Last night, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, published an open letter to Leopoldo Lopez in which leveled scathing criticism against the Maduro government.

The letter outlines a set of reasons why Almagro believes that Venezuela has “crossed the threshold that is the end of democracy”. Among them is the rampant corruption within the PSUV, the violent persecution of political dissenters, and the Venezuelan government’s apparent unwillingness to seriously deal with the country’s problems.

Below, my translation of the letter, which you can find here in Spanish. I have tried to keep Almagro’s punctuation and prose as true to the Spanish version as possible. All bold and italicized text is in the original letter:

22 August 2016

Leopoldo Lopez
Ramo Verde Prison
Venezuela –

Dear Leopoldo,

I will be honest with you: I did not know that you were a political prisoner when you were arrested. The government had turned a lie into a continental truth; as soon as I saw the sentence and took it in word for word, I understood the magnitude of the political horror that your country is living.

You are somehow both imprisoned, victims of the maximum expression of human misery, the denial of all rights, from the most basic economic and social rights to basic freedoms.

Your fate is so closely tied to that of your people that surely you will only be free only when your people are free, and if the government believes that there is a possibility that you will break it is because it erroneously believes that it can break the Venezuelan people.

Perhaps calling you “friend” despite never having seen you is too much on my part, but I must confess that during this time I have felt immensely close to the injustice from which you suffer, just as I have felt close to the suffering of the people of Venezuela.

However, with each message of peace and harmony that you have sent — despite the threats against your life, the abuses that your family has suffered at the hands of the government’s jailers — you show that there is a way of hope for your country. In this way, and in many others, you embody the people’s hope, that of all together and of each individual.

The sentence that re-affirms your unjust conviction is a milestone, the sad end of democracy in Venezuela. It is at the same time, paragraph by paragraph, the end of the rule of law. That sentence clearly establishes the fact that In Venezuela there is no fundamental freedom left standing, no civil or political right, and that these have been left without effect through the conduct of the government.

Today, our conclusion is the same to which the MERCOSUR countries have arrived by refusing to accept Venezuela as president pro tempore of that organization.

That is a very strong international sanction, loud and clear. Without a doubt, so is the invoking of the Interamerican Democratic Charter, the next stages of which should solidify that which has already been established at MERCOSUR.

No position that supports rights and the fundamental principles of law can ignore that the Venezuelan government holds and tortures political prisoners, that it ignores the separation of powers and specially the legislative power, that it suffers from a deep humanitarian and ethical crisis and that a good part of those affects have been politically selected, that the Venezuelan government wants to ignore the constitutional right of the people to recall its President – a mechanism that comes from the same legal and political thought as electing him – and that the government has not shown any will to dialogue.

I reaffirm once again that which I have stated in the past, that the existence of political prisoners is absolutely incompatible with a democratic system. And that a single political prisoner means the imprisonment of all of our political rights.

No regional or sub-regional body can refute the reality that there is no democracy nor rule of law in Venezuela today. Today, MERCOSUR serves as the best example to follow, and the application of international clauses that condemn breaks with constitutional order and the democratic system become more necessary each day.

The Secretary General of the United Nations and the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations have also spoken out clearly on the humanitarian crisis, and have called on the Venezuelan government to fulfill its obligations under international human rights treaties.

The European Parliament has shown detailed evidence of the government’s abuses, the denial of the rights of Venezuelans and it has asked for your freedom and that of all political prisoners.

As I analyze this topic time and time again, I am convinced that there are no legal, political, moral or ethical reasons to not speak out and denounce a government (at this time, it has the characteristics of a [dictatorial] regime) that has caused itself to lose all legitimacy. 

We have crossed the threshold that is the end of democracy itself. The international community calls for “no mas tirania en el cielo” [“an end to tyranny in heaven”; I believe this is in reference to a song], but that heaven no longer exists.

Demanding that the government meet its international obligations includes first and foremost a compromise to respect democracy and human rights throughout the country, something which cements the trust of the people.

The founder of the Frente Amplio, the left-wing coalition of the Uruguayan government, General Liber Seregni, had this to say about the definition of “trust”:

Trust is a highly meaningful dynamic variable for the secularization of political institutions. Initially, it is produce at the most basic level of the political system, which is the citizen, and it becomes denser as it moves up to the upper levels until it becomes impersonal and just another generic characteristic of the system. Its intensity varies and depends on elements such as the equitable distribution positions and political rights, the accuracy and routine of a system of evaluation and control, the existence of public communication channels and most importantly the frequency and quality of the exchanges between political leaders”. 

Daily Violence and Intimidation

The Venezuelan people are victims of intimidation, which has become the most tangible political and governmental symbol. It is corollary to an inefficient government that concerns itself with staying in power by denying the people of the possibility to decide through voting, and resorts to violence against those who protest of have other opinions or violate the law.

Those of us who know dictatorships know that attempting to eliminate opposition and dissenting voices is a true reflection of the ignorance of tyrants, because freedom will always beat within the people, rights will always form a fundamental part of society, and because ideas do not disappear even if you submit those who hold them to harsh punishment, espionage, violence and extortion.

Intimidation as a political tool has been applied against thousands of protesters, against you yourself, against public officials who could lose their jobs because they signed in favour of a referendum, against dozens of political leaders, against “Chuo” Torrealba, against Borges, against Maria Corina, against Zeballos [sic], against Ledezma, against your mother or your wife when they have gone to see you, against everyone in The Tomb [the name of the SEBIN prison in Caracas] to rip false testimonies out of them, against every judge that has suffered from political meddling, against the entire people of Venezuela who are the ultimate targets of these actions.

