuda.org/2019/07/17/de-un-tuit-al-dgcim-karen-palacios-fu…; See also: Karen Palacios, @KrenClarinet, “First time I open a thread I tell you here that I have approximately 3 months playing Clarinet (1st clarinet) in the National Philharmonic orchestra. Waiting for a three month contract, which they offered me, to then present my audition and be able to stay fixed,” May 26, 2019, https://twitter.com/KrenClarinet/status/1132718886615429121; See also: Oswaldo Avendaño, “Venezuelan Clarinetist imprisoned for denouncing that the Maduro Regime fired her for political reasons Freed,” Infobae, July 17, 2019, https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2019/07/17/liberaron-a-la-cla…
- 25“Dos bomberos venezolanos enfrentan 20 años de cárcel por comparar a Nicolás Maduro con un burro,” El Mundo, September 17, 2018, https://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2018/09/17/5b9f8284468aeb8f548b45a….
- 26"Bomberos merideños son excarcelados con régimen de presentación,” Espacio Público, November 1, 2018, http://espaciopublico.ong/bomberos-meridenos-son-excarcelados-con-regim….
- 27"The ODH-ULA rejects the removal of firefighters accused of making satire [ODH-ULA rechaza destitución de bomberos acusados por hacer sátira]," University Observatory for Human Rights (blog), July 26, 2019, http://www.uladdhh.org.ve/index.php/2019/07/26/el-odh-ula-rechaza-desti…
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution expressly prohibits anonymity. To buy a cell phone, a SIM card, or a USB modem to access mobile broadband, Venezuelan law requires customers to register their personal identification number, address, signature, and fingerprints.1 There are no known government restrictions on encryption technologies or other digital privacy tools.
- 1Gaceta Oficial No, 38.157, Providencia Administrativa Contentiva de las normas Relativas al Requerimiento de Información en el Servicio de Telefonía Móvil, April 1, 2005, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Providencia-Admini….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Although the constitution recognizes principles applicable to the protection of personal data—such as safeguard of honor, privacy, public image, confidentiality, and reputation, as well as access to information—there are no laws or telecommunications regulations dedicated to data protection. There are concerns about the government’s ability to misuse personal data collected for security, welfare services, and public programs. In the absence of personal data protection legislation, the destination, storage, and ultimate purpose of the government’s collection of information remains unknown.1
Government surveillance and counterintelligence activities have increased since 2013, when the government released its 2013–2019 “Plan de la Patria,” which emphasized strengthening national defense among its priorities.2 Given the lack of independent oversight, there are concerns about the ease with which systematic content filtering and surveillance could be implemented. Digital activists have also expressed alarm regarding the government’s growing appetite to invest in intelligence systems and operations.3
A decree issued in October 2013 created the Strategic Center for the Security and Protection of the Fatherland (CESPPA), a special body charged with monitoring and tracking social media and other online information.4 Agents of the National Guard have also reportedly been trained by the Ministry of Information and Communication in the management of social networks for the “implementation of early warnings” in order to “truthfully” inform Venezuelans, and detect threats “to defend our national sovereignty.”5
According to an April 2020 preliminary report by VeSinFiltro, during the previous month the government had launched a phishing attack against the Héroes de la Salud platform, which had been developed by Guaidó’s team to allow health workers to register for economic aid. The attack, assisted by CANTV, directed users to a look-alike website that asked registrants for personal information, including their identity card number, work and home addresses, and images of official documents.6 In addition to jeopardizing users’ privacy, the attack could place registrants in danger of layoffs or other types of retaliation, as the majority of health personnel are employed in the public sector.
