Photo by: Johan Alvarez.
The terrible state of public utilities in Venezuela is one of the clearest signs of our crisis. As water shortages and blackouts have become the norm in most parts of the country, the troubling situation of the entire telecommunications infrastructure in general and, especially, inside the state company CANTV has also got its share of unflattering attention in recent years.
At the end of January, a new special report by digital outlet Punto de Corte went even further and got inside the belly of CANTV’s main headquarters in Caracas. With support from some of its employees (whose identities are hidden for safety concerns), footage shows how critical equipment is kept in dire conditions, exposing the high risk of current telephone and internet connections deteriorating more. The state of its fleet of vehicles isn’t much better.
Attention to the report has shifted to the journalist behind it, Johan Alvarez, after he and co-worker Alexandra Villar were injured in a car crash.
But as expected, the hegemony responded in the way it does best: blocking access to Punto de Corte’s website in CANTV and other ISP. This was confirmed to Caracas Chronicles by Indira Crespo, PdC’s chief reporter: “Even if we’ve suffered selective blockings before, it has never been in such a wide scope until now.” As other similar outlets like El Pitazo or Efecto Cocuyo before them, the blockings come without any legal arguments behind it.
Sadly, attention to the report has shifted to the journalist behind it, Johan Alvarez, after he and co-worker Alexandra Villar were injured in a car crash at Baralt Avenue (western Caracas), on February 1st . Both are now stable and expected to recover, according to Crespo. So far, there’s no evidence that the accident was related to the report, blamed instead on a drunk driver.
But Alvarez received threats after publishing the report, and was taking security precautions at the time. Crespo also indicated that CANTV is pressuring employees to find out who helped Alvarez: “One of them called us and was very worried.” Their methods include interrogations and harassment, as part of “psychological terrorism”. There are unconfirmed reports of arrests.
CANTV has been plagued with equipment theft, technical failures and neglect that go back to 2007, when then president Hugo Chávez renationalized the company (it had been a private venture since 1991, known for its sustained growth and for becoming the first internet provider in Venezuela). The company has also been described as a tool for social control, used to monitor the population in general and “persons of interest” in particular. Just before PdC’s report was published, Science & Technology Minister Gabriela Sevilla Jiménez became head of CANTV, replacing Manuel Fernández, who held the post for almost ten years. She just pledged to solve the problems with landlines and internet in Zulia (the local office, for example, has been closed since November of last year) in 2020.
The effects not only from the economic crisis, but the national blackout last year have worsened the issues.
Such promises, however, seem to fall short of the many problems confirmed by PdC. “Years of disinvestment have left lots of unfinished projects,” says Crespo. The effects not only from the economic crisis, but the national blackout last year have worsened the issues. Lack of proper personnel, resources and training are way noticeable for amounts of customers who have seen claims over their phone or internet service ignored for months, or even years.
As recent pieces covering Venezuela focus on the alleged “liberalization” of the economy courtesy of the de facto dollarization that has swept the country, it’s important to remember that a true recovery goes beyond improving the basic quality of life of citizens. Having access to dollars doesn’t change the fact that many still have to endure long periods of time without water and/or electricity. And even those with dollars in cash or Zelle accounts have it rough when the line goes down.
It’s understandable to try and see a silver lining even in the darkest clouds, but that doesn’t justify how some are reading this as “the end in sight” for the Venezuelan crisis.
That’s just plain naive.