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Airships to Patrol Venezuela's Skies 451

bprime writes "The BBC reports that officials in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, have bought three airship UAVs to keep tabs on the local populace. From the article: 'The 15 metre (49 foot) long air ships are emblazoned with government slogans. Written in bright red are the words, We watch over you for your security.' They're not exactly black helicopters, but how long do you think until we see similar measures in high-crime American cities?"
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Airships to Patrol Venezuela's Skies

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  • Damn! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Romancer ( 19668 ) <> on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:23PM (#18815503) Journal
    And I thought that I was in a rational century without totalitarian governments that have the capabilities to do things like this.

    Isn't this out of some SCI-Fi movie?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You obviously have been living under a rock for your whole life. Haven't you heard of Hugo Chavez's (President for life of Venezuela) hero, Fidel Castro. Fidel has been running a totalitarian government in Cuba for over 40 years now. And of course there is always China. If I spent a little more time I could probably come up with a few more obvious totalitarian governments.
      • Re:Damn! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:32PM (#18815643)
        Democratically elected Hugo Chavez? Or does democracy only count when you like the guy who won?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rbanffy ( 584143 )
          Many dictators start by being elected.

          They then proceed to castrate all balances and increase their own power by playing the system and other elected officials so that laws perpetuate the new status quo.

          This more or less describes present day Venezuela.
      • by Romancer ( 19668 )
        The observation was about governments that also have the resources to implement this sort of thing.

        There will always be cults and small time dictators, but they usually have a detrimental effect on their people so that the technological achievements that would allow them to do such a massive surveillance initiative would be either out of their reach or not accepted by their people.

        This seems to be OK with the people. That just surprises me since it doesn't really add that much to the safety and has the very
        • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:00PM (#18816115) Homepage
          This seems to be OK with the people. That just surprises me since it doesn't really add that much to the safety and has the very likely possibility of being abused.

          It doesn't surprise me one bit. It's easy to scoff at people willing to give up civil liberties for the prospect of safety from our ivory towers at home. It's an entirely different thing to live it.

          I have a friend who immigrated from Peru to the US. She is a staunchly anti-Bush person and considers him an overreaching warmongerer who wishes he was a dictator and is taking steps in that direction. She's a major civil liberties and human rights advocate. Yet, in Peru, she was a supporter of hardline dictator Alberto Fujimori. Knowing just these two facts, one may well say, "what gives?" and see this as contradictory. Yet, when you talk to her about life in Peru when she grew up, it's not hard to understand where she's coming from.

          In her early life, she grew up in a town called Tayabamba, out in the Andes. The sort of place for which it was a real journey just to get to the next town. When Shining Path started sweeping across the countryside, this was a real threat -- not a mostly imaginary threat like American paranoia about terrorism. The group kept its membership up by sweeping through villages and rounding up all of the men who could carry a gun; people were terrified of them. Later, she moved to Lima, and there had to worry about the drug lords. They would call "strikes" to punish the country; what this basically meant was that if they saw you going to work, they'd shoot you on the spot.

          Fujimori largely changed this. He launched a brutal crackdown on Shining Path. When members fled to the universities, which were constitutionally protected from raids, he ignored the laws and sent in troops anyways (greatly angering the students). When drug lords called "strikes", he essentially declared martial law and dispatched the military to the street. Armored vehicles would pick up anyone who was afraid to work and take them all the way there. Fujimori himself stood in the middle of the street downtown, daring them to shoot him, to demonstrate that they had no power over the city. The same sort of thing happened with corruption and monopolies; he largely disregarded the law in his quest to take down the Peruvian equivalent of our 19th century robber barons. Imagine where, if you wanted to buy a bar of soap, it was not only ridiculously priced, but you had to buy it as part of a "bundle" with other, less popular products that weren't selling. That's the sort of control that these people had over the market. While most of Peru lived in utter poverty, these people lived in obscene luxury.

          Then there's just plain regular crime. My friend's brother once had the shoes stolen right off his feet. Literally. People would go around in pairs -- one would grab the victim from behind and lift him up while the other grabbed the legs and untied the shoes. They weren't emotionless thugs, like a lot of American crime seems; they were just desperate people who really needed the money they could get from selling his shoes, simply in order to eat. They even left him a pair of flip flops to wear home. When people would go to parties, they'd often wear cheap shoes and other clothing on the way there, then change into the nicer stuff when they neared or arrived at their destination so that they wouldn't appear rich and get mugged. This sort of crime was everywhere, part of the daily reality you had to consider for everything you did. When she moved to the US, she had to get used to not having to do all of her old anti-theft habits.

