Venezuelan Citizens React Against State Censorship

Many major news outlets have been covering the political crisis in Venezuela for quite some time, following President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to change the Venezuelan constitution through an elected constituent assembly. Many in the opposition interpret this as a power grab — an attempt to change Venezuelan law to give the president more power.

However, the Maduro government is making it increasingly difficult for foreign news services to report in Venezuela.

The decline of press freedom in Venezuela has been an ongoing issue since Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, and now continues under Maduro.

AP reporter Hannah Dreier wrote about the decline of press freedom in Venezuela, covering the decline since Chavez.

“I came to Caracas as a correspondent for The Associated Press in 2014, just in time to witness the country’s accelerating descent into a humanitarian catastrophe,” Dreier wrote.

Dreier notes the increasingly poor treatment she received as a journalist in Venezuela as time progressed, even recalling an experience in which she was detained by Venezuelan secret police and accused of being an American spy.

According to Freedom House, press freedom in Venezuela has been on the decline for years. The organization even downgraded Venezuela’s ranking from “partly free” to “not free” in the early 2000s.

In Freedom House’s 2010 report on speech law, they pointed to several Venezuelan laws–such as Article 147 and 148 from the Venezuelan penal code–that make it criminal to criticize the majority of the Venezuelan governmental officials. This has had a chilling effect on non-state controlled journalism in Venezuela.  

Due to the rise of state censorship under both Chavez and Maduro, Venezuelans have been using alternative methods to gain news from outside state sources.

Facebook pages such as SOS Venezuela or VLAC have been providing a way for Venezuelans both in Venezuela and abroad to obtain constant updates to the situation in the country.

Both groups use a combination of news articles, live reporting, and linking to other news sources to inform their followers on the situation. The groups also report on foreign organizations performing action against the Venezuelan regime, such as Marco Rubio trying to gain support in the United States to punish the Maduro regime.

Along with Facebook groups, Venezuelan citizens have been using other social media apps to report on and criticize the Maduro regime.

According to the Caracas Chronicles, Venezuelans have been using WhatsApp as a way to get around the state control and censorship of news. The messaging app has been used as a hub of political speculation and for communication about vital things including the transport of water.

During times of mass internet censorship, WhatsApp has become a means to stay updated–and even when it fails, Venezuelans go to Telegram, a Whatsapp competitor.

Venezuelans have also been using social media to report on government corruption themselves.

EV News states that Venezuelans have been performing “escrache,” or a political demonstration calling out those who are acting above the law, to expose acts of corruption in public. For example, while in Switzerland, the Venezuelan ambassador was insulted by a Venezuelan women who stated that while he was living well, his countrymen had nothing to eat.

This “escrache” ranges from rebuking former Venezuelan government officials to sudden protests occurring against prominent individuals. Venezuelans have devoted the hashtag #escrache on Twitter and Instagram to exposing the country’s corruption and posting images of government officials living extravagantly, or relatives of officials spending time outside of the country.

While press freedom spirals, Venezuelan citizens have been pushed to find alternative sources of news through social media and citizen journalism.

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