Last week, as student protests unfolded in Venezuela demanding something be done about shortages (from toilet paper to bread, milk and chicken) and the world’s highest inflation rates and highest murder rates, both state-owned and privately owned news channels did not report the events due to censorship or intimidation. Colombia’s news channel, NTN2, which was reporting the protests, was removed from the grid of cable operators.
So the power of social media became apparent. It is reminiscent of the important role that social media played during the Arab Spring.
Then, on Saturday, Twitter reported the government of Nicolas Maduro blocked users’ online images. Nu Wexler, a Twitter spokesman, confirmed to Bloomberg that the government was behind the disruption.
So people posted how to circumvent the technical challenges:
Then, there was YouTube:
The protesters are mostly middle-class high-school and college students. They have seldom ventured into the streets, but they now see their futures so grim that they found they needed to reject the path Venezuela is taking. They are desperate, and they have vowed to stay on the streets.
It is believed many of the young protesters are being tortured or disappeared by government-funded paramilitaries called “colectivos.” The colectivos emerged during the rule of the late Hugo Chavez as the self-appointed guardians of his leftist policies. They are an extension of the Socialist Party, and they sway voters through bookshops, study groups, summer camps for children, and coffee mornings for pensioners. They are accused of assaulting staff at opposition TV stations, sending death threats to print journalists, and even tear-gassing the residence of the Vatican envoy in 2009 after Chavez accused the Catholic Church of meddling in politics. (See also: Pro-Chavez Child Soldiers in Venezuela.)
My good friend from Venezuela wants the world to see this:
Through YouTube, the opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of Chacao district in eastern Caracas, asked Venezuelans to march with him today, Tuesday, February 18. He asked that all protesters dress in white.
“We are on the side of justice. We are on the side of the truth,” Leopoldo Lopez said.
A few hours ago, Leopoldo was detained by Venezuela’s National Guard, accused by the government of inciting violence.
Leopoldo hugs his wife before voluntarily handing himself in to the National Guard. Leopoldo, who holds a master’s degree from Harvard, is seen as a “maverick” opposition leader. He has enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organizer.
Leopoldo’s family awaits his prompt return.