Digital unrest is brewing in Venezuela: A new way to protest

Referendum gives Venezuela's opposition a new momentum.

Digital unrest is brewing
Digital unrest is brewing in Venezuela after referendum gives opposition parties new momentum.
  • Digital unrest is brewing in Venezuela. It is giving the opposition to a government many consider illegitimate a new voice and momentum.
  • After one-sided elections earlier this month, in which the government of Nicolás Maduro claimed victory, the opposition held a referendum online, via an app and messaging services.
  • More people participated in the referendum than in the original election and it is giving the opposition a new lease on life.

Digital unrest is brewing in Venezuela.

The latest form of protest started with a loud silence on December 6, when the party of President Nicolás Maduro’s won a one-sided election for the country’s National Assembly.

Instead of lining up at the polls or turning up en masse to protests, Venezuelans stayed home and refused to vote, spurning calls and even threats from Maduro and his allies to vote. There were few options on the ballots, as opposition politicians and parties boycotted the election. In the end, Maduro and his allies claimed victory.

Despite the emptiness of the polling stations, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela, controlled by Maduro’s regime, reported that 6,251,080 Venezuelans voted out of 20,710,421 registered, according to the same entity. That added up to a participation rate of just 30.5 percent.

And yet, the silence of the other 70 percent turned into a roar.

Digital unrest is brewing

On election day and the days that followed they turned out in droves for a referendum promoted by Juan Guaidó, the former president of the National Assembly and the man most foreign governments recognize as the legitimate president of the country.

More Venezuelans reportedly participated in the referendum, some 6,466,791, according to Guaidó and his supporters. The referendum was done through an app.

“The app worked perfectly for me on my Huawei Y5 2019. The process is a bit tedious, but everything calmly is done well. I cast my vote and automatically I received an email with the ballot,” said Yasmin Pabón in a review of the app that was available through Google’s Play Store.

About 2.4 million votes were cast over Voatz, a private mobile voting application, and Telegram, a messaging app that is increasingly popular for its ability to send encrypted messages.

The opposition also set up polling stations deployed across the country and abroad and claimed later that millions of people lined up to vote against Maduro’s regime, showing how digital unrest is brewing in the country

Dozens of people were seen joining Guadió as he cast his vote at one polling station in the state of La Guaira (previously the state of Vargas).

Abroad, mass voting was recorded in cities like Madrid, the capital of Spain, which hosts one of Venezuela’s largest diasporas.

Through the referendum, Venezuela’s opposition asked three questions. One was about the legitimacy of the Dec. 6 election, one about the popular desire to end Maduro’s time in office and the call for free and fair elections, and one about calling on the international community to help to end the economic and humanitarian in Venezuela through more aid.

Widespread support

The opposition only revealed participation results, which suggest massive support.

Still, it is uncertain what can or will happen following the referendum. While it was not organized by the sitting government, there are those who say the results should be binding.

“I did vote in the referendum. It is binding. It has constitutional rank. You have to push in one direction. In Venezuela, nobody wants to protest, but just wait for a miracle,” tweeted Edwin Pino out of the state of Merida.

What is clear is that the referendum may give the opposition enough legitimacy abroad to maintain the support it already has, and continue the fight against Maduro’s regime, which has been linked to drug trafficking. U.S. authorities have offered a reward of up to US$15 million for information leading to Maduro’s arrest. There are other multi-million-dollar rewards for other government officials.

“The dictatorship which is guilty of the systematic violations of human rights that the UN denounced and verified, which is guilty of hunger and the poverty of millions, which is linked to drug trafficking and terrorism, must end and face international justice,” tweeted opposition leader Leopoldo López from exile in Bogota, Colombia. “That is our commitment!”

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