Hugo Carvajal, the former general and now accused drug trafficker, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Venezuela after being released by Dutch authoritie in Aruba, where he was being held at the request of the United States on suspicion of working the drug trade alongside the Colombian FARC.
The Venezuelan government voiced its indignation at the arrest as suddenly as it found out about it. Maduro himself classified the arrest as a “kidnapping”. He referred to Carvajal as a “soldier of the homeland”, a hero of the Bolivarian revolution.
When Carvajal was hastily released – as suddenly and unexpectedly as he was arrested – he was immediately hushed back to Venezuela, where he was welcomed at the airport by a smiling Minister of Foreign Affairs, First Lady, and the governor of the state of Aragua.
For Maduro and the PSUV, Carvajal’s triumphant return home was, as Maduro called it, a “victory for sovereignty”.
For the revolution, perhaps. But for ordinary Venezuelans, including the ones who are still in jail for protesting, Carvajal’s return was a brutal twist to the knife in their backs.
The outrage Maduro and the PSUV expressed at Carvajal’s detention, and the words they used to describe their hero, stand in depressingly sharp contrast to the government response to the protests that have rocked the country since February of this year, and the language the government has used to define the protesters.
Maduro described Carvajal as “our brother”. He said that Carvajal “had the full support of the Bolivarian government since the first moment he was arrested”. Diosdado Cabello called him “a patriot” and “one of us”. On the day he was arrested, the government issued an official statement, saying that it was “emphatically rejecting the illegal and arbitrary detention”.
In contrast, Maduro has called the protesters who have taken to the streets in Venezuela in overwhelmingly peaceful fashion “Nazis”, “fascists”, “Nazi-fascists”, and “terrorists”. He has insinuated in several instances that the protesters are “terrorist groups” financed by the United States. A fellow National Assembly deputy called Maria Corina Machado, a high-profile opposition figure, was called “an accomplice, an instigator of murders“, a “fascist” and a “terrorist”.
It is evident from their response to Carvajal’s arrest that Maduro and the Venezuelan government beleive that everyone accused of a crime should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Yet it is obvious by Maduro’s own words that this belief does not apply to protesters. This stance is at best hypocritical, and at worst criminal.
The Carvajal Affair is viewed by opposition supporters as the most recent example of the injustice and contempt for the most basic human rights that permeates throughout the PSUV and the Venezuelan government. It is the most recent example of the inverted values that have so harmed Venezuela, the country where suspected drug traffickers are hailed as heroes and students are arrested for daring to exercise their constitutional rights.