By Luigino Bracci
On Tuesday, July 16, young 26-year-old Karen Palacios was released from a Venezuelan prison and told the media that she is a talented clarinetist who allegedly “was detained for expressing her political position, on Twitter, against the regime of Nicolás Maduro”, according to El Nacional . We could see messages of solidarity with the young woman issued by musicians such as Jorge Glem or Gabriela Montero , as well as numerous opposition politicians. She will have to show in court every 30 days as the judicial process progresses.
Her mother, Yudith Pérez, said in a widely circulated video on social and messaging networks that Karen was arrested and spent 29 days incommunicado in the DGCIM (General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence) and then was taken to the INOF (National Institute for Female Orientation), this despite the fact that it would have a release card issued by a court. If this is true, I can not say anything else but that I am against any incommunicado and any illegal act that may have been made by officials or public institutions, and I hope that the State takes corrective measures to stop this from happening.
The media also claimed that the young woman’s arrest occurred on June 1, after a series of tweets issued by her on May 26., in which she denounced the National Philharmonic Orchestra (OFN), dependent on the State, specifically the National Music Company (CNM) and the Ministry for Culture, for allegedly deciding not to hire her as a regular clarinetist because she had “signed against the government”.
However, there are many things that are not being disseminated with such vehemence about this case.” She also issued two tweets on May 1, one of them saying: “I have not had any sleep. I truly hope to read, in a sleepless night, that Maduro fled, that he was killed, that he was imprisoned or any thing that makes me happy. ”
In another tweet, she wrote: “This shit will be until the day we get up and with 100 guys we kill about 10 (national) guards (each), collectives or any shit that crosses us. ”
Karen’s tweets, which have already been deleted, urge or encourage the assassination not only of the President of the Republic, but also of public officials (national guards) and even ordinary people: “collectives and any shit that crosses nearby”, (even though the media wants us to believe that the “collectives” are armed paramilitary bands, the reality is that the vast majority are social movements made up of ordinary people, who have the same economic, political, social or cultural purpose and who in no way carry weapons).
These tweets violate not only the laws of Venezuela, but the rules of Twitter that prohibit incitement to hatred and violent threats, including the glorification of violence or “threatening to kill someone”.
And those tweets also go against common sense and against our desire, as human beings, to resolve differences in a civilized, peaceful and dialoguing way.
I, as a person very active on social networks, in particular Twitter, worry when I find out that someone is arrested for tweeting. It is a trend that we read very often in countries like Spain, where people who tweet their political position often end up behind bars when they express themselves against the authorities in ways that are commonplace in Venezuela. In 2014 alone, 28 cases of detained persons were reported for alleged “apology of terrorism” and “opinion crimes” in social networks.
The Spanish rapper Pablo Hasel was sentenced to two years in prison for saying on Twitter that the King of Spain is a “parasite”, “mafioso”, “thief”, “criminal gang” and for using the terms “mafia and medieval monarchy “and “band of thieves”, very soft terms if we compare them with the expressions that the most extreme opposition usually uses against President Nicolás Maduro or other members of the government.
In 2015, a Spanish court sentenced a Twitter user to 18 months in prison who posted a photo of the attack on Luis Carrero Blanco, an official of the Franco dictatorship, with the phrase “to the infinite and beyond”. Carrero Blanco was killed in an attack in 1973; the court accused the Twitter user of “glorifying terrorism and humiliating the victims”.
Days ago, on July 15, the Civil Guard in Spain opened proceedings against the members of the popular group Adebán for singing “Up, down, we will send the king to hell. Down, up, we do not want the monarchy,” a rather silly phrase if we compare it with the aggressive “Maduro, mother fucker” that politicians and opponents chanted at the beginning of the year in Venezuela.
In the United States, it is common to read about people arrested after issuing death threats against President Donald Trump, as can be seen doing a simple search on Google .
The same thing happened with his predecessor, Barack Obama .
Wikipedia in English maintains a fairly complete article on the death threats against the President of the United States , noting that the Code of Laws of that country allows sentencing up to 5 years in prison to those who allude to the death of the President, presidents and presidential candidates, even if it was indirect, imaginary or if it were “wishes”. For example, in 1917 there were convictions against someone who declared that “President Wilson must be killed, it is a miracle that someone has not already done it, if I had an opportunity, I would do it myself” or “I wish that (President) Wilson was in hell , and if I had the power I would put him there. ”
So, Venezuela is not the only country that would investigate or prosecute tweeters for using this social network to issue threats against the President and others.
Now: Does Karen deserve to have spent 40 days imprisoned for writing these tweets? I am not a psychologist or student of human behavior, nor do I want to express light opinions about a person I do not know. It is unfortunate that a talented and appreciated young woman has made public writings, wishing the death of other people. I want to believe that she maybe felt confused and overwhelmed by the media that lie daily, by messages on social networks, by friends, by the unpleasant situations that we Venezuelans experience every day.
Under these circumstances, the imprisonment of someone who has committed these crimes, far from solving the problem, in my humble opinion increases them. Article 20 of the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance , provides penalties of between 10 and 20 years against “whoever, publicly or through any means suitable for public dissemination, promotes, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence against a person or group of persons”. Depending on the case, it seems a very excessive penalty.
There must be other alternatives – maybe some kind of treatment, therapy, social work – that makes people understand in Karen’s situation that the solution to the problems of our country does not happen by inciting or encouraging us to kill each other, but quite the opposite: I hope Chavistas and anti-Chavistas can sit down together to talk about our differences without this meaning that we will end up shouting or insulting each other.
