“The Revolution will be Tweeted”

SOSvenezuela

The days are unfolding and Venezuela’s situation becomes critical. As the government fights the students and opposition groups in the Latin American country’s main cities, resulting in 3 confirmed deaths and countless injured, the world is watching. Not through the traditional media, though, for it has been subjected to the upmost control by Nicolas Maduro’s special powers, granted to him by the National Assembly at the end of last year. In fact, a controversial decree has warned that any media outlet reporting on Venezuela’s economic crisis, its shortage of basic products, and its alarming standing as one of the world’s most dangerous cities in terms of homicides, will be harshly sanctioned for “instigating popular revolt” and “seeking to destabilize the government”, most likely with the endorsement of the CIA and the US, as well as popular scapegoat Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex–president. Making matters worse, when peaceful protests by Venezuelan students broke out last Wednesday, the government forced Colombian news outlet NTN24 to stop its coverage, and there have been reports of journalist’s equipment being destroyed or robbed. Maduro’s response to the protests has clearly further deteriorated an already worrisome situation for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and it has exacerbated polarization.

So what is going on? Basically, Venezuela is awakening from months (if not years) of popular discontent with shortages, inflation, lack of freedom, and violence. The opposition wants a change. Some, under the guidance of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose arrest has been announced by the government, ask for “La Salida”– the ouster of President Maduro. But the prominent ex presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, has warned against this move, pleading with his compatriots that although peaceful protests are necessary to ask for change, the time is not right to ask Maduro to leave, much less force him out. Maduro, for his part, has already denounced the protests as an attempt at a Coup d’Etat. The result: an increase in violence and radicalization from both the opposition and the government.

How have citizens reacted? By taking to online media without hesitating. As all traditional information outlets were shut, Venezuelan netizens organized themselves to create the rapidly–caught on hashtags #PrayForVenezuela and #SOSVenezuela, calling on the nations of the world to react and pressure the government to stop the repression on its own people. They are trying to avoid a massacre, trying to avoid what their brothers and sisters lived, and are still living, at the outset of the Arab Spring. They are trying to appeal to our indifference, so that this time we might react in a timely manner, supporting freedom, peace, and respect for human rights. These hashtags have already mobilized thousands on Twitter and Facebook in a matter of days. One of the remarkable traits of this feat has been the outpouring support they have received from their compatriots and expatriates living abroad. From Paris to Rome to New York and DC, passing through cities in Latin America and beyond, Venezuelans and others who share their concern have posted messages decrying the government’s repression and calling for peace. They are living out their online revolution through a touching support system. Their actions have already garnered support from prominent leaders and regular citizens from neighboring countries. However, to date only two presidents from the region have issued direct statements condemning violence and asking both the opposition and the government to avoid confrontation and find a peaceful path to peace. It remains to be seen how this civil society initiative will ultimately influence leaders and netizens around the world to hold Maduro and his allies accountable for finding a peaceful solution and responding to the people’s fears and doubts, a fundamental human right in any democracy. Of course, Venezuela is no true democracy, and it has not been for a long time. Therefore, it is imperative to be alert and support this PD initiative stemming from a crucial moment in Venezuelan’s lives. How we choose to react to this will ultimately decide the course of events in a way that will have an impact upon the world, even if for no other reason than the fight for freedom and the triumph of peace and respect over violence and repression.

 

4 thoughts on ““The Revolution will be Tweeted””

  1. Above you wrote :”They are trying to appeal to our indifference, so that this time we might react in a timely manner, supporting freedom, peace, and respect for human rights.”

    I was wondering in particular what are they trying to persuade us to do? Sign a petition, protest, call our congressman? Do you think protest movements in Venezuela, Ukraine, Bahrain, Palestine etc… can motivate foreign governments or collections of private citizens to take concrete diplomatic, economic, and potentially military action to aid them? Other than South Africa has there been any other successful PD campaign that led to a peaceful regime change? Does Venezuela or any other opposition groups active today possess the organization and effectiveness of the ANC? As we have seen since the Arab Spring started it seems social networks are increasing the visibility of protest movements and revolutions as well as the regime repression in response to them.

