This post was written for Global Voices Advocacy.
On last sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez launched the program named “Communicational Thunder”, in order to "face the lies and misinformation spread by private media". "Media battle has to be fought everyday", he said. That day, in his weekly sunday TV program, seventy-five young students between ages 13 and 17, were sworn in his "Communicational Guerrilla", wearing khaki jackets and red bandanas tied around their necks. They had been trained to "fight against imperialist messages", either on social networks online, on walls and pamphlets or "through direct intervention".
Governmental representatives say that this is a pacific initiative. The Minister for Universitary Education, Edgardo Ramírez, stated that communicational guerrilla aims to fight against "mediatic terrorism". Also, Minister for Education, Héctor Navarro, affirmed that the name of "guerrilla" was chosen for its meaning of mobility, autonomy and versatility, and that "it is expected" that the gunfire from the guerrillas are going to be only ideological. However, two days later, President Chavez sworn in over 30.000 men and women, in what he called "the day of the people in arms", the anniversary of the 2002' coup d'etat. "We cannot allow the bourgeoisie to occupy spaces within the National Assembly." he said, in prevision of the upcoming november parlamentary elections.
Representatives of the opposition, meanwhile, have come out openly against this initiative, not only because of the name, the uniform and the semantics, but also because President Chávez has expressed himself before against social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, critized that they were used as instruments for the oposition to diffuse imperialism messages, and called his followers for a counteroffensive. "This is like if they have a gun, a cannon. There comes running through the Internet, for I don't know how many pages and blogs (..), Blackberry and Twitter and so on, conspiracy currents. (...) Look, the Internet has even given coups d'etat." he claimed. Those who are against it, seem to be worried about what would be the impact in these young minds of being called a "guerrilla", with all the semantic, politic and militar weight of that word, and their possible reaction in a given political context (for instance, the upcoming elections). "Guerrilla communication", however, is not a so new concept in media, since it's been used before to refer to informal or unconventional communication forms, from graffiti and street theater, to hacktivism. It may be the right moment to remember that hacktivism include several forms of use of digital tools, some of them illegal, like information theft and attacks of denial of service, which is going to depend from the ideology of the group using this kind of communication.
In consequence, it may be impossible to foreseen right now what will be the activity of this group. However, it has clearly became in a new point of honor and battlefield between political forces in Venezuela.
Source of the Communicational Guerrilla logo: Their blog.
Source of the picture: elpais.com