Venezuelan Open Source Software Communities Condemn Media Manipulation

Free Software and Free Knowledge communities repudiate media manipulation and Internet use to promote terrorism against Venezuela.


On February 22, 2014, Elvis Duran de la Rosa, 29, was driving his motorcycle on a major public road in eastern Caracas at about 9pm when he hit a barbed wire that was put across the road which he could not see in time. These wires were placed by Venezuela’s opposition groups across numerous public roads in the evening hours as part of a series of violent protests called “The Way Out”, which were intended to force venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office. President Maduro was elected by the majority of people just 10 months earlier. Elvis Duran could not avoid the wire in the dark, and crashed into it, with dire consequences: the young man died instantly, practically beheaded [1 ].

Duran was one of the 16 people killed in Venezuela during recent protests, often led by violent opposition groups. Of these deaths, at least three people (the young Duran, Mrs. Delia Lobos [19 ], died Feb. 22 in Merida, and young Eduardo Anzola, died Feb. 25 in Valencia [20]) were killed on their motorcycles which could not evade these barbed wire barricades. These barricades were laid by opposition groups in Venezuelan streets and highways as a way to “defend” themselves from people who use motorcycles, whom they choose to call in a derogatory manner “Chavista collectives.”

For this reason, many Venezuelans were perplexed, after Eduardo Arcos, a member of the well known ALT1040.com technology blog, choose to illustrate the story “Free Software Community in Venezuela starts petition in favor of net neutrality ” [2 ] by showing a barbed wire similar to that used to cause the death of these three people.

Check: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lubrio/12823208985/

We believe that their lack of sensitivity in using that image denotes one of two possibilities: either a profound ignorance of the reality in Venezuela; or to intentionally intimidate and threaten those that may support President Nicolas Maduro. We sincerely hope that the reason is the first, and not the second.

It seems rather likely that Mr. Arcos and ALT1040 readers ignore that since February 12th, Venezuela has been mired in a wave of protests led by right wing factions against the government. Some of these opposition groups have engaged in organized waves of violence, including destruction of public services (trains, at least 40 metrobuses, six vehicles of the Venezuelan State telephone company, etc.), beating metrobus drivers and subway workers [11] [12], physical attacks against people who try to get through their barricades, placing of barbed wire and spilling oil on the roads to cause accidents [13], placing special nails on the roads (called “miguelitos” in Venezuela) to bust tires, and destruction of facilities of the State telecommunications company [8] [9] [10], which have most often injured other citizens rather than the government.

A less well known consequence of these protests is that about thirty people have died since February 12th due to serious health problems while not being able to reach hospitals because of blockages [18]. This includes Mrs. Luzmila Petit de Colina, mother of journalist Jean Francis Colina [16], who works for Venezulea’s public television and is a well known friend of many members of different FOSS communities in the country. Journalists from this TV channel were besieged by opponents for 8 consecutive days [14], including Ronald Muñoz, who suffered serious injuries on Feb. 25 while on location in Tachira state [6]. Community TV stations such as “Montaña TV” were also attacked. [17]

Concurrent with this violence there have been cyber attacks on more than 160 web pages of Venezuelan public authorities and institutions [15], including public media services Telesur and “Venezolana de Televisión” which are the two main public TV channels of the country. These are continuously complaining about being blocked abroad.

International media constantly talk about the deaths of 16 university students during the protests against the government. A statement issued Feb. 26, and signed by numerous recognized Venezuelan human rights defenders [23] lists the people killed in the protests and the circumstances surrounding each death. It has been determined that only 4 of the eleven cases examined were killed due to actions of Venezuelan law enforcement forces: the rest involve people who tried to pass or clear barricades and were actually attacked by anti-government protesters, or shooting victims among civilians (including opponents). Also unreported in the media are the actions of the Venezuelan courts and police, which have already arrested 9 members of the National Guard and police forces for their alleged role in the death of those 4 protesters. [22]

That report does not include others who died in the protests, such as motorcyclist Eduardo Anzola, who died February 25th hitting one of these barbed wire barricades [20], the motorcyclist Antonio Valbuena, who was shot while trying to remove debris from a road in Maracaibo [25], or young Jimmy Vargas whom, according to CNN, died February 24th by accidentally falling from a rooftop [21].