But, on the other hand,some friends think that it is right that there be trial and imprisonment for those who issue this type of threats, fulfilling all the legal requirements and providing the right to defense. I know colleagues who have been threatened with death in social networks and their home address has been made public, as well as photos of them or their relatives, encouraging them to attack them. And all for publicly manifesting that they are Chavistas. And they tell me they’re tired of that.
I want to place, as a recent example, some of the tweets that were issued last March against Madeleine García, a journalist from Telesur, after working on a story in Táchira state, reporting on the alleged humanitarian aid that Juan Guaidó and opposition groups tried to take into Venezuela by force. Telesur maintained a very critical editorial line around this supposed humanitarian aid, and some twitterers made threats of a high caliber against their journalists, particularly against García. I do not know what her position is about the Venezuelan laws against hate crimes.
The debate continues. The social network companies, which do not have branches in Venezuela, seem to wash their hands while their platforms are used by people who issue these types of threats, who knows with what intentions.
I wish Karen had the right guidance, either from her parents, her friends, her teachers and from people close to her, who would have made her understand that tweets like the ones she wrote are not only illegal, but inhumane. That to wish the assassination of the President of the Republic, far from solving our problems as a country, would multiply them by a thousand. That killing public officials or people of a certain political position will only bring us more hatred, pain and frustration.
A true friend of Karen, seeing those tweets, would have immediately called to convince her to erase them, instead of applauding her, retweeting her and waiting for her to be arrested to manifest “solidarity”. She can express her political position as an anti-Chavista in a million different ways, but to wish the death of other people will only serve to increase the climate of conflict that exists in the country, far from diminishing it.
On the other hand, one must also take into account the context and circumstances in which Karen’s tweets were issued. Since last January 23, 2019, Venezuelans must deal with constant political instability because a deputy, Juan Guaidó, supported by the United States government and several dozen countries, proclaimed himself “Interim President” and, since then, he has made a series of events to try to overthrow Nicolás Maduro.
On April 30 an attempted coup d’état occurred in which Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López, together with a small group of soldiers who were taken under false instructions, claimed that they had taken a military base in Caracas. In the coup, the director of the Sebin (Venezuelan intelligence police), Manuel Cristopher Figuera, participated. The claim was false: no military base was taken, the attempted coup failed and fortunately there were no fighting or loss of life. Lopez fled to the Spanish embassy, Cristopher escaped to the United States and Guaidó continues on the streets of Caracas. However, there was tension and concern in the population before the terrible thing that it would be if our country was plunged into a military confrontation, a civil war or a foreign military intervention.
- Photo: Agencies
Karen Palacios wrote her tweets on May 1 at night, a few hours after this coup attempt. In any country, a person who publicly incited for the assassination of the President of the Republic 24 hours after a coup d’état will be detained to be investigated, like it or not. Although, at that time, these tweets did not generate much impact, perhaps because nobody saw them.
Days later, on May 26, Palacios wrote the tweets denouncing that she was not hired in the National Philharmonic Orchestra. These were retweeted by opposition journalist Nelson Bocaranda (which has more than 3 million followers) and received more than 4 thousand retweets. In the middle of the public discussion between Chavistas and opponents for the alleged political discrimination against Karen, some people discovered and made visible their other tweets, with the consequences already known.
On the contracting or not of Karen in the Philharmonic,I want to say something. I must first clarify that, although I have also worked at the Ministry of Culture for 9 years, I am writing this on a personal basis, on my own initiative and I have no relationship with the Philharmonic, the CNM or its directors. I do not know the real reasons for her not being hired. I’m not a musician either.
The point is: if you were the person in the Philharmonic who is responsible for deciding the hiring and you meet a very talented person, but who has publicly expressed her desire for the death of a group of people, would you hire her? The members of the System of Orchestras represent our country as a nation desirous of peace, and having a member who publicly says that she would be “very happy” with the death of others is not at all compatible with that guideline. So it would not be logical at all to hire her.
Worse still if one of those people whom she points out would make her “very happy” if they were “killed”, is the President of the Republic, who in Venezuela is also the Head of State. And the Philharmonic is part of the State; therefore, President Nicolás Maduro is the Head of the Philharmonic, whether you like it or not.
On the other hand, the Philharmonic Orchestra, given its high musical level, is often invited to participate in official events, with the presence of high personalities, including the Venezuelan President himself. Someone very suspicious could ask: Why does a person who hates President Nicolás Maduro so much, who has said she would feel “very happy” if someone killed him, suddenly want to join the Philharmonic Orchestra, where she will have to play frequently at events where the President could be present?
Those who know Karen say that it would hardly have been to assassinate the President of the Republic, but we can not blame an investigator if he expresses suspicions, given all the circumstances outlined above. Recall that just a year ago someone tried to assassinate the President by blowing up a drone . Is it worth passing through all this for a tweet?
One of the most widespread tips on social networks is: never write messages, posts or tweets if you are under an intense emotional state. Do not do it. Calm down, wait a few hours and then tweet, if you really need to do it. “Cold head, nerves of steel”, Maduro has advised on other circumstances, and it seems that his advice should also apply to social networks.
Hopefully we can design mechanisms so that Venezuelans can coexist despite our differences, and that these cases occur less frequently.
Translated by JRE/EF