REEDOM ON THE
2013, on Internet Day, a group of activists launched a petition entitled “For a Better Internet for
Everyone in Venezuela” through Change.org. To date the document has been signed by
approximately 1,200 people.
Substantial interruptions of telecommunication services, such as the fall of the entire .ve internet
domain, have begun to occur, however, Venezuelan authorities have not been forthcoming
regarding the root of the problem.
CANTV’s slow progress increasing Mbps (and consequently
internet speed) for fixed lines has elevated mobile internet to the point that it is now poised to take
half the market,
yet while there are approximately 30 telecommunications operators in the
country, only three provide mobile phone services. Movistar, the Venezuelan unit of Spain’s
Telefónica, has nearly 10 million subscribers; Digitel, a locally owned private company, has
approximately 4 million subscribers; and CANTV’s Movilnet, which leads the market, has 15.5
million subscribers out of a total of 29 million.
A recent CANTV initiative, “Buy Made in
Venezuela,” which aims to give preference to locally produced cell phones manufactured by Vtelca
and Orinoquia in partnership with the Chinese firms ZTE and Huawei, has resulted in decreased
Local manufacturers cannot satisfy national demand, and the state’s blocking of
foreign currency has made it difficult to import mobile phones from foreign manufacturers.
manufacturers cannot satisfy national demand, and the state’s blocking of foreign currency has
made it difficult to import mobile phones from foreign manufacturers.
These two factors have
resulted in price speculation as well as a shortage of cell phones within the country.
The networks run by private mobile phone service providers suffer from severe congestion and
require further development. Discriminatory currency controls, however, have forced these
providers to ration their services and to decrease investment in infrastructure.
and MovilMax (a WiMAX provider only available in the nation's capital city) plan to deploy
4G/LTE networks in 2013 and 2014.
Public universities, such as the Universidad de Los Andes,
which were once leaders in the telecommunications field, have witnessed the deterioration of their
of the most expensive and slowest in the world. See: BBC Mundo online, “Como un Pais Desaparece de Internet,” [How a
Country’s Internet Disappears] May 2012, http://bbc.in/KEy5NO.
Espacio Público A.C., “Por un Internet de Calidad Para Todos en Venezuela” [For a Better Internet For Everyone in Venezuela],
Change.org, May 17, 2013, https://www.change.org/es‐LA/peticiones/internet‐de‐calidad‐para‐todos‐en‐venezuela.
Notitarde, “Falla en el Sistema ‘nic.ve’ Mantiene Sin Servicio a Todos los Dominios ‘.ve’” [System Failure nic.ve Remains
Without Service] May 28 2012, http://bit.ly/19ehDgg.
Víctor Suárez, “La Vergüenza de Estar Siempre en el Mismo Lugar, o Más Atrás: Estado de Internet en Venezuela” [The
Shame of Being Always in The Same Place, or Further Back: State of the Internet in Venezuela], Inside Telecom, August 15,
Inside Telecom, “Los Tres Potentes Liderazgos de Cantv” [The Three Powerfu l Leaders of Cantv], Inside Teleocm online,
November 1, 2012, http://m.insidetele.com/index.php?article_id=‐5703104260882784216.
Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela, “Menéndez: Distribuidos 328 Mil Equipos Celulares de Fabricación Nacional”
[Menendez: Distributed 328,000 Domestically Manufactured Cell Phones], MCTI, August 2011, http://bit.ly/16TO4AL.
Rojas, Ingrid, “Falta de Divisas Limitó Importación de Celulares en el Año 2012,” [Lack of Cellular Import of Limited Currency
in 2012], El Mundo, Economía y Negocios online, January 2, 2013, http://bit.ly/12Wos6J.
Rojas, Ingrid, “Falta de Divisas Limitó Importación de Celulares en el Año 2012.”
Inside Telecom, Vol. XIII No. 41, November 10, 2012 (newsletter; not available online).
In 2013, most Internet plans were not available for new activations. Inter, which offers a 10MB navigation plan, is also closed
for new activations at high speed and currently offers only 1MB. Websites of the three companies, accessed January 10, 2013:
http://bit.ly/19NJUeJ; http://bit.ly/qlCVIQ; http://www.digitel.com.ve/Personas/Internet/Prepago.aspx#1.
Budde.com, Venezuela ‐ Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts, Accessed January 7, 2013, http://bit.ly/1dPLzoe.
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REEDOM ON THE
service platforms due to lack of state resources.
