Following attempts by users to cite Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela on Wikipedia, the state-owned telecommunications operator, Cantv, has blocked access to the free encyclopedia platform.
It marks only the second time a country has fully blocked access to Wikipedia after Turkey banned access in 2017.
According to reports by the digital rights watchdog, NetBlocks Internet Observatory, all editions of Wikipedia have been blocked in Venezuela since 12 January 2019.
Their study investigated 60,000 metrics and identified “major network disruption” which has “impacted Venezuelans’ ability to communicate and access information.”
The move follows a bitter edit war between Wikipedia users who repeatedly listed Juan Guaidó as interim president despite Nicolás Maduro’s re-election victory in May 2018.
Guaidó is the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly who voted on Tuesday to formally denounce Maduro’s second term as ‘illegitimate.’
He has gained international recognition from neighbouring Colombia and Brazil. On 14 January, Marco Rubio also voiced his support and tweeted: “The U.S. has declared Maduro Presidency illegitimate.”
According to reports by CNN, Trump is currently considering whether to recognise Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country, in a move that would dramatically intensify pressure on the current leader.
Mounting challenges to Maduro’s leadership follows controversy over his re-election which was widely deemed fraudulent due to widespread allegations of vote rigging and low voter turnout.
Maduro has also been criticized for the detention of Guaidó on 13 January 2019, leading to John Bolton, the U.S. National Security Advisor, to lambasting Maduro’s “dictatorship.”
The decision to shutdown Wikipedia is reflective of the increased digital restrictions that have taken place in the country over the past five years.
Venezuela’s Freedom on the Net status has changed from ‘partly free’ in 2013 to ‘not free’ in 2018, reflecting the increasing digital restrictions under Maduro’s leadership.
On January 30, 2018, the Venezuelan government passed a new anti-hate law which has provided law enforcement with the power to imprison and charge citizens promoting views critical of the government.
In the same month, three teenagers were held by intelligence agents and accused of inciting hatred by calling for protests against the government on social networks.
However, restricting access to certain websites can be traced back further to June 2017, when several social media platforms were temporarily blocked in various cities across the country amid growing protests.
Venezuela is currently experiencing an annual inflation at a rate of 830,000 percent and mass emigration in the face of food shortages and widespread unemployment.
To date, the U.S. has donated over $48 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela. However, this recent political turmoil appears to suggest that more will need to be done.
Currently Cantv users only have access to Wikipedia by using a VPN or proxy server, however, it is still unclear whether the block is intended to be permanent.
It is also yet to be seen whether Maduro will be able to stave off the mounting international and domestic challenges to his leadership.
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