Similarly, in early 2019, researchers found that a sophisticated phishing campaign targeted the VoluntariosxVenezuela platform, a site developed by the Venezuelan opposition coalition to register volunteers for the distribution of humanitarian aid. When using CANTV and Movilnet, sophisticated traffic tampering directed users to a look-alike website. Researchers found that the domain was registered with details associated with CONATEL. As a result of this campaign, researchers estimated that “tens of thousands of people submitted their data to the malicious cloned website”—a breach that has raised fears that the government, especially given its history, would use lists of opponents to subject them to political discrimination.7
The government also has means of collecting citizens’ personal data through the implementation of public programs. First introduced in February 2017, the “Carnet de la Patria” (the Fatherland Card), is an electronic identification card used to channel social aid.8 The Carnet collects basic data such as address and date of birth, but also other kinds of personal information such as political party membership.9 The mobile app “VeQR-Somos Venezuela” is associated with the Carnet. To request a public benefit, citizens must scan their card’s Quick Response (QR) code and activate the Global Positioning System (GPS) of their cellphone, potentially allowing the government to track not only their personal data, but their location.10 According to Reuters, the Chinese company ZTE is working within a special unit of CANTV that manages the Carnet’s database.11
As of 2020, the program has advanced to become a comprehensive platform called “Sistema Patria” (Fatherland System).12 Through this system, Venezuelans can register to receive social benefits, regardless of whether they own the Carnet. The system is accessed through a website where census-type, socio-personal, and family information is collected and stored. Once registered with their identity card, users have access to a virtual wallet where they can receive payments, such as pensions.13 On the platform users find a set of surveys about the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP) program; the surveys seek to determine the type of products consumed, among other data.14
This virtual wallet has also been integrated with the country’s biopayment system, a biometric point of sale system that is available in banks and some stores.15 Starting on June 1, 2020, access to subsidized gas prices required the vehicle to be registered in the Sistema Patria system.16 In addition to registering, the biopayment system will help secure the subsidy.17
The Sistema Patria has also been used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, a “stay at home" bonus for self-employed and independent workers was issued to those who had registered through the system.18 Venezuelans were also asked to respond to a survey on the virus, which had reportedly received more than 5 million responses as of mid-March.19
In 2019, the government began implementing Seas Patria, a national system to deliver subsidized food, in conjunction with the Carnet and Sistema Patria.20 In the program, the national militia, part of the armed forces, is tasked with certifying each family head, in accordance with information provided by the Sistema Patria.21 According to the NGO Transparencia Venezuela, there is concern that the program, rather than seeking to mitigate a food shortage, aims to grant more power to the military.22
The Venezuelan government has taken steps other steps to build upon its surveillance capacities. According to human rights organizations, arrests of trade unionists, health workers, journalists, and others for messages—including those related to the pandemic—on platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter, indicate that the government is exercising surveillance in these spaces.23
In late May 2020, the Fake Antenna Detection Project reported that it had found anomalous activity in at least 33 cell antennas in Caracas. These antennas were found near the offices of critical media outlets, human rights organizations, and areas of protest, along with multiple fake antennas on the Colombia-Venezuela border. Although the antennas may suggest configuration problems, they could also indicate the use of cellular surveillance equipment posing as legitimate antennas, known as international mobile subscriber identity–catchers (IMSI–catchers) or Stingrays.24
According to Carlos Guerra, one of the main researchers on the Project, who uses these surveillance devices is impossible to know. Generally, Guerra claims they are used by security forces, sometimes legally in the framework of police investigations, but also secretly to surveil extralegally. Regulations for police and security forces in Venezuela to prevent them from conducting surveillance are almost null. The Project’s study, which observed that the teams operating the equipment are in headquarters of security agencies, led researchers to believe that the antenna can be operated by personnel from these same agencies for intelligence purposes.25
In July 2018, the Ministry of Popular Power for Interior Relations, Justice and Peace launched the Quadrants of Peace (Cuadrantes de Paz) a “mission” (program) to strengthen citizens’ security. The plan is joined to the Ven 911 system, which has video cameras in public spaces to “speed up the response capacity of the police and military agencies” to keep up with the demands of citizen security.26 Also, through an agreement with the Chinese government, a biometric system began to be implemented to strengthen the management of services in the police forces.27
According to the journalist William Peña, who has monitored the implementation of social control measures, the installation of security cameras in certain areas of Caracas continues to progress, though the cameras have not been put into operation. Although the cameras can collect the data, the government “does not have broadband resources to transport it, or data centers prepared to handle that large amount of information." According to Peña, digital social control initiatives, "are stalled by the lack of data transport, which is the bottleneck." 28 However, an April 2020 press release from CANTV indicated that fiber-optic networks were being updated to ensure the operation of Ven 911.29
Reports indicate that the Operational Strategic Command of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (CEOFANB) has a so-called cyberdefense room that monitors campaigns to discredit the military, as well as official statements made against Venezuela and information that could lead to a national crisis. The group also reportedly perpetrates cyberattacks against Venezuelan websites and news sites (see C8) and coordinates with CANTV to block media outlets.30
- 1“Quantifying identities in Latin America” , Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, 2017, https://adcdigital.org.ar/portfolio/cuantificando-identidades-en-americ….