In May 2013, the Ministry of Higher Education
announced it would reduce broadband service provided to universities due to alleged
In addition to acting as the dominant service provider through CANTV, the state also administers
ICT regulation and licensing through the state regulatory body CONATEL. Although incidents of
CANTV engaging in censorship and monitoring have been isolated and have not suggested more
systematic controls, the lack of independent oversight has raised concerns about the ease with
which systematic content filtering and surveillance could be implemented in the future.
of the Organic Law of Telecommunications provides for CONATEL’s operational and
administrative autonomy, however, the president has the power to appoint and remove the
agency’s director and the four members of its Directive Council. A series of presidential decrees
over the past decade has shifted oversight of the commission to various ministries and finally to the
a progression to centralized control that has increased the agency’s politicization.
In 2012, CONATEL continued to demonstrate progovernment bias in decisions related to
broadcast media, although it has not yet made comparable judgments affecting internet or mobile
Although Venezuelan authorities do not engage in systematic filtering of online content, they have
sporadically used blocking, service disruptions, and other censorship tactics to restrict information
at sensitive times. In 2012 and 2013, this was particularly evident in advance of presidential
elections and as Chavez’s health worsened, when several independent websites were either blocked
or experienced disabling cyberattacks. During the April 2013 Presidential election, CANTV shut
down broadband service for approximately 30 minutes, leaving 95 percent of Venezuelans
disconnected from the internet at a crucial time. Pro-opposition and independent news websites
were also temporarily blocked or disabled in Venezuela, and the website of the country’s National
Electoral Council was temporarily unavailable from both inside and outside of the country. Such
restriction of information during pivotal times is a concerning development.
The sites of international news sources and human rights organizations such as Freedom House,
Reporters Without Borders, and Amnesty International are freely available in Venezuela. Social
media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are also freely accessible and are
Nelson Espinoza, “Solventada Falla de la Red Teleinformática de la ULA” [ULA Solved Its Network Failure], Prensa ULA,
January 10, 2013, http://uvero.adm.ula.ve/prensa/index.php/solventada‐falla‐de‐la‐red‐teleinformatica‐de‐la‐ula/.
Urribarrí, Raisa, “El Cenit Reducirá el Ancho de Banda a las Universidades Venezolanas” [Government will reduce bandwidth
toVenezuelan universities], Periodismo en Línea online, May 10, 2013, http://bit.ly/179du1z.
Ryan Gallager, “Report: Silicon Valley Internet Surveillance Gear Use by Authoritarian Regimes,” Slate, Jan 16, 2013.
Andrés Cañizález, “Conatel, La Joya de la Corona,” [Conatel: The Jewel in the Crown], Tal Cual Digital, August 9, 2010,
Jesús Urbina, “Las Mordazas Invisibles: Nuevas y Viejas Barreras a la Diversidad en la Radiodifusion” [Invisible Jaws: New and
Old Barriers to Diversity in Broadcasting], http://legislaciones.amarc.org/mordazas/VEN_pais.htm.
REEDOM ON THE
growing in popularity.
Despite the availability of human rights websites and social media
networks, however, Venezuela’s history of blocking key sites and interrupting internet service
during times of heightened political sensitivity has continued over the past year. During the 2012
presidential campaign, for example, CANTV blocked the official website of the main opposition
candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonsky.
On the day of the election, weekly newspaper 6to poder
(Sixth Power) also reported the blocking of its website during the final count of votes.
Continuous cyberattacks and hackings, which rendered websites temporarily inaccessible, also
plagued a number of independent news sites during both the 2012 and 2013 elections. Problems
accessing the website of Noticiero Digital (Digital News) were reported during the 2012 election. In
the same period, the news channel Globovisión registered a general failure of its servers without
explanation and the informational website La Patilla (The Watermelon), the thirteenth most visited
site in the country, suffered continuous cyberattacks, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to
The government has not offered any explanation for these attacks, blockings, and site disruptions, a
problem compounded by the political situation in Venezuela in which there are no established
checks and balances between the different branches of the state. Although the judiciary lacks
independence, there have been no reports of judicially imposed censorship; instead, suppression
comes from sporadic blocking and disruptions. In this context, there is no transparent process or
independent institution through which website owners and content producers can pursue
Despite such continuing opacity regarding the availability of independent websites, the government
has recently been forthcoming about two particular disruptions. During the highly contested
presidential election of April 2013 (which would mark the country’s first new leader in 14 years),
broadband service offered by the national telephone company CANTV, the largest operator in the
country, was shut down for approximately 30 minutes. Access to the webpage of the National
Electoral Council was likewise unavailable to all CANTV subscribers, leaving 95 percent of those
with internet access unable to track election results. Vice President Jorge Arreaza, who also held
the post of Minister of Science and Technology until April 2013, informed the public that the
service disruption was orchestrated by the government as part of an operation to identify those
responsible for hacking into the Twitter accounts of interim and current president, Nicolas
Maduro, as well as Chief of Press of the Government Palace, Teresa Maniglia.
announced that the website of the National Electoral Council would remain inaccessible from
outside the country to prevent further attack.
