The recent wave of uprisings against the socialist government of Venezuela has largely been possible due to dissenters using YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to expose the abuses of the Chavista government. That soon may no longer be possible, as leftists in the legislature propose a crackdown on social media.
“In Venezuela, things are normal that are severely punished in the United States,” said the president of the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Julio Chávez, noting that presidential assassination threats against President Obama are typically met with jail time. The opposition in Venezuela, he claims, “can organize protests, order burnings, call for the death of the president.” Shutting down social media legally, he argues, would put an end to such activity.
Chávez (no relation to former President Hugo Chávez) has called for a law that targets individuals threatening President Nicolás Maduro with violence on social media–a law which would have a scope so vague that it would not just target would-be violent actors, but anyone expressing disagreement with the Maduro regime. Opposition leaders have already denounced it as an attempt to regulate the last remaining forum for free speech in the country. “This law would do away with, in the best Cuban style, the last little window of liberty of expression that remains in this country,” said opposition legislator Abelardo Díaz, who represents the western state of Táchira, a state that has been under martial law since February and remains the opposition’s most prominent stronghold.
The call to monitor social media and punish opposition statements there is particularly alarming in light of the Maduro regime’s other activities against media proprietors. Having accused ousted opposition deputy María Corina Machado and United States Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker of being involved in an elaborate plot to kill him, Maduro has now embroiled the owner of a newspaper often critical of his administration in the plot to kill him, for which the only evidence that has been revealed is a series of emails, the authenticity of which all parties involved have denied.
On Monday, Maduro’s intelligence service, Sebin, called Miguel Henrique Otero, owner of the Venezuelan daily El Nacional to testify in the assassination matter. Otero refused to collaborate, calling the citation “an action against the newspaper” and noting that he was in Colombia to attend a debate between presidential candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Óscar Zuluaga and could not, therefore, return to Venezuela for such an occasion. He also noted that the government had acted to limit the impact of the newspaper in the past, refusing to allow for more visas to buy paper for print.
A similar situation occurred in May with the nation’s biggest newspaper, El Universal; the government refused to allow an import of paper to enter the country that was necessary for the newspaper to continue printing.