- 2Plataforma de Seguridad Alimantaria y Nutricional, “Plan de la Patria: Segundo plan socialista de desarrollo económico y social de la nación, 2013-2019,” September 28, 2013, https://plataformacelac.org/politica/232.
- 3Juan Alonso, “Government will spend almost 14 billion bolivars on intelligence in 2017 ,” Crónica Uno, March 1, 2017, http://cronica.uno/gobierno-gastara-casi-14-millardos-de-bolivares-en-i….
- 4“CESPPA regulations contain provisions contrary to freedom of expression” ,” IPYS Venezuela, February 25, 2014, https://ipysvenezuela.org/2014/02/25/reglamento-del-cesppa-contiene-dis…; Danny O’Brien, “Venezuela’s Internet Crackdown Escalates into Regional Blackout,” Deeplinks Blog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 20, 2014, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/02/venezuelas-net-crackdown-escalates.
- 5“MINCI instructed state security agents in social media supervision” ,” IPYS Venezuela, April 23, 2015, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/caracas-minci-instruyo-a-agentes-de-se….
- 6“Preliminary Report: Phishing by the Maduro government against the Heroes of Health platform [Informe Preliminar: Phishing del gobierno de Maduro contra plataforma Héroes de la Salud],” Vesinfiltro, April 27, 2020, https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/2020-04-26-phishing_heroes_salud.html
- 7Azpúrua et. al, “Phishing by Venezuelan government puts activists and internet users at risk,” VeSinFiltro, February 15, 2019, ; “REDIRECCÍON DE PORTALES A PÁGINAS FALSAS,” podcast, exitos fm,; Marianne Díaz, “#Venezuela: Cuando el atacante es el gobierno,” Derechos Digitales, February 20, 2019, https://www.derechosdigitales.org/12841/venezuela-cuando-el-atacante-es….
- 8“Homeland Card: The revolutionary apartheid, , Transparencia Venezuela, March 2018, https://transparencia.org.ve/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Carnet-de-la-pa…; Wilson Center, Latin American Program, Food, Technology, and Authoritarianism in Venezuela’s Elections, April 2018, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/penfold_venezuela_elec…; “Venezuela’s Maduro, Clinging to Power, Uses Hunger as an Election Weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/venezuelas-maduro-clinging-to-power-uses-h…; Héctor Antolinz and Maru Morales, "Carnet de la Patria, a rope that binds the population," Crónica Uno, September 28, 2018, http://cronica.uno/carnet-de-la-patria-una-soga-que-amarra-a-la-poblaci….
- 9Marianne Díaz, “The ‘card of the country’ and the insatiable thirst for data from the Venezuelan government,” Acceso Libre, March 3, 2017, accessed March 2017, http://accesolibre.org.ve/index.php/2017/03/03/carnet-la-patria-la-insa….
- 10Katherine Pennacchio, "Company of a Vice-president official behind the Carnet de la Patria app,” Runrun.es, February 15, 2018, http://runrun.es/rr-es-plus/339296/empresa-de-un-funcionario-de-vicepre….
