|In response to online trading of Venezuelan currency at unofficial exchange rates, representatives of the country’s ruling United Socialist Party have proposed that all residents be made to use Internet passing through a single government server.
National Assembly Member Juan Carlos Aleman said May 22 that the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation is looking at options that would prevent Venezuelans from using “servers like Google or Firefox, which are outside of national control.”
Aleman said that the government had launched two satellites in the past month, and that one would support the government’s ability to “have independence in this and control the material out there.”
The government has been widely criticized for attempting to prevent residents from accessing Google (which owns between 65% and 70% of the global search engine market) and social media sites such as Twitter in recent months. The government’s “Nation Network” project has sought to replace major apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp with its own, non-capitalist versions, citing national security concerns.
But critics say these are all part of concerted efforts to censor dissenting voices in the country.
Last year was characterized by student demonstrations and social conflicts across the country, with numerous individuals and journalists saying they were threatened for attempting to report on government suppression of the protests.
There were widespread allegations that the National Autonomous Telephone Company of Venezuela, which provides more than 90% of the country’s Internet lines, blocked Twitter during student protests in February.
Nongovernmental organization Espacio Publico published a report in January of this year calling 2014 the “worst year” on record for freedom of expression in the country, with human rights violations the highest they’ve been in two decades. It recorded 579 violations in 350 cases with 474 victims.
That’s an increase of 59% in a single year. Free speech violations alone went up by 102% in 2014.
Journalists and photojournalists were detained, beaten, shot with pellet guns and subdued with tear gas, according to the report, and had their cameras and cell phones destroyed. The shifting ownership of several major national news sources, such as El Universal newspaper also contributed to increased self-censorship, Espacio Publico found.