          If people see a blimp as having the potential to even reduce these sort of crimes, I'm not surprised that they'd welcome them with open arms.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Fujimori himself stood in the middle of the street downtown, daring them to shoot him, to demonstrate that they had no power over the city.

            Interesting. I wonder how much Fujimori [] payed Shining Path [] to play chicken. This might sound snarky, but it wouldn't be unpresidented. I'm not questioning your friends reasoning for supporting him (I've never lived there, so I don't know), but when Peron [] took power in Argentina many enjoyed prosperity while anyone who was suspected of opposition to any of his position

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Rei ( 128717 )
              His crackdown had them in cages for public display. His crackdown saw what was pretty much the obliteration of the organization that had been running amock for a decade. It was harsh, it was brutal, and it was effective.

              As I mentioned, it's easy to throw stones when you're not living in the thick of it. The more I hear about what her life was like, growing up, the more I can understand how a normally liberal-minded person could support harsh tactics in an "end justifies the means" situation. The "end" w
      • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:51PM (#18815959) Homepage
        With all due respect, Mr Chavez is a copycat.

        El presidente Antonio Bliar's big brother government bought Predator UAV for police use in the Tyneside area 2 years before Mr Chavez 144.stm [].

        LA Police deployed them 1 year before him: stm [].

        And overall we are much closer to the stage of "Blue thunder, do you copy..." than Mr Chavez. You are giving him too much credit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Romancer ( 19668 )
      And how does this stop any of the crime that happens under a roof or overhang. Do these people think that the criminals will just hang around while the things take pictures of them? Isn't most crime committed in a place where the criminal has some sort of cover/disguise/privacy from view?

      I know that I haven't seen mention of that many crimes where the person didn't avoid some obvious camera or wittiness.
      Unless the criminals are really really dumb, this thing is just another officer with a camera patrolling
      • by Fezmid ( 774255 )
        Reminds me of an Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF) scene where Shake is "The Drizzle." I'm paraphrasing here:

        Master Shake: I can summon rainclouds to rain out the crime
        Meatwad: Right, so then they go inside and rob banks and kill people.
        Master Shake: Yeah, they could do that...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
        I dunno. But, if they introduce these UAV's to the US, I certainly can forsee the creation and deploymnet of small, Unmanned Surface to Air Missiles (USAM's).
    • I thought that is where all this was supposed to start?
    • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:48PM (#18815895)

      And I thought that I was in a rational century without totalitarian governments that have the capabilities to do things like this.

      That was naive. I'll assume you don't mean 2000-2007, as that's not much of a century. I'll also assume you're restricting yourself to the last 50 years, getting around Hitler. Of course then you still have Stalin, so that pushes you into the 60s. Then you get Pol Pot. Idi Amin. The ayatollah. Sadaam. Milosevic. Etc.

      Even now, you've got Mugabe, Qadaffi, Chavez, Castro, Putin (that's no democracy, friends), Kim Jong Il, etc.

      It's not necessarily irrational to want to be a tyrant. Possibly psychotic, but not irrational. The only question is whether you can pull it off.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AoT ( 107216 )
        The ayatollah

        I don't think we should put the Ayatollah in this catagory. He may have wanted totalitarian power, but compared to nearby Saudi Arabia Iran is a libertarian utopia.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hazem ( 472289 )
      He probably got the idea from the blimps all along the US border with Mexico. I'd have to dig through my old army photos, but I have pictures of one you could see from Ft. Huachuca.

      Word is they were to watch the border, but who really knows WHAT they're looking and listening for.
  • by Sherloqq ( 577391 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:23PM (#18815507)
    All your rights and freedoms are belong to us!
  • by Organic Brain Damage ( 863655 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:24PM (#18815517)
    ...and it'll be accurate.

    At leat the blimps won't make as much noise as the police helicopters over much of LA in the night.
    • There are three reasons you might not see these things over your city -
      • Stealthy UAVs are hard to see!
      • The things might not actually work very well.
      • Your local police and politicians may have some other boondoggle they like better than this one.