Such a move also prevented the international
Alexa, “Top Sites in Venezuela,” Accessed January 10, 2013, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/VE.
El Universal, “Denuncian que CANTV Bloqueó Acceso a la Página Web Hay un Camino,”
[Complaints that CANTV Blocked Access to Website ‘There is a Way’] El Universal online, August 14, 2012, http://bit.ly/O8im8N.
Ratings from Alexa, Accessed January 4, 2013, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/VE.
Editor DJ el Dom, “Jorge Arreaza Pide Calma por Caída del Internet: Fue para Evitar Hackeos.” [Jorge Arreaza Calls for Calm: It
Was to Prevent Hacking], Informe 21 online, April 14, 2013, http://bit.ly/ZjyI83.
Alba Ciudad Radio, “Jorge Arreaza: Suspensión Momentánea de Internet se Hizo para Proteger a la Página Web del CNE de
Ataques” [Jorge Arreaza: Momentary Internet Suspension was Made to Protect CNE Website Attacks], in video format, April 14,
REEDOM ON THE
community from attaining a real-time perspective on the election, which was of great international
In December 2010, the National Assembly adopted a reform of the 2004 Law of Social
Responsibility in Radio and Television (The Resorte Law), extending regulation to online and
a move that has laid the groundwork for censorship of transmitted content by
websites and service providers. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, under the
amended law, online media outlets are expected to establish mechanisms to restrict content that
violates the law. Websites found in violation may be fined up to VEF 13,000 ($3,000). Service
providers who do not respond to government inquiries risk high fines and temporary suspension of
Despite these increasing restrictions, authorities have not vigorously enforced the law,
and online content providers do not appear to be engaging in politically motivated deletions of user
Venezuelans are avid users of digital media, which has emerged as an important platform for
circulating information and expressing opinions at a time when independent television and radio
stations have come under increased pressure.
Venezuela has approximately three million
registered Twitter users, occupying the thirteenth place in the world and the fourth place in Latin
Rather than engaging in significant censorship, the government is making substantial use
of social media platforms to propagate its point of view and counter political opposition. The
Socialist Party proactively disseminates its views and counters opponents through pro-Chávez
platforms, such as the website Apporrea.org, launched in 2002, and the Twitter feed
“@RedVergataria,” launched in 2011 with the support of CANTV’s Movilnet and the Ministry of
Popular Power for Science and Technology.
This trend has intensified over the past year as a consequence of the president’s prolonged illness
and absence from the country, and his subsequent death.
During the first weeks of 2013, in the
absence of independent medical reports on the president’s health, use of Twitter was particularly
intense. Although there have not yet been notable instances of the opposition utilizing social media
for mobilization—even during the January 2013 swearing in of President Hugo Chavez in absentia,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela, “Ley de Responsabilidad Social en Radio, Television y Medios Electronicos,” [The Law of
Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media] Scribd, accessed January 19, 2013,
ifex, “CPJ Condemns Two Media Laws,” December 22, 2010, http://bit.ly/15CluUe.
“Globovisión Supera los 2 Millones de Seguidores en Twitter, Líder entre los Medios Venezolanos en la Red, [Globovision
Exceeds 2 Million Followers on Twitter], Globovision, January 15, 2013, http://bit.ly/Uoj6Nh.
Marjuli Matheus, “Venezuela es el 13º País Más Activo en Twitter,” [Venezuela is the 13th Most Active Country on Twitter]
Últimas Noticias online, January 7, 2013, http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/movil/noticia.aspx?idnota=119935.
Government of Hugo Chávez, Red Vergataria (blog), accessed January 14, 2013, http://www.redvergataria.com/; See also: (1)
Rachel Glickhouse, Explainer: Twitter in Latin America, Americas Society/Council of the Americas, January 18, 2013.
http://bit.ly/YdKylj; (2) Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Digital Policy Council’s World Leaders on Twitter Ranking
Report, December 2012, http://bit.ly/TFkEBS; (3) Anais Lucena, “Lanzamiento de Red Social “Vergataria” en Twitter se Efectuó
desde el Zulia” [Launch of Social Networking ‘Vergataria’ on Twitter was Made from Zulia State], Radio Mundial, October, 27,
2011, http://bit.ly/uJFZ1J; (4) Patria Grande, “Colectivos de Telecomunicaciones Lanzan @redvergataria para Organizacion
Politica” [Collective @redvergataria Telecommunications to Throw Political Organization] October 10, 2011,
Comment on the Twitter page of a political journalist: "Until recently in the social networks majunchismo had certain
hegemony," https://twitter.com/nerdysinperro/status/196247112772616194; See also: Diario ABC, “Chávez, Un Año de
Enfermedad,” [Chávez, A Year of Illness] Madrid, May 31, 2012, http://bit.ly/IR8OPJ.
