The Counterattack of the Propaganda Apparatus

As the deliberate blocking of the internet in Venezuela has grown in scope and timing, the communicational hegemony now uses more deceptive tactics like fake websites and disinformation campaigns.

Photo: VeSinFiltro, retrieved.

Surrounded by adversity like never before, the Maduro regime is reacting to the rise of Juan Guaidó by pushing forward the more heterodox and dishonest practices of its propaganda toolbox: phishing and blocking websites, targeted hate campaigns against journalists, fear mongering and punitive administrative measures. With social networks cracking down on all the fake accounts related to Venezuela, there is a clearer perspective of how chavismo spreads propaganda.

The launch of the volunteer platform to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela was severely affected this week by a sophisticated phishing operation against its website. State telecom company & ISP CANTV is the main suspect.

A new report by VESinFiltro detailed the entire operation, including the implication of government agencies CNTI (National Center for Information Technologies) and CONATEL. For this organization, the regime’s goal is to compile data of those joining the volunteering platform, unwittingly revealing how the Venezuelan state has been into phishing since, at least, last year. CC contributor Luis Carlos Díaz explained the affair too (it’s in Spanish, but if you can follow, it’s totally worth it).

With social networks cracking down on all the fake accounts related to Venezuela, there is a clearer perspective of how chavismo spreads propaganda.

Meanwhile, the overall strategy of repression has grown in skill and ruthlessness: journalist Luz Mely Reyes is the latest victim of a slandering campaign on social networks by people like Diosdado Cabello and former Information Minister/VTV Chairman, Luis José Marcano, now mayor of Barcelona, Anzoátegui. IPYS Venezuela notes the same modus operandi against other journalists and human rights activists and it’s not just that: Efecto Cocuyo, the outlet co-founded by Reyes and Laura Weffer, was a casualty of the “fake news trend,” as one of their articles was doctored and later passed online. This comes as Maduro’s VP, Delcy Rodríguez, doubles down on the debunked “poisoned aid” story.

The blocking of important websites like YouTube and other Google-related applications has continued too, particularly every time Guaidó speaks in public. Aporrea, once the bastion of chavista mediatic resistance and now a gathering place for dissidence within chavismo, was blocked by CANTV this week. The site previously faced a DDoS attack in 2017, along with other local media outlets and NGOs, including the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV).

Meaning, the cyber-hegemony now has little tolerance for dissident chavismo. Aporrea’s co-founder, Gonzalo Gómez Freire, calls the blocking “arbitrary” and “totalitarian”.

But the hegemony’s disinformation campaign has suffered its own setbacks. 

“Censorship and DDoS attacks targeting opposition and independent media sites are not a new tactic in Venezuela,” says Laura Vidal, Global Voices’ LatAm editor. “They have occurred in the past, typically during protests or in other moments of high political tension. But the recent power struggle marks the biggest political challenge for Nicolás Maduro’s government yet, and perhaps appropriately, has brought some of the most sophisticated and high-impact internet disruptions in recent memory.”

Just like a bulldozer ramming through everything on its path, the hegemony is not holding back on its quest to impose its own narrative. They’re still attacking traditional media (because a Globovisión journo called Guaidó “Presidente Encargado,” imagine that), but without an effective caudillo, and with a Jorge Rodríguez who definitely lost his mojo, the only tools left are lies and cynicism.