Pummeling Our (Already) Weak Internet

While authorities keep harassing journalists for attempting to report about the coronavirus pandemic in Venezuela, our patchy internet service is feeling the pinch of increasing use.

Photo: Prodavinci, retrieved.

One of the consequences of the current global pandemic has been a huge increase in the use of internet everywhere. As many nations establish quarantines and impose social distancing rules, those forced to stay home have to adapt to a new reality: the internet has become the main tool to keep working or studying for many people. For others, it’s their only source of news and/or entertainment.

Of course, the related infrastructure is feeling the effects of a continuously increasing demand and companies are taking actions, from providers adding more capacity to sites like Netflix, to YouTube reducing speed in its outputs. But what about places like Venezuela, where the internet service is faulty?

This recent report by Bloomberg’s Alex Vasquez and Patricia Laya shows the new difficulties for our already troubled connectivity.

José Luis Rodríguez Zarco, chairman of Movistar Venezuela (subsidiary of Spain’s Telefonica), sent a letter asking users to be responsible with their use of data, as new restrictions caused a spike in online traffic: “In the first week of contingency, the increase of data consumption almost matched the one registered in 2019.” Digitel reported a 40% rise of its data use, as well.

This comes as Nicolás Maduro ordered a moratorium on related service cut-offs for the next six months.

Venezuela’s internet connection was considered the worst in the region and one of the worst in the world long before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared, making it harder for the sector to assume this situation. Bloomberg’s report, for example, highlights how “…fuel shortages are making the problem even worse. Mobile towers in Venezuela operate on diesel, while the closing of many gas stations makes it impossible for technicians to get out to fix failures at towers.” 

This comes as Nicolás Maduro ordered a moratorium on related service cut-offs for the next six months.

The hegemony, mind you, continues pressuring local journalists for trying to cover the pandemic: more than one week ago, Darvinson Rojas was arrested at his home by members of FAES police squad, along with his parents (released shortly after). Rojas’s whereabouts were unknown for several hours until he was finally found at FAES headquarters, in Caricuao, Caracas. He’s been charged under the infamous Anti-Hate Law, approved by the ANC in 2017.

Days after that detention, Beatriz Rodríguez, director of newspaper La Verdad de Vargas was arrested at her home in Catia La Mar and taken for questioning over a piece published on La Verdad’s Instagram account, discussing recent cases of coronavirus in Vargas State. Rodriguez was later released.

In both cases, authorities insisted on the disclosure of confidential sources. Article 28 of our Constitution and Article 18 of the legislation on Venezuelan journalism (Ley del Ejercicio del Periodismo) explicitly protect the anonymity of sources.

In both cases, authorities insisted on the disclosure of confidential sources.

But the official attempts to impose a sole narrative suffered a setback this week, as Twitter took down a message from Nicolás Maduro proposing an alleged antidote against coronavirus, promoted by so-called nanotechnologist Sirio Quintero. 

Twitter (along with other social media platforms) are enforcing stricter rules to stop misinformation about the COVID-19 epidemic, including promotion of fake cures and treatments. Maduro isn’t alone in the ban: a recent tweet by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and two videos from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro were taken down for the same reason.

Maduro had the gall to tag Twitter’s action as censorship on state media, which has given exposure to Quintero’s conspiracy theories, including the website of media regulator CONATEL.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reach dramatic numbers all over the globe, it’s rather concerning that some heads of government in Latin America continue to undermine efforts of doctors and first responders, or even deny the existence of this crisis. From AMLO’s disregard of social distancing measures to Bolsonaro’s cynicism and Maduro’s fallacious information.

Please stay safe, at home. Keep your distance. And always check your sources.