Monday, January 17, 2005

Dulce et decorum est?

Here in Venezuela, the effects of Chávez's new censorship laws are being felt not only in the mainstream media, but also in the blogsphere. Regarding the MSM (an abbreviation I saw for the first time yesterday -- I wonder whether it will catch on), reporting on TV and radio stations has become extremely cautious, and criticism of the government has become muted. This is obviously what the Miraflores autocrat wanted, but it is clearly detrimental to freedom of expression as well as the efficiency of government in Venezuela. The media play an important role in society's by placing government's activities under scrutiny, thereby functioning as a anticipatory behavioural corrective. When they are chained or threatened, as is happening here, society suffers.

Bloggers' writings have not yet been addressed by Venezuelan media laws, but the revised penal code severely sanctions criticism of public officials and other forms of dissent by private individuals. Bloggers living in Venezuela are beginning to ask themselves how freely they can write, and how much they need to censor themselves in order to ensure that they will not suffer the consequences of an injust law applied arbitrarily by partisan courts.

Here's a suggestion to such bloggers, whose work I admire and support. Your writings contain two components. On the one hand, you collate information from numerous news sources and make it available in English. On the other hand, you provide in-depth analysis and opinion. Both components are indispensable and should not be given up. But you might want to consider posting to two separate blogs: one in which you post under your own name, and another where you use a pseudonym. Run the first as a fact blog, in which you bring together all the key information on what's going on in Venezuela. Back up your statements by quoting your sources in each case (as you've already been doing). This should keep you safe from prosecution, though in this country it's hard to be sure. In the second blog, vent your opinions and analyse the news for all it's worth, but keep your identity secret in order to ensure you stay out of the chavista's hands.

Is it dishonourable to post using a pseudonym? I certainly don't think so. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori may be a noble sentiment, but it is also an asinine concept. You can do far more for your country alive (or out of prison) than dead (or in prison), so don't sacrifice your life to a cause. Rather live to fight another day. Do whatever is necessary to keep on writing. Post anonymously if that is what's required at the moment, and then make your identity known once reason returns to Venezuela.

22 Comments:

Blogger A.M. Mora y Leon said...

Elegantly stated, John, and I mostly agree. But even thugs can put two and two together and happily match news to analysis from two blogs. I think totally anonymous is best. Besides this, news and analysis over overlap and that is the beauty of blogging. It might be less work to use just one blog, I see less reason for two, unless you see another angle to it that I don't.

5:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point AMM&L. But, what John says in definitely true. I used to comment under my own name and have taken to becoming Anonymous. There is one particular blogger that worries me. We both comment on his blog, but I have taken to lurking.

7:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

I just want to congratulate you for your effort. Anonymity is better than nothing, though there's also something really nice about publishing under your name. That's what I've been doing for three years and I've had terrific experiences. Too bad things turned sour.

AB

1:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations John!
You have shown how "flexible" the opposition can be.
They have gone from "might over reason" during the coup and the civic strike to "reason over might" now that they have lost all their front lines. During the strike many would rather to die than live another day. Now it is live to fight another day.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori was a noble sentiment. All of the sudden it is not.

Things change, don't they?

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, have you and your fellow bloggers calculated the possible impacts of the recent trade, technology and communications agreements inked between Venezuela and China relative to freedom of Internet access? China is the world's #1 internet censor: they have a broad spectrum of technologies employed to seek out sites and news that the regime doesn't want Chinese citizens to read, and that of course includes blogs as well as more conventional sources of information. I just wonder how long it will be before ALL the Libertad Plena, NetForVenezuela, urru.org and other similar listservs will be allowed to post, and how long it'll be before you just won't be able to access Miguel's and Daniel's sites here in Venezuela. The day of reckoning can't be too far away. After all, as Chavez continues to plunge headlong into international opprobrium and terminal siege mentality sets in, even his more level-headed advisors, when weighing the pros and cons of straight-out internet censorship, will probably opt for open repression rather than walking the fine line between nominal press freedom and outright censorship. Qué es una raya más para un tigre?
Eric

5:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I try not put any amount of significant personal info on my comments or blogs. I trust most people but being in Venezuela is not safe with the laws and enforcers out to get anyone that does not follow Castro, sorry Chavez.

