News & Politics

Internet Collapses in Venezuela with 80% Offline; Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud Blocked

Internet Collapses in Venezuela with 80% Offline; Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud Blocked
Juan Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela's interim president, speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

In the midst of a second nationwide power outage in Venezuela, the vast majority of the country is engulfed in a massive internet outage. The first electrical blackout, which swept across the nation on Thursday, left Venezuela with only two percent connectivity amid the ongoing presidential crisis. Most of the country has been offline since Thursday with limited or no connectivity being reported across large swaths of the South American nation. The NetBlocks Group, a private internet watchdog organization based in the UK, reported on Saturday that 96 percent of the country was offline:

The group provided an update on Sunday noting that 20 percent now have connectivity.

Gains in connectivity have been lost through a series of three distinct new outages as shown in NetBlocks’ network connectivity charts.

Internet-scale network measurements indicate which regions have been affected and to what extent. During previous network and power outages, concerns have been raised about attacks and military activity, and the risk of human rights violations perpetrated under the cover of darkness.

The chart below shows a precipitous drop in internet connectivity on Thursday with a partial recovery on Saturday followed by another large drop on Sunday.

“Venezuela experiences frequent power cuts, and Venezuela started power rationing and reduced its electricity consumption to about 14,000 megawatts at peak hours because of the economic crisis in 2018,” NetBlocks said. “However the nationwide outages are unprecedented in magnitude, extent and duration. NetBlocks historic data suggest that incidents of this scale are vanishingly rare.”

On March 4, NetBlocks reported that the Venezuelan government had blocked YouTube and SoundCloud and partially blocked Twitter.

“Twitter image and video servers and platform backends have been blocked in Venezuela from 3:10 PM UTC on state provider CANTV (AS8048) and its mobile network Movistar, as interim leader Juan Guaidó is set to arrive in Caracas after a tour of neighboring countries,” the organization explained. “The restrictions have been implemented as the leader calls supporters to the streets under the hashtags #4MVzlaALaCalle, #VamosVzla and #VamosJuntosALaCalle.”

Users were reportedly able to access Twitter’s homepage, but videos and images were not loading.

A Twitter user in Venezuela shared what he was seeing on the platform:

SoundCloud, an online streaming service, has been restricted since Feb. 27, when Guaidó tweeted out his audio recordings on the platform. “Guaidó has been a frequent target of state censorship during the ongoing crisis,” NetBlocks said.

On March 7 the group reported that “YouTube has been restricted by Venezuela’s state-run internet provider CANTV (AS8048) for over twenty hours, according to current network measurements from the NetBlocks internet observatory.” Netblock said that the restrictions coincided with live broadcasts from the National Assembly the day before.

The group warned that the internet outage “is likely to have had a significant and lasting impact on Venezuela’s ailing economy.”

“A study by Venezuelan daily Efecto Cocuyo in December using the NetBlocks and Internet Society Cost Of Shutdown Tool calculated that a total outage of connectivity alone would cost the economy more than 400 million US dollars per day,” said NetBlocks. “The impact for the present incident is likely to be even higher given the impact of power outages on industry and non-digital economies.”

On Saturday, Guaidó and Nicolas Maduro — whose disputed re-election in May has been widely delegitimized by the international community — held dueling rallies in the capital city of Caracas. Maduro, an anti-American conspiracy theorist, blamed the U.S. for the blackout, insisting that the electrical grid had been “hacked” and “sabotaged.” He claimed, without providing evidence, that an “international cyber-attack” carried out by the U.S. government and opposition forces was to blame for the ongoing outages.

“The electrical warfare announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated,” Maduro tweeted Friday. “I call for maximum unity patriots!”

He vowed to “clean” Venezuela’s state-run electric company to get rid of “traitors” and “infiltrators.”

The internet outages come at a critical moment for Guaidó, as he attempts to rally opposition forces to oust Maduro. “Such measures are known to be used by authorities to prevent the sharing of media from protests,” NetBlocks said.

Guaidó urged his followers on Saturday to remain strong in the face of the current crisis.

“We have been reporting the electrical crisis for years, and now, we have to alert in a responsible manner that this could also become the gasoline crisis, in addition to the water crisis we already have,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a staunch supporter of the Venezuelan opposition, took to Twitter on Sunday to blast the Maduro regime and highlight the developing humanitarian crisis:

As PJM’s Rick Moran noted last week, “Events are spiraling toward some kind of climax, which may include military action by regional actors. With Maduro on the ropes, it probably wouldn’t take much of a push to get the Venezuelan army to act and depose the tyrant.”

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