For all these reasons we are saddened that ALT1040’s statement, signed by many right wing colleagues in the free software community, does not start with a firm, clear, and unequivocal repudiation of violence wherever it comes from. We categorically reject the use of violence and all violations of human rights: both protesters killed by opposition gang violence and in police excesses, and of people who wanted move along an avenue and were curtailed their right to free transit, such as those who were killed by traps and barricades placed by protesters, and those who died because they were prevented from reaching a hospital in time. We reject the destruction of public property including attacks on officials and service workers of the Metro (subway), Metrobus and similar public services, the attack on the Attorney General’s Office on February 12, the vandalizing of traffic lights and telecommunications facilities, as well as environmental crimes including cutting trees for barricades and creating forest fires as a form of “protest.”

Regarding the alleged blocked websites

ALT1040 claims there is a “violation of the right of free access to information recently evidenced by restricting access to the following web sites,” citing among them twimg.com (hosting images of social network Twitter), pastebin.combit.ly,zello.com and “various news portals nationwide” which are not identified. The statement reports that there are “about 500” web sites being blocked at this time, but concedes it did not have a reliable list supposedly because the government is not sufficiently transparent.

Firstly, we reject these ambiguous and vague reports about Internet censorship which are meant to influence people outside the country to think that the sites and services mentioned may not be accessed, and that there are hundreds of websites that are being blocked in our country. This is completely false: there are thousands of web sites with clearly opposing political tendencies that are available and can be accessed at this time in Venezuela. There is not a single person in Venezuela who is not aware of what is happening in the country.

In particular, in respect to the alleged censoring of twimg.com, which prevented users of this social network to view and upload images, occurred only for a few hours between February 14 at night and February 15 in the morning, and affected only users of state public company CANTV (Venezuela has numerous Internet providers, and others did not block this service). No users reported having trouble tweeting or reading tweets, and indeed complaints about the inability to see images were made mainly through this social network. Some of those who signed the ALT1040 statement, computer experts, conducted tests that day were convinced that this blockage came from a computer on the internal network of CANTV. However, the issue with images on Twitter was resolved within hours and the CANTV issued a statement strongly rejecting accusations of censoring Internet sites [24]. Some speculate that this very limited outage occurred due to an internal network fault, or by measures taken after a recent cyber attack. Twitter remains fully open to all Venezuelans, as does bit.ly.

Why zello.com was blocked

While some of the proponents of this document feel blocking zello.com was excessive and rather unhelpful, there are specific reasons why this happened. Zello is a proprietary application that operates as a virtual walkie talkie, which allows groups of people to communicate with each other using voice messages in virtual channels, according to their physical location or common interests. This use is entirely valid, but at present Zello is being explicitly used by violent elements in the Venezuelan opposition as a tool for planning, directing and coordinating gang violence, even murder. These groups are using it to create an atmosphere of chaos and terror to instill fear in the population with the political goal to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, much like the attempted 2002 coup.

For example, Robert Alonso, a fugitive blamed for concealing, in 2004, more than 100 paramilitaries in his estate with intention to perform a terrorist attack against President Hugo Chavez [29], is one of those using Zello’s “Guarimbero Mayor” channel to promote destabilizing activities against Venezuela. Through this channel he and others have been encouraging protesters to destroy public property, to damage traffic lights, directing blockades of vehicles on the roads restricting the right of others to move, to throw sulfuric acid on National Guard members and another actions which clearly are felonies. His channel has more than 800 people connected.

While no official of the Bolivarian government has publicly acknowledged that the Zello.com network is being blocked, some of us are convinced, based on technical evidence, that Zello is indeed being blocked by Venezuela. As Venezuelans, we are naturally against censorship of social networking applications as a matter of principle. However, we believe that the right to live trumps the right to free information. Using Zello to share criminal strategies for killing other Venezuelans just because they supported Chavez, directing attacks on National Guard members with sulfuric acid, teaching how to make petrol bombs with napalm to attack police, to destroy public facilities, to direct the use of oil and sharp objects on the road to cause car accidents, committing environmental crimes and even talking of placing bombs, explosives, and to unleash a civil war, is a clear violation of all our most basic laws and the dignity of our people. This threatens public safety and peace of all our citizens and endangers the lives of many innocent people. This is clearly terrorism, and so should be declared as such and actively confronted.

To understand how Zello is being used, we attach three audios.

