Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kerry, Jaua in Spat Over Venezuelan Internet Access

Internet access in Venezuela has become the latest dispute in the diplomatic tug-of-war between the U.S. and the South American state.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry labeled Russia and Venezuela as countries with “an absolutely unmistakable pattern” of cracking down on the Internet. 

“The places where we face some of the greatest security challenges today are also the places where governments set up firewalls against some of the basic freedoms online,” he said during a speech given as part of the annual Freedom Online Coalition conference.

“In Venezuela, the government has used security forces to disrupt peaceful protests and limit freedoms of expression and assembly. And this has included blocking access to selected websites and limiting access to internet service in certain parts of the country,” added Kerry who spoke via a Google Plus video chat at the conference in Estonia.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, said yesterday to the press that he “rejected” the “false” accusations made by Kerry.

“We are all under threat from a (U.S.) government that believes they have the right to intervene and sanction against countries based on the reality they construct from diplomats at their respective embassies,” Jaua mentioned.

Jaua also referred to the recent political unrest in Venezuela and blamed “hackers” for targeting official websites as part of a “fascist intent to oust” Venezuelan president Nicol├ís Maduro.

Internet access and social media campaigns have become important tools for the Venezuelan opposition to espouse their views against the government and to publish alleged cases of brutality by the authorities. Last February that the government was accused of being behind a brief blackout of images on Twitter while street protests against the Maduro regime grew in major cities across the country.

“For all of Kerry's grand posturing, there's a certain hypocrisy in proclaiming the right for people to freely access the Internet even as the U.S. auctions off those rights at home to the highest bidder,” wrote Tom McKay in an article on the PolicyMic website.  McKay didn’t delve into Internet access in Venezuela but he did mention that:

Americans have mostly unrestricted freedom to use the Internet, but our quality of service is abysmal. This should concern everyone, not just Internet junkies and young techies. As the U.S. rapidly becomes a more digital society, the question of service and who controls it will be tantamount to ensuring Americans can continue to use the Internet to innovate and create, rather than be trapped by a rentier's market that reeks of Ma Bell. 
Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. has been very tense since 2010 when the ambassadors for both countries were withdrawn.  Yet the intensifying of political violence in Venezuela over the past two months ha also worsened the diplomatic ties between both states. 

Last month, for example, Kerry told a U.S. Congressional committee that the Maduro regime needed to “end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to, hopefully, respect human rights in an appropriate way.”  Jaua subsequently replied by calling Kerry a “murderer of the Venezuelan people.”

Despite the harsher rhetoric from Kerry towards the Maduro regime, some politicos in the U.S. have called for stronger steps to be taken by U.S. President Barack Obama against Venezuelan officials.
Among those criticizing Obama was Florida Gov. Rick Scott who about one month ago claimed that the president “does not care” about Venezuela.  White House officials claimed that they have been working with “international partners” in order to find a peaceful solution and are also considering imposing sanctions against allies of the Venezuelan government.

In the meantime, Maduro ordered a 30% boost to the minimum wage as part of the second wave of an “economic offensive” aimed at halting high levels of inflation and shortages of basic goods and foods.  It remains to be seen of the new policies will quell the political violence that has claimed more than forty lives or help improve an economy that is among the few in Latin America expected to contract this year.

The disagreement over Internet access in Venezuela hasn’t been the only recent diplomatic disagreement involving the U.S. and a Latin American state.  President Rafael Correa of Ecuador ordered the expulsion last week of twenty Defense Department employees working at the U.S. embassy in Quito.

Video Source – YouTube user France24

Online Sources – Reuters; BBC News; teleSUR; Caracol Radio; The Hill; PolicyMic; U.S. State Department; Bloomberg; Miami Herald; The Guardian; The Latin Americanist

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