      Various people have been proposing blimps and other aerostats for cellular and data applications, and every year there's another announcement that they'll be launching Real Soon Now. But they don't. On the other hand, with Glorious Homeland Security Anti-Terro

  • by netbuzz ( 955038 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:25PM (#18815533) Homepage
    Here's my guess: Better not be until after the repeal of the Second Amendment.
  • Hmmm, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimbobborg ( 128330 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:25PM (#18815537)
    New Socialist government, airships with slogans. The Venezuelans wanted this guy in power, so they got what they wanted.
    • Re:Hmmm, (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zeros ( 1016135 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:28PM (#18815583)
      No we have been trying to kick him out for a while but he keeps cheating in elections. Damm electronic elections >.>
      • Re:Hmmm, (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:27PM (#18816527) Homepage
        he keeps cheating in elections

        Elections audited by Centre for Electoral Consultation and Promotion of the Inter-American Institute on Human Rights and certified by the Carter Center, a Dutch parliamentary delegation, and the Organization of American States. And he pulled this off with his opponents running almost all of the country's media and the US funding the opposition.

        You can fairly say a lot of critical things about Chavez and how he's running the country, but that he doesn't have major support from a majority of the country isn't one of them. That's one thing about democracy; it doesn't always swing in the way that the pushers of it want to, and when it doesn't, either your democratic prinicples or your willingness to accept leaders that oppose you has to give.
  • ... The local populace enjoys target practice.
  • It's much cheaper to imitate England. We can put up cameras, some of which can be cheap dummies, and hire Clear Channel to monitor the stuff for us like they do their radio stations.

    WOO HOO! Gotta' go patent this idea!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Something has happened elsewhere in the world. But how long until someone uses it to criticize Bush?
  • by avronius ( 689343 ) * on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:28PM (#18815575) Homepage Journal

    The Venezuelan government buys 15 meter long airships for surveillance.
    The city of Caracas has the "worlds worst figures for gun death".

    So, taking a bit of a leap [jump with me if you wish]... The government of Venezuela is providing expensive 15 meter long floating targets for the people of Caracas to shoot at instead of shooting at each other...

    You know, it just might be crazy enough to work...
  • lol (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KalaNag ( 871736 )
    I'm Venezuelan, and didn't know anything until I read it here... Anyway, like almost everything that this government does, it's pretty sure that this will be used more for political/social control than crime prevention. And I can see the "control room" dismantled in a few months, all of the equipment broken/stolen and the ships rusting...
  • Chicago has fixed point cameras spreading throughout high crime areas. In the UK the fixed point cameras can and do verbally chide petty scofflaws (litterers, jaywalkers).
    • I used to live in Oakland, CA where a police helicopter would fly over my neighborhood almost nightly. Most of the time, they would concentrate their spotlight search on a local school.

      From a civil rights perspective, how is this any different from police car units patrolling your neighborhood?

  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:29PM (#18815601) Journal
    They're not exactly black helicopters, but how long do you think until we see similar measures in high-crime American cities?"

    First of all, why try to make this into some kind of "America bad" diatribe? Does everything have to end up connecting with the supposed lost liberties in America? This has nothing to with the US.

    Next, it already has happened in America at least once that I'm aware of. There was a Fuji blimp in the air 24/7 over NY during the Republican National Convention in 2004. Rumor had it that it was there for security, both against terrorism and all the protesters that were trying to "brownshirt" the convention.

    Finally, how is this any different than all the cameras on every street corner in cities like London?

  • I wonder who has the contract for patching bullet holes in these things? Or, given that Venezuela's adjacent to some places with significant political instability, ground-to-air missiles? I don't even think it'd have to be for cause: just, hey, look, I wonder what will happen if we shoot at that?
    • I wonder who has the contract for patching bullet holes in these things? Or, given that Venezuela's adjacent to some places with significant political instability, ground-to-air missiles? I don't even think it'd have to be for cause: just, hey, look, I wonder what will happen if we shoot at that?
      I just hope they fill these ones with helium.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by KalaNag ( 871736 )
      Ehmm... This is to be used in Caracas, where the most "politically inestable" factors are the mid-class citizens angry with the government, and the poverty-belts citizens surrounding the others. All of them may be armed, but none of them have SAMs or Stingers AFAIK.
      • My point being that it's much easier to get those sorts of weapons in Caracas than in, say, Hamburg. Consider with which country Venezuela shares its longest border, a border that is, to the best of my knowledge, largely unpoliced.
    • by andphi ( 899406 )
      Approximately "Mira! Un camera! Vamos a destruirlo!"