- 11Angus Berwick, "How ZTE helps Venezuela implement social control in the Chinese style," [Spanish,] Reuters, November 14, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/venezuela-zte-es/.
- 12Patria, https://www.patria.org.ve/login
- 13“Retirees and pensioners will receive their pension via the “virtual purse” of the patria system [Jubilados y pensionados recibirán su pension vía “monedero virtual” del Sistema patria],” TalCual, January 6, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/jubilados-y-pensionados-recibiran-su-pension…
- 14Patria, https://www.patria.org.ve/login
- 15Telephone interview with Journalist Margaret López on February 18, 2020; See also: Margaret López, “Biopago is the kingin the new payment system in the public bank [Biopago es el rey en el nuevo sistema de pagos de la banca pública],” Efecto Cocuyo, December 31, 2019, https://efectococuyo.com/economia/biopago-es-el-rey-en-el-nuevo-sistema…; See also: Margaret López, “Sistema Patria enables the payment of electricity and drinking water in bolivars or in petros [Sistema Patria habilita el pago de la electricidad y agua potable en bolívares o en petro],” Efecto Cocuyo, April 17, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/economia/sistema-patria-habilita-el-pago-de-la…; See also: Carlos Aponte, “The card of the motherland: symbol of an illicit clientelism [El carnet de la patria: símbolo de un clientelismo ilícito],” Transparency Venezuela, 2019, https://transparencia.org.ve/project/el-carnet-de-la-patria-simbolo-de-…
- 16Ronny Rodríguez, "To buy gasoline at Bs. 5,000 a liter, you must be in the homeland system [Para comprar gasoline a BS. 5000 el litro se debe estar en el Sistema patria o inscrito en el Intt," Efecto Cocuyo, May 31, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/economia/para-comprar-gasolina-a-bs-5-000-el-l…
- 17Margaret López. "The" Gasoline Wallet "is born in the Patria System for the subsidized price [Nace el “Monedero Gasolina” en el Sistema Patria para el precio subsidiado]," Efecto Cocuyo, June 1, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/economia/nace-el-monedero-gasolina-sistema-pat…
- 18Patria Blog, “Special Bonus #QuédateEnCasa [Bono Especial #QuédateEnCasa],” April 16, 2020, https://blog.patria.org.ve/bono-especial-quedateencasa-abril-2020/
- 19“Maduro announces that he will pay "special coronavirus bonus" [Maduro anuncia qe pagará “bono especial del coronavirus”],” Efecto Cocuyo, March 18, 2020, https://efectococuyo.com/coronavirus/maduro-anuncia-que-pagara-bono-esp…
- 20“Learn about the steps of the Ceas-Patria system for the benefit of the CLAP [Conoce los pasos del Sistema Ceas-Patria para beneficio de los CLAP],” Quedate a Ver, accesed September 16, 2020, https://www.vtv.gob.ve/conoce-pasos-sistema-ceaspatria/
- 21“Subsidized Food Delivery Control System [Sistema de Control de Entrega de Alimentos Subsidiados (Ceas-Patria)],” MercalOficial, November 18, 2019, https://youtu.be/HwFpi70Kfxw
- 22"Seas Patria System: once again the army will distribute scarce food [Sistema Seas Patricia: una vez mas el ejército distribuirá los escasos alimentor]," Transparency Venezuela, July 6, 2019, https://transparencia.org.ve/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Sistema-Seas-Pa…
- 23Sofía Nederr, “Government establishes persecution and surveillance of the internal enemy in social networks [Gobierno afinca persecución y vigilancia del enemigo interno en redes sociales],” Tal Cual, April 9, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/gobierno-afinca-persecucion-y-vigilancia-del…
- 24Fake Antenna Detection Project, https://fadeproject.org/?page_id=1402&lang=es ; See also: Ricardo Balderas and Eduard Martín-Borregón, "Data and cell phone calls, at risk of espionage by false antennas in Latin America [Datos y llamadas de celulares, en riesgo de espionaje por antenas falsas en América Latina]," The Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/es/post-opinion/2020/05/31/datos-y-llama…
- 25Personal interview with Carlos Guerra, Main Researcher, via email on July 4, 2020
- 26Ven 911, @VEN911Oficial), “# SomosVEN911 | We offer you monitoring, through the cameras in the main cities from our video protection rooms, in order to provide immediate response with links to security agencies,”, March 22, 2019, https://twitter.com/VEN911Oficial/status/1109116020499705856.