5:44 pm  
Blogger John said...

Thanks to all for your comments. There are several issues that have been brought up and that deserve to be addressed.

AMMyL, you are quite right: it is more work to run two blogs than a single one. This is something you would obviously only do if there were some positive utility to be gained from doing so. I believe that this may indeed be the case, though not for all people.

What are the benefits of writing under your name? As AB has mentioned, "there's [...] something really nice about writing under your name". You receive personally attributed recognition for your efforts and feel appreciated. Some readers may think you are a more reliable source of information because "you stand by what you say" -- they may consider that a person who shrouds his/her identity in secrecy may also keep the truth on other matters veiled. Finally, you avoid the risk of some freeloader attributing your writings to himself/herself, robbing you of the credit for what you've achieved.

In the case of Venezuela, we have to balance the utility from writing under our own names against the risk of being persecuted or prosecuted for what we say. Presumably, we run a lower risk when publishing substantiated facts than when publishing our opinions, which tend not to favour those we oppose. By separating the contents into a high-risk, anonymous opinion section and into a low-risk, real-name fact section, we maintain the benefit of writing under our own name while reducing the risk of being unjustly taken to task for it.

The key question for deciding whether to write a single blog or rather two is whether the benefit of real-name publishing balances the effort of maintaining two blogs. This is obviously a personal choice, as it depends on your subjective interpretation of what it's worth to you to be published under your real name. If it means a lot to you, publish to two blogs; if you consider it less important (as you and I do), publish to a single, anonymous blog.

Regarding the risk of the authorities being able to "put two and two together" to identify the real identity of a person publishing two blogs, I believe that it can be minimised down to almost zero. There are many ways to cover your tracks, and I have no doubt that the persons who might want to use the dual-publication route are able to figure out how to do it really well.

[An aside: we should probably be talking about "pseudonymity" rather than "anonymity" because our hypothetical blogger would surely use a fictitious name rather than no name at all. Hey, if it worked for Francois Marie Arouet in the 18th century, then why not for 21st century cyberbloggers...]

Eric, I don't believe the Venezuelan government will crack down on the Internet the way China has, i.e. by physically intervening in the Internet infrastructure. Venezuela is integrated too deeply in the western Internet, its cyberdissidents are not important enough, and the Venezuelan government is (up to now) less heavy-handed and less ept (i.e., more inept) than the Chinese government. If what you fear were to happen, I think it would be only in the medium- to long-term future, as the Bolivarian revolution becomes more entrenched and more desperate.

And to the anonymous troll who commented on the "flexibility" of the opposition: I will not feed you. Thank you and have a nice day.

4:05 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote: "And to the anonymous troll who commented on the "flexibility" of the opposition: I will not feed you. Thank you and have a nice day."

So now you are back to "might over reason", aren't you?

If you want to write opinions in the internet and expect only congratulatory notes, you might want to write anonymous notes to yourself.

I think my point is valid: you got no point! And that is reason over might...

Please don't increase the amount of "pointless" writers in the internet. That is called "habladores de paja" in spanish...

2:49 pm  
Blogger John said...

Well, Anonymous, are you a troll or aren't you? If you are, then there is only one way to deal with you, and that is to ignore you (that is reason over might at work, believe it or not). If you are not a troll, then you deserve my apologies and a warm welcome to the blog.

Let me explain why I think that you are a troll. Your first posting was a taunt: you began with ironic "congratulations" and went on to imply some tenuous links between bloggers who post anonymously (the topic of my posting) and members of the opposition who participated in the coup and were supposedly suicidal during the strike, and who are now no longer suicidal (?) (your response).

Your second posting is made up of jeers: you suggest that I write congratulatory notes to myself, that I have no point, and imply that I am a "hablador de paja". This is classical troll-like behaviour: seeking to provoke a response at any cost.