This first was taken yesterday from Zello audio channel “Venezuela SOS” and corresponds to user “Tío Policarpio”. He literally says: “Me and my group burned the Tourism Corporation here in San Cristobal. Burn the ground floors of buildings so they can’t access them. Shoot guards with marbles from the buildings using slingshots, mix caustic soda with chlorine bleach in malt bottles, and throw them petrol bombs with Styrofoam! Occupy Metro stations, hijack the main car and take away the main operating controls, hijacked the subway! How is it that in Charallave and Cua, Miranda state they are celebrating carnivals? Block the roads to beaches, La Guaira, bring down the traffic lights, let’s make “guarimbas” (blockages near a person’s home), enough of this regime, and if we have to kill, let’s go out and kill!”


The second (partial) audio explains how to make chemical weapons, in this case napalm (a mixture of gasoline and other additives that make it more dangerous, sticky and difficult to extinguish) for use in petrol bombs to be used against the National Guard. They also explain how to properly throw the bomb to cause maximum damage.




The third is a selection of audio from Zello channels “The Way Out” and “Guarimbero Mayor” recorded between February 25 and 26, 2014. In this audio you can listen to different participants promoting the use of Molotov cocktails against the National Guard, destroying traffic lights and trees for barriers on public roads, building barricades using cars and debris to injure motorcyclists, pouring sulfuric acid on the barricades so that nobody can remove them, and many other similar felonies.


Did these facts motivate our colleagues to issue a statement defending the supposed freedom of information and demanding the unblocking of Zello?

Freedom of information can not be above the right to live.

In any case, we want to remind the owners of the business known as Zello.com that Venezuela is a sovereign and independent nation, and just as they are obliged to work with law enforcement agencies in the US when their network is used by someone to commit crimes, they should work together with the Venezuelan government to block the network of terrorists issuing messages that encourage violence and endanger the lives of Venezuelan citizens.

Why should Venezuela allow any foreign company to break our laws and promote terrorism with impunity, especially at a time that are actively destabilizing our political and economic system? What would you do if a known terrorist who lives outside the United States used the network to promote aggression against the lives of public officials and promote terrorist attacks in your country? What would the US government do, or any other country do, if a group of people used a Venezuelan company to encourage US citizens to make weapons to attack and kill others, and try to destabilize and overthrow their government?

We must remember that the Declaration of Principles of the World Summit on the Information Society, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (UN agency specialized in Telecommunications) in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2003, clearly states that “The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues (…). In this respect, it is recognized that the authority of policy on Internet-related public policy is a right of sovereign nations. It also states that “all actors in the Information Society should take appropriate actions and preventive measures, as determined by law, against abusive uses of ICTs, such as illegal and other acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, hatred, violence, all forms of child abuse.” [3]

We are defenders of freedom of expression and free information, but we insist: above that right is the right to live. If the company Zello, or any other national or foreign company, will not help to preserve this right, we will support the Venezuelan government actions to prevent that company from operating in Venezuela.

We also reaffirm our confidence in the democratically elected Bolivarian government headed by Nicolas Maduro, particularly at this moment, preluding a coup. We demand that the will of 7,587,532 people (50.61 % of the voters) who last April 14, 2013 voted Maduro for President in free and fair elections, as confirmed by numerous international agencies, be fully respected, and urge those who do not agree with this government to respect the time frame established in our national Constitution: If they wish so, in 2016 they can attempt a recall referendum, or wait until 2019 for the next general election.

However, we also urge the government of President Maduro to be very careful when choosing to block websites, even at this difficult time. Such actions, in our opinion, should be as temporary and minimally invasive as possible, should be discussed by a multidisciplinary team and with other legal institutions as needed, and should be done primarily when people’s lives are clearly at stake. Each block serves to reinforce the false narrative offered by the international media that Venezuela is restricting freedom of expression and information. As all computer professionals have the tools to determine where a website is being blocked, we also urge that where it is necessary to restrict a website, for transparency, the government should also issue a statement clearly explaining the reasons for doing so and the duration, and to also communicate directly with the foreign company responsible for the web site where it is prudent and necessary, to notify them of the actions being taken and what they can do to have access restored.

The Pastebin case

Pastebin.com was apparently apparently blocked because it was being used to distribute instructions for creating a “webhive” (an instrument to perform a denial of service attack), and this one was being used against more than 160 web pages of the Venezuelan State. We believe that the company should be willing to discuss with the Venezuelan government about removing these kinds of instructions, as they also actively do for the US government.