- 27“Executive created the Great Peace Quadrants Mission”, ,” Government of Venezuela, July 16, 2018, http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/politica/ejecutivo-creo-la-g…; “Visipol installed Biometric System to record police actions”, ,” MPPCI, November 18, 2018, http://www.minci.gob.ve/visipol-instalo-sistema-biometrico-para-registr…; Paul Mozur, Jonah M, Kessel and Melissa Chan, “Made in China, Exported to the World: The Surveillance State,” The New York Times, April 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/24/technology/ecuador-surveillance-came….
- 28Personal interview with William Peña, via telephone on February 13, 2020.
- 29Cantv guarantees connection to the VEN-911 service of Anzoátegui, CANTV (News Blog), April 26, 2020, https://www.cantv.com.ve/sala-de-prensa-cantv/noticias/cantv-garantiza-….
- 30Hernán Lugo, "FANB activated hacker protocols while attacking media portals [FANB active protocolos ante hackers mientras ataca a portales de medios de comunicación]," Crónica Uno, October 5, 2019, https://cronica.uno/fanb-activo-protocolos-ante-hackers-mientras-ataca-…
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||2.002 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to the strict data retention requirements that are in place for mobile providers, opacity around data-sharing requirements, and a report that telecommunications companies play a key role in the government’s surveillance of opponents.
Mandatory data retention requirements are in place for telephone companies, including those providing mobile telephone services. A new administrative ruling issued by CONATEL in October 2017 established that operators must provide collected information to security services upon request, without specifying the need for a judicial order. Data to be collected includes internet protocol (IP) addresses, date and time of connections, geographic locations, and details of calls and text messages sent or received. The regulation also states that to register for a mobile phone, customers must provide data such as email, fingerprints, and a digital photograph taken at the site of the transaction.1
Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former director of SEBIN, now a refugee in the United States, revealed in April 2020 to independent news outlet Tal Cual that telecommunications companies in Venezuela facilitate the state’s surveillance of opponents. One operation, for example, had companies clone phone numbers, intercept emails, and take down webpages. He identified Movistar as one of the companies that has taken such actions. Moreover, the phone numbers of soldiers who had opposed the regime in April 2019 and fled Venezuela were cloned with telecommunications companies’ knowledge. The phone numbers were then used to create fake social media accounts of the soldiers, reach out to other users, and persecute or detain anyone who expressed support.2
Other measures affect companies offering online services such as banking. In August 2018, the government agency that oversees banking operations (SUDEBAN) introduced a measure to restrict access to internet banking to customers outside of Venezuela, allegedly to prevent the purchase-sale of foreign currencies using unauthorized exchange rates. To prevent restrictions on online transfers, Venezuelans who travel abroad must notify the destination and duration of their trip. Banks must report details about the operations that customers undertake from abroad.3
- 1CONATEL, Providencia Administrativa N° 171, Normas relativas a la recopilación o captación de datos personales de los solicitantes de los servicios de telefonía móvil y telefonía fija a través de redes inalámbricas o número no geográfico con servicio de voz nómada, October 2017, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/gaceta-oficial-n-41265-fecha-26-oct-2017-3/; Marianne Díaz, “Sin lugar dónde esconderse: retención de datos de telefonía en Venezuela,” Derechos Digitales, February 15, 2018, https://www.derechosdigitales.org/11932/sin-lugar-donde-esconderse-rete….
