Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto
Three weeks after sending an email to its users in Venezuela, saying it would abide by the Executive Order 13884 and would no longer provide services in the country, Adobe finally announced its obtention of a license from the Treasury Department to keep business as usual, and Venezuelan freelancers and local independent companies breathed again, carrying on with as much peace as you can get in socialism.
The key thing about this all—other than proving how, regarding sanctions, the Treasury Department must be very specific to avoid misinterpretations—is the Venezuelan freelancer community’s reaction to a serious threat to our livelihoods. Adobecalypse wasn’t just about the provider of tools like Photoshop, InDesing and Premiere—the spark that lights designers, illustrators, architects, publicists and filmmakers’ fire—leaving the country; it’s about the shockwaves after the explosion, the deep fear of other companies following suit.
Jack Sparrow Philosophy
Let’s not kid ourselves, the freelancer community here is a pirate community.
The key thing about this all is the Venezuelan freelancer community’s reaction to a serious threat to our livelihoods.
I don’t mean it in a bad way, it’s just a consequence of chavismo. Like people smuggle food from Colombia and sell gas bachaqueada, those working online are generally forced to use illegal versions of their needed tools. In their routines, they use VPNs to avoid censorship or collect their savings in digital accounts; in Venezuela, you can’t use credit cards to pay for the original version of things, and the dictatorship entirely isolated what’s left of the financial and banking system from the global economic reality. Things as simple as watching a Netflix show or listening to Spotify require hacks and help from someone abroad.
During Adobecalypse, we couldn’t find anyone who had the company’s original suite. We even asked in the labs of universities like ULA or UCAB, and they used cracked versions, understandable in a country where a professor’s wage can’t even cover the cheapest Creative Cloud fee. Venezuelan freelancers always have packages, patches and codes to alleviate the nonexistent software distribution in the country’s IP address.
They’re some of the cheapest digital labor in all of Latin America. No benefits, health insurance or work benefits, the vulnerability is absolute.
One of the bigger problems for online workers in Venezuela, especially those working independently, is how their pay isn’t proportionate to their efforts. The hours are ridiculous, many clients are rude and come at you with an attitude, and the fields are brutally competitive, so Venezuelan freelancers shoot at everything that moves, changing their fees to battle Indian and Chinese professionals.
They’re some of the cheapest digital labor in all of Latin America. No benefits, health insurance or work benefits, the vulnerability is absolute and there’s no political representation in the real world, beyond NGOs overseeing digital rights—already too busy fighting censorship and pressure from the regime.
Space for Solidarity
After the March blackout, the freelancer community started thinking about strategies to face disaster, learning how to work without power or internet access, with equipment in danger of power spikes and hyperinflation lurking about. Many assumed protocols for backing up information, creating emergency plans for content management and negotiating deadlines with clients.
When the first sign of the Adobecalypse popped up in their emails, the digital community rallied together to fight back, with a letter from the Internet Society, Venezuelan Chapter, asking software companies to keep servicing Venezuelans, as a crucial matter. Platforms like WeTransfer, in solidarity, decided to offer a free account to any Venezuelan professional needing it, to download files and store them in a safe place.
For now, at least this alarm can quiet down, even if working conditions are still dire, without adequate resources and under a lot of pressure. Venezuelan freelancers must keep defending their digital rights as if they’re water and food: it’s the only way they can make an adequate living.