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REEDOM ON THE
an occurrence which the opposition described as a coup
—Voluntad Popular and other emerging
political parties have begun to use social media to disseminate party news and to mobilize their
supporters. Online campaigning by the opposition appears to be effective: in presidential elections,
states with high internet penetration rates showed a higher proportion of votes in favor of the
opposition, while in areas with low internet penetration, there was a higher proportion of votes in
favor of the government candidate.
Chávez and his supporters have sought to gain the upper hand in a variety of ways, sometimes
acting openly and fairly, but at times also resorting to opaque, manipulative tactics. Vice President
Nicolás Maduro has clearly stated the government’s assertive position, saying: “If lies come through
Twitter we are going to strike back through Twitter.”
The most recent Twitter controversy
occurred after the disputed April 2013 presidential election. National Assembly deputy Pedro
Carreño blamed ensuing violence on posts published to Twitter, and subsequently announced a bill
to regulate social networking.
It remains to be seen exactly what sort of regulations would be
contained in such a bill, and whether it would, indeed, be passed.
In April 2010, President Chávez opened his own Twitter account, @Chavezcandanga, which
allowed him to connect to the Venezuelan people (and according to one opposition candidate, to
make a mockery of the nation by ruling via Twitter
) after beginning treatment for cancer in Cuba
By November 2012, Chávez had nearly four million followers, the largest number
for any Venezuelan;
his popularity places him at the top of the list of most influential politicians
on Twitter, second only to Barack Obama.
Following the creation of a presidential Twitter page,
the government began an official campaign to increase Chavez’s following, rewarding the 4
millionth follower with a house.
In order to counter rumors about Chávez’s health, which gained momentum in the absence of an
independent medical report, progovernment digital communications specialists created an
information vacuum that was filled with official updates from a single source. Real-name and
anonymous tweeters with high numbers of followers then propagated rumors to contrast official
“Ledezma: El oficialismo Dio un Golpe al Presidente Chávez” [Ledezma: The Ruling Gave a Blow to President Chávez], El
Universal online, January 13, 2012, http://bit.ly/18ezy9K.
Daniel Pabón, “El Vacío Informativo Entrampa a Twitter en Estridentes Rumores” [The Information Vacuum Filled by Rumors
from Twitter], El Carabobeño, January 9, 2012, http://bit.ly/Xk2pmz.
Últimas Noticias, May 8, 2013, “Pedro Carreño Anuncia que Hablará con Twitter por Violencia Postelectoral” [Pedro Carreño
Announced that Twitter had Spoken of Post‐Election Violence], http://bit.ly/11iwwBo.
EFE, “Capriles Critica a Chávez y Dice que ‘Gobernar por Twitter’ es una ‘Burla,’” [Capriles Criticizes Chávez and Says that 'Rule
by Twitter' is a 'Mockery'] Univision Noticias online, April 22, 2012, http://bit.ly/19ehpWv.
Ezequiel Minyaya, “When Chávez Tweets, Venezuelans Listen,” Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2012,
A. Leff, “Does Chávez Govern by Twitter?” Globalpost, May 4, 2012,
El Mundo, “Chávez es el Segundo Político del Mundo Más Influyente en Twitter,” [Chávez is the World's Second Most
Influential Politician in Twitter] January 3, 2013, http://bit.ly/ZfCh0d.
Diario El Siglo, “Una Casa a Para La Seguidora Cuatro Millones de @chavezcandanga,” [A Home for Four Millionth Follower
@chavezcandanga],Diario El Siglo online, February 18, 2013, http://bit.ly/17dcAjI.
Daniel Pabón, “El Vacío Informativo Entrampa a Twitter en Estridentes Rumores” [The Information Vacuum Filled by Rumors
from Twitter], El Carabobeño, January 9, 2012, http://bit.ly/Xk2pmz.
