Protests following Maduro's inauguration in Venezuela

Wikipedia banned in Venezuela amid political turmoil

Image credit: REUTERS/Martin Acosta

Venezuela has become the second country to entirely block Wikipedia, the NetBlocks internet observatory has found.

The ban is strongly believed to be related to a dispute over the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s presidency acknowledged by the Spanish language version of the free online encyclopaedia.

Maduro was re-elected as President of Venezuela in May 2018; he has held the post since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 and has overseen a rise in human rights abuses, extreme poverty, inflation and hunger. His re-election is widely regarded as illegitimate due to popular opponents being banned from running, claims of fraud, vote rigging and bribery, and an opposition boycott; the electoral process has been rejected by the EU, UN, Australia, the G7 and the Lima Group (representing Central and South American countries). Maduro inaugurated himself last week, resulting in a number of nations withdrawing their Venezuelan embassies.

Opposition leader Juan Gauidó – the recently-appointed president of Venezuela’s National Assembly – has vocally disputed the election result, announcing that he was prepared to assume the presidency on an interim basis. Gauidó was arrested and briefly detained this week.

A Wikipedia article referring to Gauidó as “President Number 51 of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” – and the ensuing “bitter Wikipedia edit war” in which editors proposed conflicting interpretations of the tense political situation on the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia – is believed to be the cause for Wikipedia being blocked by the Venezuelan government.

According to a NetBlocks study based on 60,000 attempts to access Wikipedia from 150 different locations in the country and using multiple providers, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that all versions of Wikipedia have now been blocked in Venezuela by the country’s largest telecoms provider, CANTV. Wikipedia was visited approximately 60 million times every month by Venezuelans.

The ban renders Venezuela the second country known to block Wikipedia entirely, after Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan blocked the site in 2017 over articles relating to Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict.  NetBlocks has stated that it is not possible to say whether the block is a result of an official blocking order, and whether the restriction is intended to continue permanently.

The civil rights group has also identified a major network disruption affecting Venezuelan telecommunications infrastructure and impacting citizens’ ability to communicate.

Among other authoritarian and erratic behaviour, Maduro made headlines in December 2017 when he suggested that establishing a new cryptocurrency could help the country avert complete economic collapse.

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