Tachira state

The ALT1040 statement refers to a “generalized cut of Internet access to a region of the country by the national telephone company of Venezuela (CANTV), from Wednesday February 19, 2014 to Friday February 21, 2014, as evidenced by multiple citizen reporting in Tachira state.” We regret that the statement has not given any context or provided information of the serious events occurring in the area at the time. Tachira, which borders Colombia, has been one of the most affected by the violence and assaults on public facilities, including health facilities, residences and public utilities, and attacks on the infrastructure of CANTV and other State agencies.

President Nicolas Maduro has condemned the presence of paramilitary groups hired by those interested in promoting separatist actions in this important Venezuelan border state, in open violation of articles 11, 13, and 15 of the Constitution relating to the territory, integrity, defense and the sovereignty of the nation.

On the subject of Internet blackouts, or what the international press denounces as “generalized cuts of internet access to a region of the country”, on February 21 Manuel Fernández, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, denied any government involvement and reported that “in some cases fiber optic cut accidents do occur, and some were deliberate acts of vandalism (sabotage), but we always proceed to splice them to restore service as soon as is possible. This time we had problems in northern Táchira, and in San Cristobal because of the many fires in the city” [26] [27]. The governor of Tachira, José Vielma Mora, confirmed the fiber optic cuts in a recent interview, noting that even his office did not have Internet either [35].

Note that, although there were twitter reports of problems with broadband Internet access in some sectors of the city of San Cristóbal, there were other cases of tweeters who at the time reported not to have suffered these problems [28]. This is consistent with vandalism and fire damage in specific switching offices, while attacks on state workers also made it difficult to reach these places where there were outages to solve them. All indications are that there was no intention to block the Internet in Tachira by the State or by CANTV. The drafters of the statement released by ALT1040 lie by accusing the government of leaving part of the country without Internet for political reasons.

On net neutrality and censorship

Furthermore, the statement issued by this right-wing subset of the free software software community speaks of “repeated violations of net neutrality, the principle embodied in our Telecommunications Law (…) and the prohibition of prior censorship”. No evidence or examples of any such violations are actually provided. On the contrary, many of those who signed the statement issued from ALT1040 are already recognized political opponents of the Venezuelan government despite working in public institutions or have been granted contracts with the State, and they do so knowing their Twitter accounts, Facebook and other social networks are known and entirely unrestricted. Their freedom of speech has already been shown and demonstrated. We do not see where or how any “prior restraint” was experienced by them.


The statement written by members of the right-wing subset of the free software community also speaks of “the violation of the privacy of citizens as evidenced by the installation of a Center for Strategic Security and Protection of the Motherland (CESPPA), whose activities, outlined in Presidential Decree 458, published in the Official Gazette 40,266 (…) include the continuous monitoring of information flows.”

This statement ignores the fact that the decree was re-printed in the Official Gazette 40,279 [34] amending sections 3 and 10, which originally required private companies to provide information for use of the intelligence agencies. Such references were removed, indicating that CESSPA should only “request, organize, integrate and evaluate information relevant to the strategic level regarding national security, from all law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the State, as required by the President of the Republic.” This revision also removed the requirement in Article 10 for private institutions to “provide all required information” by CESPPA in the exercise of their functions. Different NGOs, such as “Espacio Público”, have recognized that CESPPA is simply “a body that coordinates the intelligence” of the different entities of the Bolivarian government. [7]

In the current global context, all nations must develop the means to ensure their continued sovereignty, independence, security and defense. In our case, these principles are constitutionally enshrined in Articles 326 and 327. CESPPA is the institution that the Venezuelan government has been forced to establish to protect itself against internal and external attacks, consistent with the fundamental right of the people to self-determination of their own form of government, and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development freely as they choose, without external interference.

Against the lies about Venezuela

Today,, February 27, 2014, we issue this statement as we remember the 25th anniversary of the tragedy known as the “Caracazo”, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the measures taken by the government at the time, instigated by the International Monetary Fund and other agencies, to raise the prices of food, gas and utilities, and to start a wave of privatizations as part of a series of measures that affected the population terribly, similar to extremely abusive austerity measures taken in European countries as part of their present crisis. The Venezuelan people took to the streets, and were violently suppressed by the government of the time, using lethal weapons, according even to official figures leaving more than 500 dead, but more than 3,000 according to other sources. We are proud that the present government, made up of people who worked with Hugo Chavez, is the guarantor of human rights for all our citizens, starting with the right to live, as well as recognizing the freedom of expression and free access to information, of all our citizens equally.