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REEDOM ON THE
In light of the government’s increased use of social media, members of the public have occasionally
complained of the ruling party using state resources and programs to promote a partisan ideology
via ICTs. On Christmas Eve 2011, a text message in Chávez’s name was sent to more than 27
million mobile phone subscribers, encouraging people to celebrate “our unstoppable march towards
a Good and Pretty Country.” Although there are no laws restricting such communications, critics
complained that forcing mobile phone companies to disseminate partisan propaganda was an abuse
In another case, the Canaima Education project, under which the government agreed to
supply over two million laptops to elementary school children, came under criticism with
allegations that the computers contained content for parents that blatantly promoted Chávez’s
Manipulation of online content by the ruling party and its supporters has compromised the
atmosphere of free online debate of sociopolitical issues. Such careful management of content has
included steering conversations along progovernment lines, hacking, discrediting opposition voices
via Twitter impersonations, and encouraging self-censorship. In addition to suspicions that paid
government commentators have been directing the trajectory of online discussions, allegations have
surfaced of the government attempting to influence online news coverage by manipulating the
allocation of advertising. Progovernment media have also reported that the government allocates
advertising to digital outlets run by figures of the opposition in order to influence the editorial line
of critical media.
In Venezuela, there are many avenues by which bloggers, journalists, and private citizens can be
punished for content posted online. The Venezuelan Constitution prohibits anonymity, and vague
language in the penal code encourages self-censorship. Despite these provisions, however,
government opposition and independent bloggers are active on social media platforms. In 2012 and
2013, such expression was met with increased physical and technical violence extending to
harassment, intimidation, detentions, and cyberattacks. Digital impersonations are also on the rise,
and have compromised the integrity of a number of websites and digital identities.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Venezuela, and a
1999 provision requires the State to provide public access to ICTs.
Despite these positive
commitments, however, various laws and decrees have been used to undermine online freedom
Noticiero Digital, “Telefonicas Asumieron Costo del Mensajito Navideno Presidencial” [Telephone Companies Assume Cost of
Presidential Christmas Message], Noticiero Digital online, December 28, 2011, http://bit.ly/uGGQQ3; Devils Excrement (blog),
“Hugo Chávez’ Christmas Spam to all Venezuelans,” December 27, 2011,
Canaima Educativo, “Venezuela Ensamblará 500 Mil Computadoras Para Proyecto Educativo” [Venezuela Assembles 500,000
Computers for Educational Project], October 4, 2011,
http://bit.ly/1azJWck; See also: Ariana Guevara Gomez, “Ideologización:
Las “Canaimitas” Fomentan el Culto a la Figura del Líder” [Ideology: The “Canaimitas” Promote the Cult Figure of the Leader],
Reportero 24, September 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/nLwDgp.
Aporrea.org, “Miguel Henrique Otero Forrado de Billete Proveniente del Estado, Como Copropietario de Noticias 24” [Miguel
Henrique Otero Padded By Ticket of the State, As Part Owner of News 24], November 19 2012, http://bit.ly/S9z6RE.
Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, Constitution [in Spanish], March 24, 2000, 108:110 http://bit.ly/tXiOk.
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REEDOM ON THE
and to restrict media. When coupled with CANTV’s market dominance, the lack of institutional
checks and balances in Venezuela makes it possible for the government to monitor and harass
political opponents with impunity. Since 2001, the Supreme Court of Justice has passed down no
fewer than 10 judgments curbing freedom of expression,
evidence of the Court’s susceptibility to
influence from the executive branch, particularly in regard to cases of political importance. A 2005
reform included significant restrictions on expression, especially in cases involving contempt or
The 2001 Special Law against Information Crimes
and the 1991 Communications Privacy
safeguard the privacy, confidentiality, inviolability and secrecy of communications
and impose prison terms of up to six years on those who illegally intercept others’
In 2012 and early 2013, however, there were numerous incidents of
government opponents’ communications being hacked, recorded, and manipulated with little
response from the authorities on the part of the victims. Information obtained via such privacy
breaches has been published in state-run media, indicating possible government involvement.
During its tenure, the Chavez government was highly proactive in its pursuit of greater media
control. In December 2010, the National Assembly was due to be replaced with a newly elected
chamber containing a substantial opposition presence.
In its final days, the outgoing Assembly
passed 16 legal decrees that increased regulation of media. The Resorte Law was extended from
print to online and electronic media; and the Law of Telecommunications that deemed ICTs to be
of public rather than general interest, was amended, rendering ICTs subject to greater state
The Assembly also delegated its powers to the president for 18 months, granting him the
authority to legislate by decree in multiple areas, including ICTs.
When freedom of expression
advocates demanded to participate in the lawmakers’ deliberations, they were harassed and
assaulted by government supporters at the doors of the chamber.
The vague language used in the penal code also lays the groundwork for self-censorship both online
and offline, criminalizing the dissemination of “false information,” with punishments of two to five
Juan Francisco Alonso, “Jueces Buscan Limitar Libre Expresión” [Judges Seek to Limit Free Speech], El Universal online, August
21, 2010, http://politica.eluniversal.com/2010/08/21/pol_art_jueces‐buscan‐limit_2012844.shtml.