Sadly, I have little doubt that you will respond to this posting with a further list of insults and jibes; but I would be happy to be surprised by something else, such as a reasoned and factual statement of your positions and opinions.

6:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, here is my factual response. "Reason over might" is a defense to the new position some in the opposition have chosen. Before that the position of some, specially the leadership, was Might over Reason: strike until Chavez leaves, in Altamira until a military coup, pa' Miraflores a tumbar al tirano.
Suddenly it is reason over might, a 180 degrees change of position that according to your writting does not comprise anybody's integrity. And I think it does.
I don't believe the unreasonable people who made those decisions and those who followed them can all of the sudden use "reason" defining positions and I think it does further damage to their wounded reputation. Get it?

5:46 pm  
Blogger John said...

Hello Anonymous, thanks for your response. Your posting indicates that you are a serious poster and a non-troll, something I am glad to note. On this basis, I will be happy to engage with you.

Here's how I understand your position (correct me if I'm wrong): the opposition to Chávez has espoused diametrically opposed positions at different points in time. More specifically, earlier actions such as the coup and the strike reflected a preference for the use of force ("might") to achieve political aims, whereas current actions reflect a preference for the use of compromise/negotiation ("reason"). The change of tactics reflects a lack of political integrity or sincerity on the part of the opposition.

There are several reasons why I don't agree with you. The first and most obvious objection is that the opposition is currently invisible. It is keeping such a low profile that I have no idea what positions it is promoting, what its plans for the future are, and what actions it is taking to realise its plans. I really can't say whether it is currently using reason or might as a leitmotif. I see no actions to support the one or the other assumption.

The second point which is also obvious is that the opposition is by no means unified or homogenic -- and I don't think it has ever been. In fact, it could be argued that the fragmentation of the opposition is one of the main reasons for Chávez's electoral wins since 1998. Not even the single concept of opposing Chávez has been a strong enough motivation for the opposition to unite.

For that reason, I would say that both philosophies -- reason over might and might over reason -- could be argued to have been present in the mass of those opposing Chávez since the very first and continue to be present nowadays. I have little doubt that there are individuals or groups opposed to Chávez today who would be delighted to remove him by force, just as there were such groups in 2001. What's more, I believe that such persons -- who believe in might over reason -- have not changed their opinion from 2001 till the present, and can therefore not be accused of being inconsistent.

At the same time, I am convinced that the vast majority of those opposing the Miraflores autocrat desire nothing more than to remove him through peaceful, democratic, i.e. "reasonable" means. That is the course that I support, in concordance with the title of my blog. As was the case for those mentioned above, I believe that the non-violent opposition to Chávez remains non-violent, and has similarly remained consistent over time. This invalidates your argument of the 180 degree reversal in position.

Thirdly, I do not see peaceful marches and protests or a non-violent strike as actions guided by the concept of might over reason. These are valid and internationally accepted forms of reasonable, non-violent protest. On the contrary, the source of violence in the interaction between Chávez and the opposition is in almost all cases the government: remember the Puente Llaguno shootings, the shootings at Plaza Altamira, the soldiers burned to death at Fuerte Mara, not to mention the uninhibited abuse of state power to arrest and jail people, to raid houses and institutes, to disperse protest marches, and to leave uninvestigated and unpunished the many crimes committed against people who don't support the government.

Fourthly, it is precisely one of the greatest achievements of democracy that it prevents violence within a society by a) providing those not in power with the chance of attaining it peacefully, and b) giving all members of a society a chance to vent their grievances and express their opinions. Chávez is undermining the institution of democracy on many fronts, for instance by limiting the freedom of expression through the media law and the reforms to the penal code (thereby suppressing point b), and by holding elections that are not transparent enough to confer on him the required legitimacy, as well as casting in doubt the ability of any opposition ever to win any election against him, no matter what its support (thereby undermining point a). The inevitable consequence is a radicalisation of positions and the creation of a violent, underground opposition -- this is not something I support, you understand, but rather something I see as very likely. It's a detestable development that makes me sad and angry.