However, Leopoldo, Venezuelans feel, as Henrique Capriles said, that “Jail and imprisonment will never take away from us the desire to live in a country that is fair to all”.

Poverty, Humanitarian Crisis and Corruption

The opacity and dubious manner in which public funds have been handled have taken Venezuela to be classified as the most corrupt country in the continent by Transparency International. This I pointed out in a release on May 30 2016.

Aside from curtailing people’s rights, [the government] resorts itself wholly to corruption.

Former high-level officials of former president Hugo Chavez Frias’ economic team, such as Jorge Giordani and Hector Navarro, have made accusations that billions of dollars have disappeared through embezzlement. Who is investigating the disappearance of that money, which belongs to the people?

As if that was not enough, Roberto Rincon, the owner of the Tradequip and Ovarb Industrial companies which supplied the state-owned PDVSA company was found guilty of two charges of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He admitted his participation in a corruption scheme to win contracts from PDVSA.

Rincon was arrested this past December 16 for paying more than $1 billion in bribes to win contracts from PDVSA between 2008 and 2014. He is not alone: he is the sixth person to plead guilty in recent investigations for corrupt links to Venezuela (three of them were former PDVSA officials). Where did that money go? In which account is it? Who benefited?

The Case of Efrain Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, which is taking place in a New York jurisdiction, has every indication of being worrying. According to prosecution documents, during 2015, the accused move ahead with preparations to transport cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras wit the goal of sending it to the United States.

In recorded conversations, the accused stated that they were at war with the United States, while at the same time establishing their goal of making several million dollars during the operation.

The prosecutors consider it a fact that the accused held meetings in Honduras (on October 4 2015), in Caracas (at the end of October 2015), and Honduras (in November 2015) during which times they worked on their preparation for the drug-trafficking operation.

During the course of these meetings, Campo described his connections with the Venezuelan government, and explained: “we are at war with the United States… with Colombia… with the opposition”, making it clear at the same time that the drugs were destined for New York. On December 10 2015, the accused were detained in Haiti where they had gone to make adjustments to their plan.

From the voluntary confession of Mr. Campos and Mr. Flores (who traveled with diplomatic passports), according to the New York Attorney General’s office, we know: Two months prior to his arrest, Campo met for the first time the people from whom he agreed to receive the cocaine to be then sent to the United States through Honduras. This contact got the cocaine from the FARC, and agreed to the transaction through the initial shipment of 800 kg. Campo recognized pictures from that preparatory meeting and identified them as such. Flores remained in touch with the contacts to carry out the plan after these preparatory meetings. Of the 800 kg destined for that first shipment, 100 kilograms belonged to Mr. Flores, 100 kilograms to Mr. Campo, and the rest to their two business partners. Moreover, Flores admitted that he hoped to receive more than US$ 5 million from this first shipment, of which US$ 560,000 would go to him.

All of these cases are evidence of the degradation of the republican integrity and transparency in Venezuela, and serve to feed the ever-increasing growth of corruption. Whoever supports this state of affairs, or simply remains silent, as an accomplice. The Venezuelan institutions that know of this and do not denounce it are accomplices.

The rule of law would provide justice to Venezuelans, but today corruption goes without judgement. They have judged you for conducting politics, but they have not judged any of the murderers – save for the smallest exception – of the 43 victims of the 2014 [protests] that have still not found justice.

The Recall Referendum

As Secretary General of the Organization of American States, I wrote in the extensive report prepared at the invocation of the Democratic Charter against Venezuela, “the solution to every institutional crisis can be solved through the legitimacy granted to it by the people. All political polarization at the leadership level that creates a crisis makes a public consultation necessary”. 

For this reason, it is not acceptable to take away this power from the people’s hands for any reason, on which it belongs to be used as currency. To do this would be the final blow against Chavez’s political legacy.

Under no circumstance should power be used lest it be done strictly within the mandate afforded to it by the popular will and the Constitution. Much less to impose solutions that do violence against that which is set out in the Constitution. And much more less to prevent the sovereign people from expressing themselves.

The popular mandate expressed in a pluralist society [is], the essence of a democratic system, is not just a moral demand but also a political and civil necessity for peace and the development of our societies. As Seregni would said, “The objective is to transform that ethical principle in an election or a way of life”. 

The foundation of morality and the root of justice is the recognition of a people’s dignity by respecting their will. Believing in people, respecting and defending their dignity and their rights, is the goal of democracy. Failure to do this is due only to the degradation of morality, of a power that supports corruption and of corruption that supports power, the consolidation of a vicious cycle of misery that Venezuelans have paid for with the lives of children in hospitals, with thousands of violent deaths on the streets, with hunger.

The peace that your country needs begins with rebuilding trust in politics among the citizens of Venezuelan.

Today, Venezuela needs just as much public decency, just as much democracy and democratization, just as much reconciliation and peace as that called for by Monseigneur Oscar Arnulfo Romero on August 6, 1978:

Keep in mind the right to participation that everyone longs for, because everyone can contribute something for the common good of the country, and that there is a need for today more than ever of a strong authority, but not to rule mechanically or despotically, but to [rule from] a moral strength based on freedom and the responsibility of each of us, so that all of those forces may come together, despite a pluralism of opinions and even of opposition to the well-being of the country”.

And as he who was a martyr for peace in El Salvador concluded:

Give the people an opportunity to organize, do away with unjust laws, give amnesty to those who have transgressed against laws that do not serve the common good, put an end to the harassment of the people, specially out in the country. Give freedom or a day in court to those who have disappeared or are unjustly imprisoned. Give those who have been expelled from the country and those who have been unable to return due to political reasons the opportunity to do so”. 

Take care,

Luis Almagro

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