The National Assembly, Special Law Against Cybercrime [in Spanish], accessed January 7, 2013,
For the full law on Protection of Communications Privacy, see Biblioteca Susuerte: http://bit.ly/15Ck5Nv.
“Ley sobre Protección a la Privacidad de las Comunicaciones” [Law on Protection of Communications Privacy], see Biblioteca
Gregorio Salazar, “Under Chávez: Media Harassed with Online Hacking, Phone Tapping and Censorship,” Sampsonia Way
online, January 23, 2012,
Sara Carolina Díaz, “En 15 Días Asamblea Aprobó 16 Leyes” [In 15 Days, Assembly Passes 16 Laws], El Universal online,
December 19, 2010, http://www.eluniversal.com/2010/12/19/pol_art_en‐15‐dias‐asamblea_2141341.shtml.
“Ley Organica de Telecomunicaciones,” [Organic Law of Telecommunications]
Scribd, accessed January 13, 2013, http://www.scribd.com/doc/45293016/Nueva‐Ley‐Organica‐de‐Telecomunicaciones.
“Texto de la Ley Habilitante Entregada al la AN” [Text of the Enabling Act Submitted to the National Assembly], El Universal
online, December 14, 2010, http://www.eluniversal.com/2010/12/14/pol_esp_texto‐de‐la‐ley‐habi_14A4853573.shtml.
Juan Francisco Alonso, “Reclaman procesar a agresores de activista de DDHH” [Prosecution Demanded for Aggresors of
Human Rights Activist], El Universal, December 18, 2010, http://bit.ly/etbhad; See also:Todos en Red (blog) “Esperamos
Respuesta Oportuna de AN a Documento Por una Internet de Contenido Libre” [Hopes For a Timely Response by AN to a
Document for Free Internet Content] December 17, 2010, http://bit.ly/i59ymL.
REEDOM ON THE
years in prison.
Article 147 of the penal code stipulates that defamation of the president is
punishable by 6 to 30 months in prison, while Article 148 stipulates that offenses against lower-
ranking officials carry lighter punishments.
Given that the internet is classified as a channel of mass
distribution of information, some violations of the penal code (such as defamation or incitement of
hatred or rebellion) may be considered more severe online than in other media forms.
Detentions of Twitter users and citizen journalists have not been uncommon in past years,
however, one particularly notable case made headlines in late 2012 and early 2013. In response to
the emergence of anonymous Twitter profiles with supposedly confidential information regarding
President Chávez’s health, Mario Silva (@LaHojillaTV), a popular pro-government newscaster
from state-run VTV, began a campaign to uncover the identities of those responsible for the posts.
Silva’s investigation resulted in a raid on the house of Federico Medina Ravell, cousin of Alberto
Federico Ravell (of pro-opposition news site La Patilla).
In response to allegations that he had
authored posts questioning the president’s health (@LucioQuincioC), Venezuelan intelligence
officers confiscated several of Federico Medina Ravell’s computers and reportedly detained,
interrogated, beat, and threatened his family.
Following the public prosecutor’s allegations that he
had “instigated terrorism through social networks,”
Ravell was fired by his employer, Mercedes
Benz, reportedly under intense pressure from the Chávez regime.
Activist groups have
interpreted these actions as a clear attempt to curb freedom of expression.
Ravell is now seeking
political asylum in the United States.
The Venezuelan constitution explicitly prohibits anonymity, a rule that applies to all media.
While there are few safeguards in place to limit security agencies’ access to user data and private
communications, National Assembly deputies from the ruling party have reported complaints from
law enforcement agencies that only state-owned Movilnet provides information with immediacy.
Despite the provision against anonymity, customers at cybercafes are not required to present
Gaceta Official, “Summary of the National Assembly” [in Spanish], Gaceta Oficial No. 5.763 (March 16, 2005)
Sumate, “Respeto a la Libertad de Expresión: ¿Limita el Código Penal la Libertad de Expresión?” [Respect for Freedom of
Expression: Does the Penal Code Limit Freedom of Expression?], Sumate online, accessed August 22, 2012,
Rafael Martínez, “Twitter: Esos Malditos 140 Caracteres” [Twitter: Those Damned 140 Characters], SoyRafael.com (blog),
February 22, 1010, http://www.analitica.com/va/sociedad/articulos/9309847.asp; See also: Article 285 of the Penal Code.
