Residents from Venezuela gathered Sunday in Moshi Park, protesting President Hugo Chavez's abrupt closing of RCTV, a television station controlled by his opposition. That move has provoked outrage on the streets of Venezuela, followed by a forceful response from Chavez' government. All that in mind, it seemed strange to hold a rally in a virtual world, and I put that question to Shinya Tandino, a leader in SL's "RCTV Libertad expresion VENEZUELA" group.
Her explanation was unique: by holding it in Second Life, there was no way for Chavez's regime to label it as violent. "[T]he protest in my country are peaceful," Shinya argues, "but the government will say the opposite... we need and we want other ways that let us raise our voice in a peaceful way."
As it happens, she is a Venezuelan now outside her homeland, but was recently there, protesting in streets where the violence is all too real. "I know how it feels when you are there and you feel alone," she tells me, "and that the rest of the world see us, but can't do much for us. But when they show support or do protest, [it gives] more energy to the people from Venezuela." Many who joined her in the march are still based in the country, however, and so the protest also became a place for Venezuelans divided by geography to come together-- and for those inside the country to share their eyewitness accounts.
Shortly after I arrive at the protest site, a wizard named christianfeo Bonito describes the situation from his vantage: "Dangerous on streets," he tells me from Venezuela. "Don't know what will happen next day. Stress. Always watching the news." Other Venezuelans arrive, most chatting in Spanish, and Shinya does her best to translate for me. I ask her if any pro-Chavez counter-protesters had confronted them; she says no. "They will not use the SL," she reasons, "because (and don't take this bad) they hate the United States or the 'Impire'..."
With a second television network now under threat, I asked the protesters if they worried that their connection to the Internet would be next to go.
"I don't think he will stop the connections to Second Life," Tandino tells me in a torrent, "but he can stop the connections to Internet which is worse, because the biggest Internet company in Venezuela is CANTV and the government is the owner and plus he manage all the licenses..."
Until then, the rallies in Second Life continue. The next one is scheduled this coming Sunday, 3pm SLT.
"I am living in Caracas," Yorhe Enoch tells me. "I think I am more useful in the Internet than in the streets."