We repudiate the negative mainstreaming efforts underway by international media against Venezuela, and we exhort them to better inform themselves about the facts. We exhort the free software, hardware, knowledge and culture community around the world to research what’s really happening in our country and urgently ask the end of violent attacks by Venezuelan right wing factions, pushed and promoted by the US government.

We denounce ALT1040’s involvement in Venezuela’s political affairs for the last months, through some of its contributors, rallying against the supporters of Nicolás Maduro’s administration and delivering half-truths and unverified facts and misinformation [32]. We exhort ALT1040 to cover equally both sides of the conflict, and to publish this and other manifestos put forward by groups within the free software community that support the Venezuelan government.

In Venezuela, free technologies are very prevalent: Having a population of nearly 30 million, it’s one of the few countries in the world where almost 3 million computers have been given at no cost to grade school children and high school students through a program named “Canaima Educativo”. Each and every computer running free software; and almost unknown fact to those living outside Venezuela, and a fact never commented by portals such as ALT1040. The eGovernment Law, passed last year by the National Assembly [31] was created to complement Presidential Decree 3,390 signed by late President Hugo Chávez in 2004, with the purpose of the adoption of free platforms and open standards by the State, with the ultimate aim of providing our population the maximum possible happiness. Likewise, it’s a noteworthy fact that the Venezuelan State has made the greatest efforts to enhance the population’s access to the Internet, reaching a penetration of 12,990,000 users [33], nearly 43% of the population, with emphasis on the poor.

We are convinced that free technologies, free knowledge and culture are vital to a society where poverty is to be eradicated, inefficiency and corruption are eliminated, and society’s gravest problems are solved. Technology should not be and instrument to enslave people to fashion and consumerism. Thusly, we hereby ask free technologies, knowledge and culture sympathizers around the world to support Venezuela and help break the media blackout by sharing what’s really happening in our country.

Translated by David Sugar.

SOURCES (in Spanish):

1 Motorcyclist dies on Rómulo Gallegos avenue, beheaded by wire placed by opposition protesters (+Video)


2 Venezuelan Free Software Community starts petition for net neutrality


3 Information Society World Summit, UIT 2004 – Declaration of Principles


6 Journalist Ronald Muñoz hurt while covering events in San Cristóbal


7 CESPPA’s decree is reformed


8 Attack on CANTV’s Barquisimeto’s Morán Central


9 5 CANTV vehicles and Morán’s Central in Barquisimeto are set on fire


10 CANTV’s losses amount to more than Bs. 7,5M


11 Maduro shows surveillance videos of opposition’s aggression to Metrobús’ units, workers and users


12 36 Metro de Caracas’ workers hurt due to violence


13 Oil poured on Chacao’s streets in attempt to block motorcycles from joining rally


14 Pictures and videos of the siege on Venezolana de Televisión, Venezuela’s public television

http://albaciudad.org/wp/index.php/2014/02/en-video-grupos-violentos-asediaron-sede-de-venezolana-de-television-por-segundo-dia-consecutivo/ http://albaciudad.org/wp/index.php/2014/02/fotos-acoso-vtv-disturbios/

15 Manuel Fernández: 163 public web sites attacked in 12 days


16 Zurda Konducta’s hostess blames fascist groups for mother’s death


17 Community broadcaster Montaña TV is attacked


18 30 people die for lack of treatment due to blockades


19 Government detains 3 armed Colombian paramilitaries in El Vigía


20 Motorcyclist dies after hitting barricade on Michelena avenue


21 Video shows accidental death of Jimmy Vargas after falling from rooftop


22 Prosecutor: 9 law enforcement agents detained. Breakthrougs in Bassil Dacosta and Juan Montoya’s cases (+Video)


23 Human Rights status in Venezuela: An alternative look


24 CANTV denies blocking Twitter images


25 Taxi-biker killed while removing barricade in Maracaibo


26 CANTV restores Internet service in Táchira


27 Objections to the statement


28 CANTV’s broadband user in San Cristóbal denies cut on 20 feb.



29 55 paramilitaries detained in Robert Alonso’s estate, 80 escape


30 Journalist Ronald Muñoz hurt while covering events in San Cristóbal


31 eGovernment Law is published


32 Venezuela’s government’s great technological horrors


33 CONTAEL’s IV quarter’s report – 2013.


34 Presidential Decree n. 458, 24 oct. 2013


35 José Vielma Mora’s interview in Onda La Superestación