- 2“Ex-director of Sebin accuses Movistar of providing information for political persecution [Exdirector del Sebin acusa a Movistar de proveer información para persecu ión política],” TalCual, April 30, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/exdirector-del-sebin-acusa-a-movistar-de-pro…
- 3José Daniel Sequera, "Now Sudeban will allow access to Internet Banking from outside # 6Dic," The Impulse, December 6, 2018, https://www.elimpulso.com/2018/12/06/ahora-sudeban-permitira-el-acceso-…; "Travel notification,” Banco Mercantil, 2009, https://www.mercantilbanco.com/mercprod/content/personas/otros_servicio…; "Public Space rejects blockade of Venezuelan banking operations(os) abroad,” Espacio Público, August 31, 2018, http://espaciopublico.ong/espacio-publico-rechaza-bloqueo-de-operacione….
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||1.001 5.005|
Journalists, including those who work online, face violence, intimidation, threats, and physical attacks from the state, security forces, and civilians, amidst an environment of impunity.1 A 2019 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights relayed that political prisoners face torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in order to “extract information and confessions, intimidate, and punish.”2 According to IPYS Venezuela, from June to October 2019 there were 45 attacks against the media.3 Also during 2019, journalists’ devices, including cameras and mobile phones, were frequently confiscated; information on the devices was deleted by state authorities.4
Journalists covering the proceedings of the National Assembly, the public body not controlled by the government, brave serious risks. The National Guard prevents journalists from entering the National Assembly when legislative debates are scheduled. Outside the Assembly, both soldiers and members of proregime paramilitary groups reportedly harass reporters, including those who work for online outlets.5
Journalists covering National Assembly activities have also been physically assaulted and had their equipment stolen. In January 2020, during the dispute over the presidency of the National Assembly, seven journalists covering the events were assaulted or robbed.6 On February 11, when Juan Guaidó returned to the country after a diplomatic tour, at least 11 members of the media, including digital reporters from outlets like Efecto Cocuyo, El Pitazo, and Punto de Corte, were physically attacked by Maduro supporters at Maiquetía airport, leading to a host of injuries.7 Nurelyin Contreras, from Punto de Corte, was hit by around 30 people, and was even bitten.8
APEX Venezuela, the foreign press association, noted that some of the attacks were carried out by airport workers, who are under the government’s control, as well as other officials.9 Moreover, police officers did not intervene as the journalists were assaulted.10 Following this, press workers, union representatives, and NGOs denounced these violent acts before the Ombudsman and the prosecutor's office, and demanded that the attorney general open an investigation.11 Various organizations such as the Inter-American Press Association and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) condemned the attacks.12 No investigation had been carried out as of June 2020. Foreign observers, such as journalist Anatoly Kurmanaev, understood “the level of coordination of the attacks” and the fact they had been condoned by Venezuelan top officials, as means to achieve their goal “to stop all press coverage of events not sanctioned by the Maduro government.”13
Maduro’s vice minister of international communications directed other attacks at journalists and organizations that denounced the confrontation at Maiquetía airport. Among other claims, Castillo said that the journalists publicly protesting near the Venezuelan attorney general’s office following Guaidó’s arrival (and the ensuing physical escalation between journalists and security forces at the airport) intended to create a “circus and play the victim.”14
Harassment has even extended to relatives of online reporters who have been forced into exile. In December 2019, news portal Armando.info published journalist Roberto Deniz’s investigation of corruption among government officials, Colombian businessmen, and deputies of the National Assembly.15 Relatives of Deniz, who is in exile in Colombia, began to be intimidated by SEBIN officials. Likewise, Deniz was subject to insults and threats through WhatsApp and social networks. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures in favor of Deniz's relatives in Venezuela, concluding that they are at risk of irreparable damage to their rights.16 The homes of journalists in exile, sometimes rented out, have also been raided by military personnel.17
