Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu wrote an article published in Spain’s El Pais yesterday titled “Free the Prisoners of Conscience in Venezuela”.
In the article, Tutu makes an impassioned please with Venezuelan authorities and the international community to take action on the issue of human rights abuses in the country, and calls on the Venezuelan government to release all of its political prisoners.
Tutu also calls the government’s violent response to dissent “an atrocity”, and blames Venezuela’s neighbours and the international community in general for not taking concrete action against the human rights violations in the country.
The original article (in Spanish) can be found here. My translation follows below (emphasis mine):
The European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states are currently holding an important summit in Brussels. While I have no doubt that there will be many fruitful debates focused on creating a stronger relationship between Europe and Latin America, a dark cloud hangs over the summit. While hundreds of politicians meet over delicious food and good wine, 77 prisoners languish in Venezuelan jails. Their imprisonment is not on the summit’s agenda.
The human rights situation in Venezuela at the moment is particularly dark. The government’s response to the people’s frustrations is more worrying than the country’s economic and security situation. Since the street protests of February 2014, when hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans protested against the rampant corruption and repression in the country, the government of President Nicolas Maduro responded with force. The government used force to repress, and 43 people died during the protests; it also arbitrarily detained more than 3,000 people. It is an atrocity for a government to respond in this way when its own citizens exercise their fundamental rights to free expression and assembly. The overwhelming silence and the lack of action from Venezuela’s neighbours have given Maduro a license to act with impunity.
Since the protests of last year – which shook the nation – the situation has gotten worse. Prisoners of conscience in Venezuela are represented by opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos. Both men are in prison for their roles in the non-violent protests of February 2014. Lopez and Ceballos both advocate for non-violent, peaceful protest in the face of injustice and impunity. They have called for the Venezuelan people to resolve their problems constitutionally. Alongside other non-violent protesters such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., they are paying a very high price in their incessant search for justice.
They are both in prison today and continue to engage in non-violent protest. They have been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks, demanding the release of all political prisoners; the end to repression, persecution and censorship; and the announcement of the date of the parliamentary elections for later this year under the observation of the OAE and the European Union. I call on the government of Venezuela to allow the Red Cross, their personal doctors and their family members to visit them.
Despite these drastic circumstances, the Maduro government has continued with its repression. As a result of the protests in the country, Maduro authorized the use of lethal weapons so that the armed forces could suppress protests – even if they are peaceful – if they are perceived to be a threat to public order. This decree increase the chance of a massacre of civilians.
In the face of the potential collapse of a country they call “brother”, Latin American leaders have responded with silence. Instead of defending universal human rights, they have hidden behind the shield of non-intervention. In the wake of a decision by the United States to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Venezuela, Latin American countries adopted a resolution supporting Venezuela under the banner of “the principle of non-interference”.
I without a doubt understand the trauma of colonialism, but without the participation of the international community, the bloodshed in South Africa would have been much worse. The international boycott and the sanctions, alongside internal resistance, are what helped to close the darkest chapter in the history of my country. The international community did not start to mobilize until after the Sharpeville massacre, where 69 people were murdered for protesting non-violently thanks to the Ley de Pases in our country. The international community cannot wait for another massacre to take place before it takes action.
The best way to approach the serious situation regarding human rights in Venezuela today is to not protect the leaders who take advantage of post-colonial sensitivities and of history to remain in power; Latin America and the European Union must overcome rhetoric and take concrete action.
I also believe in the Church and in mercy and compassion. It’s not too late for Maduro to change his course. In 2016, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy, which, according to the Vatican, “serves as an invitation to follow the merciful example of our Father who asks us to not judge or condemn, but rather to forgive and to give unconditional love and forgiveness.” With the support of Pope Francis, I pray that Nicolas Maduro will honour this invitation soon and that he free the political prisoners in Venezuela.
Venezuela-Guyana Tensions Rise
Tensions rose this week between Venezuela and Guyana over the Esequibo region, an area of land claimed by both countries.
The row began on Tuesday, when the government of Guyana issued a statement saying that it had granted permission for Exxon Mobil to conduct operations in the Esequibo. Both Venezuelan and Guayana claim ownership of the territory in question.
Guayana [has issued] an erratic statement full of falsehoods against Venezuela, specially when it comes to the historic differences we have regarding the Esequibo.
The press release read by Rodriguez also outlined the Venezuelan government’s belief that Guyana’s stance towards the region is fuelled by imperialist greed:
The new government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is exhibiting a dangerous policy of provocation against the Bolivarian, peaceful Venezuela, and is supported by the imperial power of a United States transnational corporation, Exxon Mobil, something which must be rectified immediately.
Speaking on the issue, Maduro echoed Rodriguez’ statements regarding the link between Exxon Mobil and the government of Guyana. However, Maduro took his comments a step further, saying that the U.S. oil giant was solely responsible for the increased tensions:
Exxon Mobil is responsible for the provocation between Guyana and Venezuela.
Ledezma, Lopez, Machado Receive Peace Price
… based on the impeccable defence of liberty in their community, and their demands for the minimum exercise of human rights in the same, which has resulted in them being submitted to the reproach of the government, including the flagrant arrest [of Ledezma and Lopez] and the curtailing of their civil rights.
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