La Verdad, “Sebin Busca a Tuitero que Habla Sobre la Salud del Presidente” [Sebin Searches for Twitterers Talking about the
Health of the President], La Verdad online, January 7, 2013,
LucioQuincoC, Twitter post, January 8, 2013, https://twitter.com/LucioQuincioC/status/288668104987406337/photo/1.
La Patilla, “Fiscalía Investiga Supuesta Instigación al Terrorismo a Través de Twitter” [Prosecutor Investigates Alleged
Incitement to Terrorism through Twitter], La Patilla online, January 8, 2013, http://bit.ly/ZlPnV8.
“Why Did Mercedes‐Benz Fire an Anti‐Chávez Political Activist?” The Commentator, April 21, 2012, http://bit.ly/IdeVwM .
Care2 Petition Site, “Venezuela, Stop Censorship!” Accessed February 26, 2013, http://bit.ly/13EDHDi.
Raheem Kassam, “Interview: The Man who Chávez Wants Dead,” The Commentator online, January 9, 2013,
http://bit.ly/13gTma7; See also: Chris Miles, “Blogger Federico Medina Ravell has His Home Raided by Intelligence Officials for
Spreading Rumors about Chávez,” PolicyMic, Januray 2013, http://bit.ly/19eh5qI.
Article 57 establishes freedom of expression and freedom from censorship, but also forbids anonymity. Official site of The
Supreme Court: http://www.tsj.gov.ve/legislacion/constitucion1999.htm.
“Presionan a Brindar Información Personal” [Pressed to Provide Personal Information], Blackberry Vzla.com, June 24, 2010,
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identification to gain internet access, nor are there any known cases in which cybercafe users’
activities have been tracked.
The full scale of surveillance of users’ communications applications in Venezuela remains unclear.
According to one report, however, Venezuelan security agencies tapped more than one hundred
phones over the course of one year, including those of opposition figures Maria Corina Machado,
Henrique Capriles, Alberto Ravell, Aixa Lopez, Guillermo Zuloaga and Julio Borges.
extralegal wiretapping of phones is common, many Venezuelans suspect that such surveillance
extends to the online sphere as well. State representatives have also suggested that the government
is capable of tracking down users of Twitter and other social media. In February 2011, when official
news agencies were slow to release information about a fire on the premises of the Companía
Anonima Venezolana Military Industries (Cavim), details of the incident began to appear on
Twitter and other social networks. A military commander subsequently warned that it was
“technologically feasible” for the state to track down the origin of those messages and take action
against those who had committed the crime of generating public anxiety; no arrests were made at
the time, however.
In February 2013, Venezuela’s social media tracking campaign experienced renewed vigor after
Nestor Reverol, Minister of Interior and Justice, reported that intelligence services would “follow”
instigators of an alleged “destabilization plan” seeking to cause panic and chaos among users of social
Following this announcement, two suspected hackers were arrested for “attempting to
undermine the institutional order of Venezuela.” The suspects, who were arrested after illegally
accessing government webpages and revealing vulnerabilities in the security of state governmental
systems, were members of the group Venezuelan Hackers (@ VenezuelanH).
In April and May
2013, Venezuelan Hackers published accounts of its recent activities—including infiltrating the
websites of Venezuelan State Airline Conviasa, state-owned CANTV, and additional government
sites, such as the National Institute of Hygiene—on its Twitter account.
The arrests, which were
highly publicized, underscored the media tracking campaign and served as a warning to others who
might be considering subversive activities online.
In early march, after Chávez’s death, Lourdes Alicia Ortega Perez was arrested for “spreading false
information” via Twitter. She was released one week later, but is required to make monthly court
Analisis24, “Venezuela: El Ultra Secreto ‘CASO 1’ que Genero Zozobra en el Gobierno de Hugo Chávez” [The Top Secret "CASE
1" which Generated Anxiety in the Government of Hugo Chávez], Analisis24.com, January 20, 2013, http://bit.ly/WiNbxq.
“Sebin y DIM Investigarán Mensajes de Twitter sobre Caso Cavim,” [DIM Investigates Sebin and Twitter Messages about
Cavim Case], Espacio Publico online, February 2, 2011,
“Reverol: El Cicpc Investiga Mensajes Desestabilizadores en Redes Sociales,” [Reverol: The Cicpc Investigates Destabilizing
Messages on Social Networks], El Nacional online, February 20, 2012, http://bit.ly/13zL8r5; Sebastiana Barraez, “Plan para El
Control de La Prensa y La Oposición,” [Plan to control the press and opposition], Código Venezuela.com, February 15, 2013,
“Sebin Combate Los ‘Hackers’ que Intentan Vulnerar El Orden Institucional en Venezuela,” [Sebin Battles "Hackers" who Try
to Undermine The Constitutional Order in Venezuela], Noticias24 online, February 9, 2013, http://bit.ly/TZwKIS.