- 1"Violence against journalists is imposed without punishment in Venezuela [Violencia contra periodistas se impone sin castigo en Venezuela]," Espacio Público, November 2, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/violencia-contra-periodistas-se-impone-sin-ca…
- 2Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2020 – Venezuela,” 2020, https://freedomhouse.org/country/venezuela/freedom-world/2020
- 3"Periodistas y medios en la mira: las agresiones físicas han sido el patrón más común en 2019 [Periodistas y medios en la mira: las agresiones físicas han sido el patrón más común en 2019]," Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, November 16, 2019, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/balance-especial-ipysve-periodistas-y-…
- 4“Chronology 2019, Freedom of Expression in Venezuela [Cronología 2019 – Libertad de Expresión en Venezuela],” Public Space, April 29, 2020, http://espaciopublico.ong/cronologia-2019-libertad-de-expresion-en-vene…
- 5Committee to Protect Journalists, “Soldiers block press access to Venezuelan parliament," June 25, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/06/soldiers-block-press-access-to-venezuelan-parli…
- 6"They beat and rob journalists who covered the session of the Parliament of Venezuela [Golpean y roban a periodistas que cubrían session del Parlamento de Venezuela]," El Nuevo Herald, January 7, 2020, https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/venezuela-e…
- 7"At least 12 journalists were attacked by Chavismo supporters in Maiquetía [Al menos 12 periodistas fueron agredidos por simpatizantes del chavismo en Maiquetía]," Espacio Público, February 12, 2020, http://espaciopublico.ong/al-menos-12-periodistas-fueron-agredidos-por-…; See also: Committee to Protect Journalists, “Pro-government groups attack reporters covering Juan Guaidó’s return to Venezuela,” February 13, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/02/pro-government-groups-attack-reporters-covering…; See also: Julie Turkewitz, “Celebrated Abroad, Juan Guaidó Faces Critical Test in Venezuela,” February 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/world/americas/venezuela-guaido-retu…; See also: Espacio Público, @espaciopublico, “#DenunciaEP | Agreden a varios periodistas mientras havían cobertura de la llegada del presente de la @asambleave, @jguaido, este martes #11Feb en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Maiquetía, #Vargas,” February 11, 2020, https://twitter.com/espaciopublico/status/1227364130094448640
- 8David Arguello, @davidrarguello, "I went to the airport to receive the president and I saw about 30 men and women punching Nurelyin with a clenched fist. By the time they released her, she was still for a few seconds. I thought she was dead. I will tell my experience from Tuesday, February 11, 2020. HILO," February 13, 2010, https://twitter.com/davidrarguello/status/1228132639778988037; See also: “In the presence of police forces, aggressors attacked journalists in Maiquetía [En presencia de cuerpos policias agredieron a periodistas en Maiquetía],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, February 13, 2020, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/alerta-ipysve-en-presencia-de-cuerpos-…
- 9Association of the foreign press in Venezuela, "APEX: Alarm against increased physical and verbal violence against press workers in Venezuela [Alarma ante incremento de violencia física y verbal contra los trabajadores de la prensa en Venezuela]," February 13, 2020, http://apexven.org/apex-alarma-ante-incremento-de-violencia-fisica-y-ve…
- 10“In the presence of police forces, aggressors attacked journalists in Maiquetía [En presencia de cuerpos policias agredieron a periodistas en Maiquetía],” Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela, February 13, 2020, https://ipysvenezuela.org/alerta/alerta-ipysve-en-presencia-de-cuerpos-…
- 11Naky Soto, "Violence against the press grows [Crece la violencia contra la prensa]," TalCual, February 14, 2020, https://talcualdigital.com/crece-la-violencia-contra-la-prensa-por-naky…
- 12"IAPA condemns aggression against Venezuelan journalists [La SIP condena agresión contra periodistas venezlanos]," Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, February 12, 2020, https://www.sipiapa.org/notas/1213681-la-sip-condena-agresion-contra-pe…; See also: Committee to Project Journalists, “Pro-government groups attack reporters covering Juan Guaidó’s return to Venezuela,” February 13, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/02/pro-government-groups-attack-reporters-covering…
