Venezuela Weekly: Information and Control

A slew of articles and reports over the past week look at myriad threats to the freedom of expression in Venezuela. The Maduro government is undermining free communication of information, inappropriately collecting information, and using information to intimidate, harass or threaten people.

  • Transparency Venezuela led an investigation into the “financial asphyxiation” of the media in Venezuela. They found that of the 47 newspapers in their sample, only 24 still circulate in paper form, twelve continue online, and 11 have closed. There is a set of policies behind this: “a discretional legal system that permits authorities to open administrative and penal processes with disproportionate penalties against media, managers, owners and journalists, in addition to institutionalized exchange control that excludes from its priorities the needs of print media, not because of some inexplicable forgetfulness but as a deliberate policy.”
  • Freedom House published a major global report on “The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism” that looks at how undemocratic countries are using the internet for disinformation and propaganda, at the same time that they restrict freedom of digital expression. In its chapter on Venezuela, Freedom House focused on: deterioration of internet service and obstacles to access, blocked news sites, cyber attacks, surveillance, arbitrary arrests of media workers and users, as well as the anti-hate law (on the latter see below).
  • A Reuters special report looks at how Chinese telecom company ZTE has been helping the Maduro government build a system to collect information and monitor citizen behavior using the electronic “Fatherland Card.” The latter is needed to access government programs such as subsidized health, food and other goods. With the card the government can keep track of use of government programs, membership in political parties, social media activity as well as whether a person voted. Government officials also frequently suggest they can know how people voted and not just whether. This is false but undermines people’s belief in the secrecy of the vote.
  • The Maduro government does not just use digital tools, it also collects information the old-fashioned way. It is articulating something called the Network of Socio-political Articulation and Action (RAAS) which seeks to create neighborhood level organizations that will identify the political tendencies of inhabitants and “detect where there are foci of destabilization so that we can confront them and all of the obstacles that we know the enemy is putting in place.” One stated goal is to help the people identify their “historic enemy” which is presumably the United States (see introductory video here).
  • November 8 was the first anniversary of the Constitutional Law against Hate and for Peace and Tolerance, which was decreed by the National Constituent Assembly in 2017. There have been nine incidents and fifteen people accused of violating this law in its first year. The law carries penalties of between 10 – 20 years in jail for those who “incite hate.”
  • Freedom of expression NGO Espacio Público has information on at least 55 public sector employees who have been arrested, threatened or harassed for protesting workplace and salary issues.

Migration

  • Some commentators are pointing out with respect to Venezuelan migrants what has long been accepted as fact among social scientists: host countries can reap significant benefits from robust immigration. The World Bank’s Vice President for Latin American and the Caribbean Jorge Familiar said that while Venezuelan migration is generating costs in the short run for Colombia, after it could stimulate growth. Mateo Arana Brando of the Observatorio de Venezuela a the Universidad del Rosario wrote that Venezuelan immigration could be an answer to the aging of the Colombian population.
  • Ecuador seeks to develop an integrated plan to address the needs of Venezuelan migrants and coordinate the work of national and international agencies.
  • The mayor’s office of Bogota relocated 300 Venezuelans that had been camped out near the bus terminal, to a camp on a soccer field in Engativa, to the West of the capital.
  • The US House of Representatives, soon to be controlled by the Democrats could try to extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan migrants.

Money and Politics

  • Acting Attorney General Tarek William Saab issued 70 arrest warrants against people involved in illegal remittances in an initiative called Operation Paper Hands. He said they had detected exchange houses abroad that receive dollars and transfer Bolivares at the parallel rate. This illegal practice, he said, contributes to speculation, inflation and had done $150-200 million of damage to the nation. 2144 Venezuelan bank accounts have been frozen.
  • Venezuela is trying to repatriate approximately $550 million of gold from the Bank of England, to shore up their precarious foreign reserves. The Bank of England has asked Venezuela to clarify what it plans to do with it. In any case, it may be difficult for the Venezuelan government to sell, given new US sanctions.

Opposition

  • Venezuela’s National Assembly passed a declaration calling Nicolas Maduro’s second term unconstitutional and demanding new elections. They also passed an “Accord to Advance a Political Solution” which included language on “reconciliation without vengeance.”
  • A group of deputies in Venezuela’s National Assembly has begun to put together a document that seeks to lay the groundwork for a “National Unity Movement.” It would be focused on the idea of defending the Constitution. This would be the common denominator of resisting the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro’s second term on January 10, and a probable future battle over the National Constituent Assembly’s efforts to pass and put into effect a new constitution.

The goal of Venezuela Weekly is to provide a news digest that is brief yet highlights concrete information. As such most of our links will be to local and regional Spanish-language press. English-language links will be highlighted in bold.

Did I miss something important or get something wrong? Let me know at [email protected]