Finally, while I do recognise the argument you are making, I think you read too much into my posting -- I wasn't analyzing the opposition in its entirety, but only a single aspect of a tiny sub-group of the opposition: namely, a suggestion regarding how bloggers could react to the potential threat of prosecution for what they write. Anything beyond that is really overinterpretation, though it serves as a good basis for a discussion. :-)

11:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taken from your note:
1. The opposition is currently invisible.

If so, then who are you talking about being reasonable?

2. I really can't say whether it is currently using reason or might as a leitmotif. I see no actions to support the one or the other assumption.

So, most probably what you wrote is "paja". Pardon my English.

3. In fact, it could be argued that the fragmentation of the opposition is one of the main reasons for Chávez's electoral wins since 1998.

So, you do not think there was a fraud?

4. For that reason, I would say that both philosophies -- reason over might and might over reason -- could be argued to have been present in the mass of those opposing Chávez since the very first and continue to be present nowadays.

You are contradicting yourself. See #2. Are we talking "paja" here?

5. I have little doubt that there are individuals or groups opposed to Chávez today who would be delighted to remove him by force, just as there were such groups in 2001. What's more, I believe that such persons -- who believe in might over reason -- have not changed their opinion from 2001 till the present, and can therefore not be accused of being inconsistent.

So there are two oppositions. Half of it has been consistent, right?

6. At the same time, I am convinced that the vast majority of those opposing the Miraflores autocrat desire nothing more than to remove him through peaceful, democratic, i.e. "reasonable" means.

So, do you think they believe in democracy? Do they accept the fact that it is not possible (to remove) because there are more people who want him NOT remove?

7. That is the course that I support, in concordance with the title of my blog. As was the case for those mentioned above, I believe that the non-violent opposition to Chávez remains non-violent, and has similarly remained consistent over time. This invalidates your argument of the 180 degree reversal in position.

No, you are now talking about the other half. See #5.

8. I do not see peaceful marches and protests or a non-violent strike as actions guided by the concept of might over reason. These are valid and internationally accepted forms of reasonable, non-violent protest.

True!

9. On the contrary, the source of violence in the interaction between Chávez and the opposition is in almost all cases the government: remember the Puente Llaguno shootings, the shootings at Plaza Altamira, the soldiers burned to death at Fuerte Mara, not to mention the uninhibited abuse of state power to arrest and jail people, to raid houses and institutes, to disperse protest marches, and to leave uninvestigated and unpunished the many crimes committed against people who don't support the government.

There are six Metropolitan Police arrested and on trial for the LLaguno shootings. The same with the ones in Plaza Altamira. Do you think the people that participated in the Guarimbas shouldn't been arrested? Please give me one example of crimes committed against people who don't support the government that have been left uninvestigated and unpunished.

10. Fourthly, it is precisely one of the greatest achievements of democracy that it prevents violence within a society by a) providing those not in power with the chance of attaining it peacefully, and b) giving all members of a society a chance to vent their grievances and express their opinions.

So now you think there was a fraud!

11. Chávez is undermining the institution of democracy on many fronts, for instance by limiting the freedom of expression through the media law.

Please give me one example of somebody, newspaper, radio or TV station that is feeling the heat of the media law.

12. elections that are not transparent enough to confer on him the required legitimacy

You are contradicting yourself again. See #3. Just a comment, Chavez has won nine elections in a row. Do you think that only the last one was a fraud or all of them?

13. as well as casting in doubt the ability of any opposition ever to win any election against him, no matter what its support

Please see #1 and #3. That might give you an idea why to doubt they will ever win an election against Chavez.

14. The inevitable consequence is a radicalisation of positions and the creation of a violent, underground opposition -- this is not something I support, you understand, but rather something I see as very likely. It's a detestable development that makes me sad and angry.

Contradiction! See #6 and 7. So far you are pro peaceful/violent opposition, you don't think you can win against Chavez and that is why you see yourself become a member of the other half of the opposition. (??)

15. Finally, while I do recognise the argument you are making, I think you read too much into my posting

I apologize.. (?!)