- 13Anatoly Kurmanaev, @AKurmanaev, "The level of coordination of the attacks and their subsequent condoning by Venezuelan top officials makes it hard not to conclude that their goal is to stop all press coverage of events not sanctioned by the Maduro government," Quote Tweet of an @ApexVenezuela Tweet, February 13, 2020, https://twitter.com/AKurmanaev/status/1227981946740969478
- 14William Castillo, @planwac, “The "sticks" are in the journalist's note @EstherYez and from there they go to the head of their readers. As an instrument of manipulation, commercial journalism has -among other functions- that of creating an "INVENTED REALITY" as the structuralists used to say,” February 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/planwac/status/1227603551880388608
- 15Roberto Deniz, "Do you need to wash your reputation? Congress Members are rented for that purpose [Necesita lavar su reputación? Se alquilan diputados para tal fin]," ArmnadoInfo, December 1, 2019. https://armando.info/Reportajes/Details/2614; See also: Will Fitzgibbon, “’It is not the time to shut up’: Venezuelan journalists remain in exile as press freedom attacks continue,” International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, August 28, 2020, https://www.icij.org/blog/2018/08/it-is-not-the-time-to-shut-up-venezue…
- 16IACHR Resolution 14/2020 Precautionary Measure No. 1205-19 Relatives of journalist Roberto Deniz Machin regarding Venezuela, February 5, 2020, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/pdf/2020/14-20MC1205-19-VE.pdf
- 17“Journalist Sergio Novelli denounces that Dgcim raided his house in Venezuela [Periodista Sergio Novelli denuncia que la Dgcim allanó su casa en Venezuela],” El Pitazo, April 16, 2020, https://elpitazo.net/sucesos/periodista-sergio-novelli-denuncia-que-la-…
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||0.000 3.003|
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to strong suspicion that the state is behind technical attacks targeting online media outlets; an October 2019 report suggested that the attacks were linked to the armed forces, which are closely aligned with the government.
Technical attacks often target digital media outlets and human rights organizations, and there is strong suspicion that the state is behind them.
Digital media sites including Crónica.uno, Noticiero Digital, CNVE24, and El Pitazo have been victims of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. According to an October 2019 report, the armed forces are likely behind the attacks, through coordination between CANTV and the Cyber Defense Room of CEOFANB. Websites belonging to news site CNVE24 received over one thousand attacks for more than 12 hours in September 2019, while El Pitazo was offline for several hours after a DDoS attack in July.1
Other media outlets have had their social media accounts hacked. In January 2020, the Instagram account of newspaper Tal Cual was hacked by unknown “professionals.” The newspaper deactivated its account for a short period, before resuming its operation.2
Human rights organizations have also been victims of technical attacks. In June 2019, members of PROMEDEHUM, an organization that assists victims of human rights violations, experienced several hacking attempts into their social media and email accounts through requests to verify password changes. It was determined to be an orchestrated attack, though the perpetrator is unknown.3
The Special Law against Computer Crimes, in force since 2001, has provisions that penalize these cyberattacks, however, they have not been applied.4
- 1Hernán Lugo, "FANB activated hacker protocols while attacking media portals [FANB acticó protocolos ante hackers mientras ataca a portales de medios de comunicación]," Crónica Uno, October 5, 2019, https://cronica.uno/fanb-activo-protocolos-ante-hackers-mientras-ataca-…
- 2"Attack on freedom of expression! Instagram account of Tal Tal media was hacked", CNV24, January 6, 2020, accessed spring 2020, https://cnve24.com.ve/220364/
- 3"Venezuela: cyber attacks against human rights organization PROMEDEHUM [Venezuela: ataques cibernéticos contra organización de derechos humanos PROMEDEHUM]," Espacio Público, June 25, 2019, http://espaciopublico.ong/venezuela-ataques-ciberneticos-contra-organiz…; See also: From February 18, 2020, the CEV’s site (cev.org.ve) has remained unreachable
- 4CONATEL, Ley Especial contra los Delitos Informáticos, October 30, 2001, http://www.conatel.gob.ve/ley-especial-contra-los-delitos-informaticos-….
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score15 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score30 100 not free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free