    Do you think that PD campaigns can actually significantly alter the calculations of intervention formulation and actors in foreign policy beyond statements of condemnation? I am pessimistic when it comes to the lobbying potential of human rights when it comes to competition with other geopolitical and economic circumstances.

    I would love to hear more about your opinion about Venezuela and other revolutions both real and hypothetical and how they can use social media and PD to go from just another issue advocating for attention to an actual force to be reckoned with.

  2. I have a lot of issues with calling this social media outcry an act of Public Diplomacy, as well as comparing this situation in Venezuela to the Arab Spring.

    The social media campaigns during the Arab Spring began as a means of collective action. They were mobilizing supporters and letting them know when and where to meet. They were not initially trying to enlist the help of people in foreign countries. Moreover, they were not trying to positively affect the public perception of their State governments—they were protesting against them. While you can argue that their aim was to influence foreign publics to share their feelings of wanting to overthrow their government, I would still counter that those actions do not constitute PD. The social media campaign in Venezuela is purely aimed at garnering attention for the opposition cause. While I happen to agree with their viewpoint, I would not go so far as to call it Public Diplomacy.

    Citizen Diplomacy is a much better label for what is occurring. According to the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, Citizen Diplomats, “are motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue.” I believe this is what the citizens of Venezuela are attempting to do—they are enlisting the help of not only the Venezuelan Diaspora, but also concerned global citizens. Their goal is to draw attention to the violence and injustices occurring in their country.

    To a large extent they are succeeding—but I might be biased seeing as a majority of my family still lives in Venezuela and I am from South Florida, so I have many Venezuelan friends and sympathizers within my social network. That being said, while they might be succeeding in people posting and using the hashtags on their behalf, these actions alone will not result in a direct U.S. Government response to the issue.

    You note in your post that the opposition in Venezuela has found support from neighboring countries and I find this the more promising route to go about. Support from citizens and leaders close by can come to the aid of the Venezuelan people much easier than what would appear as an invasion from outsiders.

    In my opinion the leaders of the opposition need to find a way for non-violent protest and resistance. They need to get as many influencers and stakeholders on their side if they hope to succeed in achieving any semblance of reform.

  3. Andre,

    I thought this was a great topic and good timing for this week. I wanted to touch on a few points that you made and hopefully expand on some new ideas.

    First, do you think it wise for Lopez, the opposition leader, to surrender to a government he called, “corrupt?” I’m not sure if he’s trying to martyr himself or make a political statement that will probably result in his death, but I don’t think it’s a great tactical move. I also think that it does hurt his chances of diplomacy. He has no leverage if he is detained. When he had the people behind him and some international support, he could use those the “hard power” of the people and the “soft power” of international pressure to achieve his goals. Instead, he is going to face a kangaroo court which will most likely be his last.

    Second, you hinted at America’s role in public diplomacy at the end of your blog entry. However, the U.S. ambassadors there have been threatened to leave the country. They have long been considered CIA spies by the Venezuelan government and Maduro has claimed that the U.S. has conspired with opposition leaders to assassinate him and overthrow the government.

    How can the U.S. repair this relationship without looking like its supporting Maduro and a corrupt government? I’m sure the CIA has had their hands full equipping and funneling money to the opposition party, however I have no proof of this. But this makes it even more difficult to use proper diplomatic channels with so much violence, paranoia and corruption about.

    Therefore, state-to-state diplomacy is probably not worth the time, but there can be state-to-non-state and non-state-to-non-state actions. This is what the hashtags and social media forums are being used for. Can these facilitate peaceful regime change? Recently, i.e. Egypt, it did work, but there was no central figure that could properly lead the country afterward. It is a sticky situation down there and I’m not sure if America’s diplomatic efforts will yield results. We’ll see.

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