      And yes, my Spanish is rusty.
  • In ...* UK, (Score:4, Informative)

    by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:29PM (#18815605)
    it's already there []. The first time I saw this I was sure it's some kind of pro-privacy ad, but apparently it's dead serious [] :(

    *- Insert your favorite totalitarian government style
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Well, if they go with the airship surveillance, I think they should make them giant spherical balloons which look like giant eyeballs in the skies, and light them up at night for an even more ominous effect. After all, if we're going to live in a surreal dystopian future of eyeballs in the sky, it ought to at least look like what it is.
  • The summary asks, "how long do you think until we see similar measures in high-crime American cities?" Didn't I read about surveillance blimps already in the air over Washington DC, several years ago? Google says, YES []!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cHALiTO ( 101461 )
      Ah, but this time it's done by teh t0talitar14n g0vernm3nt of commun1st ch4vezz!!one!!!! See?? there's no privacy in venezuela!!!

      I still think this sucks, but I'm getting tired of this kind of "we're the civilized world, the light, people that have different socioeconomic/politic views than us are obviously wrong, so they must have come to power by force, they're terrorists/dictators/communists/liberals (which are of course all the same), and therefore inherently evil" bullshit.

      (sorry, I'm having a bad day)
    • Yeah, I live near Miami and I've been seeing these too, but much bigger,and especially during the Super Bowl. But instead of some slogan, they're covered with advertising. Stuff like MetLife, GoodYear, etc.

      Damned government! Oh, wait...
  • by justinbach ( 1002761 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:31PM (#18815635) Homepage
    Oh, right:

    It's horrible! Hugo Chavez has been transformed! Please find the magic wand so we can change him back!

    Let's just hope that Koopa's [] not involved this time...
  • by subl33t ( 739983 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:32PM (#18815651)
    COPS: Caracas

    A high speed chase featuring an airship tracking and a donkey powered wood cart through a shanty-town.
  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:34PM (#18815669)
    Police helicopters aren't exactly black helicopters, either. So these vehicles stay up via buoyancy rather than spinning rotors, and the police look out of them remotely rather than directly. Oh, how scary.

    There are rather more worrisome things [] about Venezualan police than their use of UAVs.

  • Yeah but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jhines ( 82154 ) <> on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:35PM (#18815685) Homepage
    In the US of A, advertising slogans would be far more likely.
  • If they were to try this in the US with slogans like "We watch over you for your security" painted on the sides, I'd guess they would last, maybe, a few hours.

    Someone would hole the envelope with a rifle.

    Of course there would be the obligatory references to "Big Brother" and such. I can hear the rhetoric now...

  • typo (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fyoder ( 857358 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:38PM (#18815731) Homepage Journal

    We watch over you for your security

    There's a misplaced 'y' at the beginning of the 2nd last word, but we shouldn't come down too hard on them for it. It's something a spell checker wouldn't catch.

  • by 0rbit4l ( 669001 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:39PM (#18815749)
    Wait, the British Broadcasting Company is reporting about some other country's recent foray into domestic surveillance, even invoking "Big Brother"? Isn't this quite an extreme example of the pot calling the kettle black? I mean, I'm glad that they're reporting about it, but where was the critical reporting about the national rollout of CCTV in their own home country?! Instead, we heard no end of "balanced" reports offering apologist explanations regarding the countering of thug violence, terrorism, and antisocial behavior.

    Britain in particular hasn't a leg to stand on when it comes to offering a critical view of others' domestic surveillance.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:41PM (#18815775)
    I never realized before that the medeivals had included video cameras in the ornamentation on the steeples of Westminster Abbey.
  • Some might worry that this will be intrusive - a big brother in the skies, spying on people the government wants to watch.

    But the man in charge of security in Caracas, Ramon Morales Rossi, played down that idea.

    Of Course he says that, what would he say? I find the printing of slogans on them "We watch over you for your security" to be very newspeak.

    While it might be true that the dirigibles will help to an extent, they can at least monitor places faster than a foot-mounted officer might get there, I find

  • Are police helicopters "similar"? I'd say so.

    They started using them about 30 years ago...
  • Come quietly or there will be trouble.
  • till they are so bullet ridden that they come down in tatters...
  • you just have to have a pair of sunglasses like Rowdy Roddy Piper to see em..
  • slow blimps + gun crime = open season on blimps

    my guess is the blimps won't last long...
  • If the government can steal what they want, why not the people? Atlas Shrugged.
  • by vivaoporto ( 1064484 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:53PM (#18815969)
    How long until you see similar measures? You already have it, don't be hypocritical.

