In Venezuela, Activists Document Protests and Share Protection Tactics

“I'm finishing this April 6th sharing images and videos. [This day] will mark our lives” Photo: Luis Carlos Díaz. Used with permission.

Calls to protest have intensified in many Venezuelan cities following a short-lived move by Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice to nullify parliament and grant its legislative powers to itself and President Nicolás Maduro.

The ruling sparked demonstrations and international outcry, and the court soon reversed its decision, but this didn't stop opposition groups and other organizations that have accused the government of being dictatorial — since long before the court ruling — from continuing to mobilize.

Street protests in Venezuela in recent days have been marked by arrests and violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Citizen and alternative media and advocacy groups have also been reporting abuses by police. PROVEA, an NGO dedicated to the defense of human rights in the country, published a recap of the protests on April 4:

Además de detener, las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado también dedicaron su jornada a reprimir la protesta con bombas lacrimógenas, gas pimienta y perdigones, violando el derecho a la manifestación pacífica, la libertad y la integridad personal y poniendo en peligro el derecho a la vida.

A pesar de la grave situación en la que se encuentra el derecho a la información, debido a la hegemonía comunicacional del gobierno, la sociedad civil levantó su voz mediante las redes sociales en conjunto con los medios de comunicación alternativos,

Apart from arrests, state security forces have devoted their workday to repressing protests with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, violating the right to peaceful protest and personal freedom and integrity and jeopardizing the right to life.

Despite the serious situation of the right to information due to the government's communications hegemony, civil society raised their voice through social media together with alternative media outlets.

Demonstrations are ongoing and being documented online, particularly in the capital, Caracas, where supporters of the government and the opposition took to social media under the competing hashtags #VzlaTrancaContraElGolpe, (“Venezuela blocks the coup”, mainly used by the opposition),  #NoSeasCarnedeCañon (“Don't be cannon fodder”, used mainly by pro-government groups) and #6Abril (April 6):

They're repressing peaceful protests […] around Francisco Fajardo [avenue]. Photo taken by the PROVEA team.

The dictatorship of some won't tame the will of millions that are calling for change

Security strategies and protest documentation: Tips from the experts

In Venezuela, where censorship and limitations on free expression and internet access have become increasingly frequent, the use of citizen media has been key to organize, denounce and share accurate information about the protests.

Photo: Luis Carlos Díaz. Used with permission.

Acceso Libre (Open Access), a digital rights defense group, is collecting data and complaints about internet access problems:

If you're tweeting about internet problems this week, use the hashtag #internetVE and include provider + city + details of the problem

They also reminded followers of the reach of the government:

Once in the protest, remember that authorities can be monitoring communications in the area.

They distributed infographics created by Article19 Mexico, advising protesters on how to protect themselves during confrontations with the police:

Tweet: Tips on how to react when faced with police malpractice.

Image: Don't provoke. Document. Tone down your body language. When surrounded by police agents, keep calm and call your emergency contact. Identify yourself, have a dialogue. Cover your head and your chest. Try to move away.

And they explained effective ways to document abuses:

Tweet: Basic tips to document a social protest.

Image: Keep your distance. Identify yourself. Wear comfortable clothes, a helmet, gas masks, handkerchief. [Keep] extra batteries, charger, phone credit. Write down an emergency number.

The Red Venezolana de Periodismo Ciudadano (Venezuelan Network of Citizen Journalism) also shared advice:

Tweet: These are the students’ recommendations to participate in a protest.

Image: Use thick clothes. This will make it easier to protect yourself from possible beatings or rubber bullets. Take a face mask. They will be useful in case tear gas [is deployed]. Have an escape route. Before protesting keep an eye on a possible quick escape route in case of clashes. It's also useful to know places where you can take shelter. Just water is not enough [to clean tear gas from your eyes]. For tear gas, dilute with anti-acids (Maalox or milk of magnesia). Vinegar is an acid itself. If you use glasses, wear frames. Contact lenses tend to retain the chemicals and make the effect last.

Among these recommendations, some of the most shared were from journalist and Global Voices author Luis Carlos Díaz, who summarized best practices for documenting the protests and police abuse, such as accompanying images with the place, date, time and details of what they capture.

Recommendations to cover protests.

He underlined the importance of making and preserving complaints:

Human rights violations don't have a time limit and responsibilities are individual. Record for the future, when there will be democracy.

‘I ask myself when did fear become so strong, so invalidating. Unbearable.’

Some Venezuelans online are reflecting on the conflicts that have led the country into crisis, including how the discourse of political leaders and their supporters has taken the tension to new heights.

Said by Aristóbulo Istúriz: We'll defend our independence with blood if necessary. We'll defeat them.

Said by Diosdado Cabello: Every time they say they'll take the streets, we will also take the streets to defend the revolution.

Musicians and senior citizens were among those arrested. For some, like Willy McKey from the online news site Prodavinci, it was proof that the situation has reached a point of no return:

Han arrestado y golpeado a un músico. Han golpeado en la cara a un arquitecto de ochenta años […] Algo ha cambiado […] Algo grande […] Nos han traspuesto.

They have arrested and beaten a musician. They have hit an 80-year-old architect in the face. […] Something has changed […] Something big […] They've transposed us.

Meanwhile, Aglaia Berlutti recounted on publishing platform Medium how an almost-casual encounter with military officers patrolling the streets showed her how fear has become the norm:

El miedo. El miedo. El miedo en todas partes. Levanto la cabeza. Uno de los militares me mira con los ojos entrecerrados a la distancia. El arma apoyada en el muslo. El escudo de plexiglás bien visible.

Sigo caminando. Lo hago sin volverme a mirar. Preguntándome cuándo el miedo se hizo tan fuerte, invalidante. Insoportable. Cuando el miedo se volvió el único elemento reconocible en medio de esta cotidianidad absurda, lenta y turbia. Cuándo el miedo se hizo una forma de comprender al país.

Fear. Fear. Fear everywhere. I raise my head. One of the military officers squints when he looks at me from a distance. His weapon pressed against his thigh. The plexiglass shield very visible.

I keep walking. I walk without looking back. I ask myself when did fear become so strong, so invalidating. Unbearable. When did it become the only recognizable element in this absurd, slow, shady everyday life. When did it become a way to understand the country.

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