In a crumbling country where almost all but state-owned media outlets have been shuttered, food and medicine are scarce, unrest is rising and authorities could throw you behind bars at any moment — there is an app that is being accredited as something of a lifeline for desperate Venezuelans and for their compadres abroad.
Zello, which functions akin to a walkie-talkie and is a push-to-talk voice messaging app, introduced the Venezuela-specific channel Venezuela Hasta Los Tuétanos to provide information about the burgeoning political, social, economic and humanitarian calamity.
“Venezuelans use the channel to spread news inside and outside of the country. They use it to find medical supplies, food and water. They also use it to organize political protests,” Bill Moore, Zello’s CEO, told Fox News. “The channel serves an important role in building a community among Venezuelans, who use it for news, teaching and connecting at a personal level even though everyone is anonymous.”
According to the founder, since the contested president Nicolas Maduro took a self-styled oath for a new term, which has not been recognized by most of the international community, there has been a 135 percent uptick in downloads. Overall, there have been 735,696 downloads in Venezuela and over 13,600 in the ailing nation this year alone.
Furthermore, the 24/7 channel itself is documented to now has over 70,000 subscribers and on average, there are 200 to 2,000 listeners connected at any given time.
“Zello users in Venezuela have warned people to keep their kids home from school on days when listeners report that the government is arresting people on the street. Venezuelans using the channel have also been able to save lives by warning people about Maduro’s armed forces approaching protests,” Moore continued. “Zello users are totally anonymous, so information can be freely exchanged without fear of retaliation. Anonymous users notify protestors of authorities approaching their location.”
The mobile app first gained momentum in Venezuela at the start of the crisis in 2014 when locals amassed to demonstrate against the Maduro-led government, racking up more than 600,000 downloads in the first few days of the protest movement. Users checked in to channels to assist each other in evading authorities and coordinating places to meet. At the time, Maduro ordered the blockage of various news and social media outlets on the internet, such as Google, Wikipedia and Twitter.