Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Venezuela: Corruption off limits on Venezuelan Internet


Alek Boyd is a UK-based Venezuelan who blogs about corruption in Venezuela on On 14 January, he posted the details of a lawsuit that a former US ambassador to Venezuela has filed against the partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan firm accused of bribing Venezuelan officials to get contracts in the energy engineering sector. Since then, Boyd's blog has been blocked in Venezuela.

"Online censorship is an established fact, which is proved by the approximately 500 web pages and sites that most Venezuelan Internet users currently cannot access,” said Carlos Correa, the head of Espacio Público, an NGO that defends the right to information, in a 17 March programme on Radio Éxitos in response to the question “Can the government really censor Internet content?”

In Venezuela, Internet access is provided by a handful of companies: CANTV, Inter, Venezolana de Telecomunicación and Movilnet (a CANTV subsidiary specializing in mobile telephony). Nationalized in 2007, CANTV is the country's main ISP, with 80% of Internet service subscriptions. Its direct access to the data provided by the Simón Bolívar national satellite, placed in orbit under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation's supervision in 2008, gives the Venezuelan authorities a unique tool for monitoring and controlling online information.

On 12 March, which ironically was World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) notified all Venezuelan ISPs that they would henceforth have to comply with orders to block web pages with content deemed to be contrary to the government's interests. This just officialized a practice already in place. The Venezuelan authorities have long had no compunction about censoring unwelcome information. On 13 November, they issued an order to censor around 50 websites that cover parallel exchange rates and the country's soaring inflation.

On 14 January, Boyd, a London-based Venezuelan blogger specializing in corruption in Venezuela, posted an article about the lawsuit that Otto Reich, a former US ambassador in Venezuela, has filed in New York against the leading partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company he accuses of bribing Venezuelan government officials in order to secure public contracts in the energy engineering sector.

As a result of this story, which was also covered by the websites of several well-known international media such as the Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post, Boyd's blog, disappeared from the Venezuelan Internet. Inter, an ISP whose shareholders include Derwick Associates, was the first to block access to shortly after Boyd posted his blog entry. The other telecom companies (Movistar, Digitel, Supercable and the state-owned CANTV) soon followed suit.

Boyd has been posting reports, compromising documents and opinion pieces from Britain since 2002. Although protected by distance from his country of origin, he has often been the target of threats, the frequency and violence of which have increased since a wave of street protests got under way in Venezuela in February. He also posts information sent to him by other Venezuelan bloggers who are scared to post it themselves in Venezuela.

Ever since the allegations about Derwick Associates began, many netizens and journalists have received letters from its lawyers ordering them to remove articles about the company from their websites and accusing them of defaming its owners and shareholders. But Boyd, who continues to cover the story, has not received any official letter from Derwick Associates or its lawyers.

Reporters Without Borders is reproducing Boyd's blog post in full, and the lawsuit that former US ambassador Reich filed against Derwick Associates.