Venezuela’s state telecom accused of blocking access to site reporting on Chávez’s health
By Rebeca Rodriguez*
Pro-democracy organization Freedom House recently accused Venezuela’s chief national telecommunications company, CANTV, of denying access to the online newspaper Diario de Cuba after the publication ran a number of stories on the health of President Hugo Chávez in January.
According to the Spain-based Diario de Cuba, more than 150,000 people in Venezuela visited their site during the month of January. On Jan. 10 alone, Diario de Cuba received 68,000 visitors from Venezuela, which represented almost 30 percent of their total traffic that day.
However, in the following days several readers from Venezuela reported they were unable to open the website. By Jan. 14, Freedom House said, traffic from Venezuela to the site had fallen sharply, which suggested an access problem.
Freedom House said the state-owned Internet company, which accounts for 80 percent of Internet users in the country, has not provided an explanation. Diario de Cuba questioned CANTV about the alleged blockade through phone calls and e-mails, but has received no answers.
According to Freedom House, the incident reflects an increasing trend of Internet censorship in Venezuela. Freedom House called on the Venezuelan government to adhere to international commitments to protect press freedom and access to information, including on the Internet.
“Blocking access to internet sites threatens the fundamental right of access to information in a country where press freedom and freedom of expression are already constrained,” said Viviana Giacaman, director for Latin America Programs at Freedom House. “We urge the telecommunication companies to correct this issue and allow unrestricted and immediate access to Diario de Cuba by their users.”
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) described the access problems to Diario de Cuba as a “highly suspicious” and added that clients of other privately-owned Internet companies in Venezuela have experienced similar problems accessing Diario de Cuba’s website.
Venezuela was ranked as “Partly Free” in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net 2012 report. Since CANTV’s renationalization in 2007, there have been isolated incidents of the state-owned ISP and mobile phone provider engaging in censorship and monitoring when other providers have not, but no systematic controls have been evident.
*Rebeca Rodriguez is a student in the class "Journalism in Latin America" within the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.
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