Former Zulia governor Pablo Perez spoke today on his 10-year ban from politics at a press conference. He called the disqualification ordered by the Comptroller General of the Republic “political persecution”, and suggested that it was an ultimately futile measure. Perez explained:
If the government and the PSUV think that these political disqualifications will stop us from working towards winning the December 6 parliamentary elections, they’re wrong (…) this political persecution against all of us who think differently, against those who offer leadership and who represent a threat to the government, will not stop us. I must stress that these disqualifications happened as a means to dishearten us, so that we would stop mobilizing and organizing ourselves, so that we would lose hope and perhaps not show up to the polls.
Perez spoke at the Colegio de Abogados [College of Lawyers], and was flanked by members of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica. He became the fourth opposition figure last week to be disqualified from holding political office in the last month.
He also stressed that the tactic of disqualifying political opponents was short-sighted, because:
… the government will not do away with the lines, nor the shortage of food and medicine; neither will it do away with insecurity, nor will it make milk appear, nor end the assassinations and thefts that are so rampant in the country.
Perez explained that the harassment he claims to be a victim of at the hands of the government began nearly three years ago, just as his term as Zulia governor was coming to an end. It was then that, as Perez put it, he became to be the target of “proceedings at different institutions”, including the Comptroller General of Zulia, the National Assembly and the Public Ministry. Perez claims that he always cooperated with authorities, and that in 2014 he was handed a Bs. 16,000,000 fine by the Comptroller General of Zulia. He claims that the reason for the fine were never made clear to him.
Perez then explained that the confusion surrounding the nature and scope of the proceedings against him peaked on Friday:
To our quote unquote surprise – because there’s nothing that can surprise us any more in this country from a legal point of view, or when it comes to actions by the government against those who think differently – last Friday we received notification that the fine – because it’s part of the same case – was converted into a political disqualification for ten years.
Cota 905 Residents Speak Out Against “Colombian Paramilitary” Claims
After a raid on the Cota 905 area of Caracas killed 16 people last Monday, Minister of the Interior Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez was quick to blame “Colombian paramilitaries” for infiltrating the area and working to undermine the national government. Gonzalez Lopez provided no evidence for his claim.
Out of the 134 people arrested in last week’s raid, 32 are foreigners. The government announced last week that they would be deported.
Today, El Nacional published interviews with residents of the area who spoke out against the claims that Colombian paramilitaries were present in the region. One of the people the publication spoke to is Berta Cervantes, a 34 year-old mother of five who lives in the Cota 905. Cervantes said:
We’ve been living here for nine years, and our only crimes are being poor and Colombian. We’ve been abused because of both of those things, and what happened on Monday was an extreme case of that. It was about 5:30 AM and we were sleeping when the police came and knocked our door down. They pushed my husband out and they took him away only because he is Colombian. The same thing happened to my brother-in-law, who is also Colombian and lives in the house next door. No nos pueden venir a matar con el cuento del paramilitarismo. [This sentences literally means “They can’t come and kill us with the story of paramilitarism”. Figuratively – as Cervantes used it – it means, “they can’t come in here and lie about us being paramilitaries”].
Cervantes said that she has no knowledge of where her husband and brother-in-law are being held and fears that they will be deported.
Raul Ortuño, a community organizer who lives in the La Esperanza area of the Cota 905, said that this is not the first time that residents there have been accused of being paramilitaries. Ortuño said that the community has collaborated with authorities in the past to verify the status of the Cota 905 residents:
We’ve given various government authorities information about everyone who lives here, specially because we know that this is a high-risk zone and we need better homes. The government has known for a long time who we all are, who are the Colombians and who are the Venezuelans, and they know that there are no paramilitaries here. In fact, we even got Freddy Bernal to come up here when he was mayor. Here in La Esperanza we have five Colombian neighbours under arrest and, once again, there’s the tale that they’re paramilitaries.
PROVEA, an NGO that works to promote and safeguard human rights, claims to have received 22 complaints of police misconduct from Cota 905 residents stemming from last week’s raid.
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