Photo: Papagayo News
“The toll of working as a human rights defender under an authoritarian regime is working with fear, through fear, swimming across fear, breathing fear in and out of your lungs, while keeping to learn how to do your work.”
These are the words of Venezuelan lawyer and writer Marianne Diaz Hernández, pronounced during the RightsCon 2019 summit in Tunis while receiving the Human Rights Hero award, given by NGO Access Now, for “providing important research and leading advocacy efforts against invasive measures taken by the Maduro government in Venezuela.”
— Andres Azpurua (@andresAzp) June 12, 2019
Marianne is one of the leading voices regarding the situation of the internet and overall digital rights in our country, from her research in how the communicational hegemony made it harder for Venezuelans to be informed and to express themselves, to her articles for Global Voices describing the damaging effects of the economic collapse and the isolation we feel not only from other nations, but among ourselves at home.
“Finding out and understanding what’s happening in the country have become so difficult and time-consuming, that it’s almost impossible to build the capacity to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. That goes for those who emigrated too, trying to know what’s going on in the countries receiving us,” Díaz told Caracas Chronicles.
Her activism began ten years ago, at the online volunteer team of Amnesty International. Later, she joined two organizations: Global Voices (writing for its Advox network) and Creative Commons. Over time, she organized volunteers who shared her goals, by founding in Valencia, Venezuela, the NGO Acceso Libre, currently on “hiatus”. “There’s lots of folks who want to contribute to society somehow, and they need someone to guide them.”
Her work lies in the intersection between technology, law and human rights, shaping not only the political, economical and cultural landscape worldwide, but also the lives of present and future generations, rather than key contributions for those trying to keep pace on how the late Hugo Chávez undermined digital rights in Venezuela, and how his successor has been even more repressive, as part of his clampdown on human rights.
The paper “Public Policies for Internet Access in Venezuela,” which she co-wrote with fellow journalist Raisa Uribarri for NGO Derechos Digitales (Díaz’s employer in Santiago de Chile), was published last year and it’s a primer on how the Chávez government, under the alleged “expansion” of internet in Venezuela, started a progressive takeover of the technical and legal media infrastructure, towards the “communicational hegemony,” newspeak for “censorship.”
With the arrival of Nicolás Maduro, online dissent was criminalized through new legislation (like the Anti-Hate Law of 2017) and the arrest of social media users, like Pedro Jaimes (@aereometeo), who’s been held for over a year.
“It’s easy to see how the attacks on privacy, the blocking of webpages and the arrests of social network users get more common and more outrageous,” Díaz says. “Five years ago, it was almost unthinkable to believe that a site like YouTube could be blocked intermittently, but (that’s what’s been happening) for months, just to stop users from watching a live streaming of a political leader.”
Marianne Díaz is, and has always been, a compass for those sailing on state-sponsored disinformation and downright Orwellian propaganda, a mean feat that indeed deserves recognition. Her RightsCon acceptance speech is a cry against iron curtains of all sorts: “For us Venezuelans, living through one of the most interesting periods of our history has meant experiencing firsthand the implementation of a system of social and political control like it never existed before in the country. Biometric controls, communications surveillance, social media combing and state sponsored harassment, website censorship and constant internet shutdowns, all of this accompanied by the progressive destruction of the communication infrastructure of the country, has led to an irreversibly broken information landscape that we’re having to relearn to renavigate, and help others navigate every single day.”