“Hackearon la Página Web de Cantv.net” [Website of Cantv.net Hacked], El Universal online, April 21, 2013,
http://bit.ly/16A8B3a; See also: Apertura Venzuela, “Hackean Página Web de Conviasa” [Conviasa Hacked Website], El
Universal online, May 12, 2013, http://bit.ly/ZB2xkB.
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appearances until further notice.
Perez’s arrest echoes a spate of cases in 2010, when a number of
Twitter users with few followers were arrested for “spreading false information” and “plotting to
destabilize the government” under a measure that seems designed to generate self-censorship and
Since 2005, CONATEL has required mobile phone operators to collect copies of their subscribers’
identity documents, addresses, fingerprints, and signatures.
According to the Computer Crimes
Act, this information must be delivered to state security agencies upon presentation of a judicial
warrant. Service providers are also obligated to keep detailed logs of all calls, including the phone
number and location of both the caller and the recipient. The Law Against Kidnapping and
Extortion also necessitates that ICT providers and financial institutions supply data to prosecutors
upon presentation of a judicial warrant.
Journalists and online activists have been subject to physical intimidation and attacks in recent
years. The offices of civil society group Espacio Publico, which advocates for freedom of expression
online, were burglarized twice in November 2011.
Although there was no evidence of
government responsibility, the authorities’ slow investigation, despite the availability of security
camera footage, raised suspicions that these were not random acts of violence.
Espacio Publico has repeatedly been the target of defamation campaigns in state-run media. Several
days after the second attack, Luis Carlos Díaz, a respected journalist known for teaching
cyberactivism workshops throughout the country, began receiving anonymous threats by phone and
Leonardo León, journalist and press coordinator of Universidad de Los Andes’ radio
station, and Alonso Moleiro, journalist and Unión Radio announcer, have also been victim to
intimidation and threats via Twitter.
Moleiro received death threats from another Twitter user
after mentioning the severity of President Chávez’s illness.
In May 2012, the headquarters of Qué
“Detienen a Tuitera por Generar Rumores Desestabilizadores” [Twitter User Was Arrested for Generating Destabilizing
Rumors], La Patilla online, March 13, 2013, http://bit.ly/WnBZBY.
Urribarrí, Raisa, “El Año en que Tuiteamos en Peligro” [The Year We Tweeted in Danger], Periodismo en Línea online,
November 15, 2010. http://periodistasandinos.blogspot.com/2010/11/el‐ano‐en‐que‐tuiteamos‐en‐peligro.html.
Gaceta Oficial No. 38.157, April 1, 2005, http://www.tsj.gov.ve/gaceta/abril/010405/010405‐38157‐20.html.
Natalia Mazotte, “Back‐to‐Back Robberies, Slow State Response Suspicious, Says Venezuelan Freedom of Expression NGO,”
Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Journalism in the Americas (blog), November 30, 2011,
“Freedom of Expression NGO Robbed,” ifex.com, November 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/spu1tb.
Letter from Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, “Venezuela Debe Terminar con la Campana Contra Prestigioso Defensor de Derechos
Humanos,” [Venezuela Must End the Campaign Against Prestigious Human Rights Defender] Human Rights Watch, August 19,
2010, http://bit.ly/16A7Dnr; Reporters Without Borders, “Authorities Drag Heels in Investigation of Two Burglaries at Offices of
Free Speech NGO,” IFEX, December 5, 2011 http://www.ifex.org/venezuela/2011/12/05/second_robbery/; “Roban por
Segunda Vez Sede de Espacio Publico,” [Stolen for a Second Time at the Headquarters of Espacio Publico] El Universal online,
November 26, 2011,
Natalia Mazotte, “Twitter Becoming a Common Way to Threaten Journalists in Venezuela,” Knight Center for Journalism in
the Americas, Journalism in the Americas (blog), November 28, 2011, http://knightcenter.utexas.edu/en/blog/twitter‐
becoming‐common‐way‐threaten‐journalists‐venezuela; Natalia Mazotte, “Online Attacks Against Reporters in Venezuela
become latest form of censorship (Interview),” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Journalism in the Americas (blog),
January 18, 2012,
Instituto Prensa y Socieded (Ipys), “Amenazan a Periodista a Través de Twitter” [Journalists Threatened via Twitter],
Ipys.com, October 1, 2012, http://www.ipys.org.ve/alerta?id=3005.
Instituto Prensa y Socieded (Ipys), “Venezuelan Journalist Gets Death Threats after Tweeting about Chávez,” ifex, December
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested