Anti-government protests continued in Venezuela on Thursday as President Nicolas Maduro continues with efforts to stop coverage of the mayhem, which he has likened to "war propaganda."
Student-led demonstrations began eight days ago when frustrated Venezuelans took to the street to express dissatisfaction with Maduro's government, which has ushered the state into a period of economic stagnation, food shortages and increased crime. Since protests began eight days ago, six have been killed and scores injured, and certain areas seem like a "war zone," per Reuters:
The most sustained clashes on Thursday were in the western Andean states of Tachira and Merida, which have been especially volatile since hardline opposition leaders called supporters onto the streets in early February. In Tachira state capital San Cristobal, which some residents are describing as a "war zone," many businesses remained shut as students and police faced off again in barricaded streets. With some residents saying they dared not leave their homes because of the violence, the government said it was taking "special measures" to restore order there.
Those "special measures" included a plan to send military units to the region, a measure short of declaring a state of emergency but still drastic. Protesters are demanding that Maduro step down. The president, who was elected last year following the death of beloved leader Hugo Chavez, is largely seen as unequipped for the role. He has repeatedly failed to take responsibility for the country's somber state, instead focusing blame on the protests themselves. His government charged opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for allegedly inciting the clashes, and accused the U.S. of attempting to destabilize the government. And since protests began, he has attempted to shut down news outlets paying attention to the protest, a move that seems sure to backfire.
On Thursday, Maduro threatened to kick CNN out of the country because he "won't accept war propaganda against Venezuela." In addition to their own reporting, the news outlet has a site called iReport which encourages amateur reporters to upload image and eyewitness accounts of events. The Venezuela iReport site has countless user-uploaded images of protests on the site, many of which have been shared on Facebook and other social media sites. The New York Times reports that Maduro has already pulled the plug on local news sites:
In a psychological blow to many in the opposition, a stridently antigovernment television station, Globovision, was sold last year to investors believed to be close to the government. Since then, the station has toned down its programming and ceased to be a counterweight to the relentlessly pro-government tone of several government-run television stations. Last week Mr. Maduro ordered a Colombian news channel, NTN24, removed from cable because of its coverage of the demonstrations. Now, there has been little live news coverage of the wave of protests, while government television has relentlessly vilified the demonstrators.
Coverage of the protest continues on social media, however. According to USA Today, more than 14 million Venezuelans (nearly half) have mobile devices and access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other comparable sites. Political analyst Tarek Yorde told USA Today that "The social networks have come to be an alternative media." He warned, however, that "both sides -- the government and opposition -- use them to broadcast false information." We bet Venezuelans, forced to watch state-sponsored media that glosses over obvious problems, can probably figure out how to do that well enough -- unless Maduro continues his Internet clampdown, as well.