16. I wasn't analyzing the opposition in its entirety, but only a single aspect of a tiny sub-group of the opposition: namely, a suggestion regarding how bloggers could react to the potential threat of prosecution for what they write. Anything beyond that is really overinterpretation, though it serves as a good basis for a discussion.

So you have to be more clear in your position before somebody else accuses you of being "un hablador de paja". People read these blogs, including myself. I have seen a fair amount of baseless "paja". So, do your homework before you write the next post.

Saludos y gracias...

1:57 am  
Blogger John said...

You are becoming offensive again. Why?

1. The reasonable component of the currently invisible opposition, obviously. Do you think it just disappeared into thin air?

2. Take one step back. It was YOU, not I, who wrote that the opposition is now following reason over might as a dictum. What exactly did you base that on? Its disappearance?

3. What does one thing have to do with the other? (Check: I wrote "one of the main reasons", not "the only reason".) You are deviating from the subject.

4. Use Occam's razor. How likely is it that the entire opposition follows one or the other dictum exclusively?

5. Who said anything about half? Is that the only way you know of dividing a cake in two?

6. a) I believe the majority believes in democracy.
b) I believe the majority of opponents will accept Chávez' remaining if he wins in transparent elections. Even you will have to admit, though, that the opposition did not believe the RR was transparent, and that the partisan CNE acted in ways before, during, and after the referendum that fed that belief.

7. See #5.

8. Okay.

9. Chávez has turned the Venezuelan justice system into a farce. Give me a single example of somebody opposing Chávez winning a court case where the judges were aligned with the regime. Why is Ricardo Peñalver a guest of honour at state events? Why has General Usón been jailed (5.5 years!) for providing a technical description of how flamethrowers work? Why is Tulio Alvarez being persecuted for daring to represent NA members whose pensions are being diverted into dark channels? Why are people who signed in the Firmazo being denied passports and ID cards as well as jobs in the state sector (the infamous Luis Tascon lists)? Why was Capriles Radonski jailed for half a year without trial? Why has Venezuela signed an agreement with Cuba conceding Cuban prosecutors extensive rights in the Venezuelan justice system? Why is the CNE interfering with CTV elections, thereby violating the ILO code to which Venezuela is a signatory? Why are the three Altamira gunmen who murdered and wounded various protesters on 16 August 2004 not being prosecuted? Why were military police and the National Guard permitted (ordered?) to violently suppress opposition supporters trying to set up a stand at Plaza La Candelaria on 10 August? Why is Chávez not being prosecuted for receiving more than a million undeclared dollars from Spanish bank BBVA? The list goes on and on and on and on...

10. How exactly does your conclusion follow from my statement that you quote?

11. Newspapers are not subject to the media law. TV stations are practising self-censorship -- just look at Globovision, which since the enactment of the law has been dedicating more space to supporters/members of the regime than to opponents. Is this what plurality of opinions looks like?

12. See #3. I believe fraud was involved in the recall referendum, for which belief there is good evidence.

13. You are right, if both of these conditions are true and neither of them changes, the opposition will not win an election against Chávez. But remember that both or either of them may (and probably will) change, and that neither of them was true during the referendum: the choice was between Chávez and not-Chávez (i.e. unified opposition choice) and the opposition was not invisible.

14. Your posting is incoherent.
a) Where have I ever said that I was pro-violent opposition? I am not. You are putting words into my mouth.
b) See #13 regarding chances of winning.
c) See #5, and what gives you the idea that I am a member of the opposition, or that I would become a member of a violent opposition? Again, you are putting words into my mouth.

15. Not to worry. :-)

16. My position is and was clear: I believe that if bloggers are threatened, they should post anonymously. (That was the original topic, remember?)

6:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one last comment and I promise never to bother you again.
You said: "Give me a single example of somebody opposing Chávez winning a court case where the judges were aligned with the regime."

How about the TSJ acquitting the military officers of April 11th because it was not a coup but a power vaccum?

See you and good luck with your reasonings...

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