    'Eyes in the sky' for homeland security []. (Date: Aug. 27, 2005) From blimps to do-it-yourself unmanned vehicles, a trend takes flight.

    (...)That's okay, a lot of people do, says George Spyrou, president of Airship Management Services, whose blimps are leased to the likes of Fuji Film and have been used as air surveillance and security platforms by the New York Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service and the Athens police during last year's summer Olympic Games.

    But there is more:

    Fuji Blimp Helps With Convention Security [] (Date: Aug. 30, 2004), on CNN [] also.

    (...)At the closely guarded Republican National Convention, even the Fujifilm Blimp has a role in security. Fuji Photo Film USA Inc., the Valhalla, N.Y.-based U.S. arm of the Japanese film maker, is allowing the New York Police Department use of the blimp to bolster aerial patrols above Madison Square Garden.

    Caracas is no HappyLand. It has a high crime rate, just like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (that by the way has its own surveillance blimp too). Surveillance is necessary, no, condition sine qua non to allow common people to live their lives without fear to be shot by a pair of Nike shoes (happens a lot in some Brazilian cities, just so you know). That's the situation is most Latin America.

    Now, is not it hypocritical that 1) this is BBC reporting, coming straight from the country with the most ubiquitous surveillance system in the world 2) people are so desperate to find something to nail Hugo Chavez for that they need to resort to such FUD because they got nothing else. This is a move by the City of Caracas, not the country of Venezuela, just like the blimps on U.S. are a move from the NYPD, not the Federal Government.

    Now stop talking about things you guys don't know about, and quit spreading fud. Come on, "keeping tab on the population".
  • Now all they need are big OLED displays that show a constant stream of pro-government propaganda..
  • by rlp ( 11898 )
    In Hugo's Venezuela Blimps watch you!
  • by CompMD ( 522020 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:26PM (#18816507)
    It isn't just a petty squabble with the FAA that is keeping UAVs out of civil airspace. There are major legislative hurdles to overcome before government bodies can even get CLOSE to flying UAVs, let alone over populated areas. The military has an extremely difficult time getting COAs to fly their own equipment around, what makes you think that some police department is going to get away with it? Sure, you might think that the legislation will just get pushed through. You clearly underestimate the power of the AOPA and their lobbying skills.

    The FAA puts up one hell of a fight to fly a proven, safe UAV *FIVE MILES* from a municipal airport in the middle of nowhere Kansas to a restricted airspace controlled by the military and not the DoD. Sorry, there is no "eye in the sky" coming for us anytime soon.
  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:27PM (#18816523) Journal
    Just a little fact check considering all the bullshit I see .

    Noam Chomsky made a very interesting point,as he usually does: public trust in governments, as measured through opinion polls, is going down worldwide, and particularly accross america.

    Guess where it's currently the highest? That's right, Venezuela.

    CNN and other corporate US medias -- including Associated Press! -- call Chavez a dictator. It's the word they use in headline, litterally, no exageration on my part. That's hilariously, if not completely revolting, libellous. Chavez was democratically elected and re-elected, his numbers going UP from one election to the next. They've been validated by international organisations, including Pdt. Carter's organisation. Compare this Florida '00 for good measure.

  • by Aliks ( 530618 ) on Friday April 20, 2007 @06:28PM (#18818223)
    The article actually says that the airships are to crack down on crime.

    The Slashdot summary talks about keeping tabs on local populace.

    The Slashdot comments talk about Chevez and Bush politics.

    It seems like everyone has their preconceived views on Venezuela and puts their own spin on the story. Is Slashdot so set in its thinking?

    3 airships is hardly likely to change the social fabric of Caracas. Most police forces have helicopters to chase criminals and I would think the UK has many more than 3 available, without anyone talking about overtones of surveillance society.

    C'mon lets see moderators pick out the interesting comments about this story, not the precanned predecided views on Venezuela.
    • I happen to *live* in Caracas, and the prevailing view is not one of the government spying on us (we have lower standards regarding privacy than the US or European countries), but many rather view this as an utterly useless expense. Besides the simple fact that a manageable number of balloons cannot possibly watch every alley and corner:

      • The undermanned, outgunned police will get to the scene only to take the statement from the victim, assuming he/she stays there that long after being mugged.
      • Any record

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll