The Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Penal Forum, FPV) announced today that the number of political prisons in jail today has reached a high-water mark: 989. The news came from Gonzalo Himiob, the director of the FPV, who pointed out that the number had never reached “such an extreme until today”.
Himiob said that the vast majority of the prisoners (904) are civilians, while eleven are teenagers. There are also 85 members of the armed forces behind bars for political reasons, Himiob said, along with eight indigenous individuals.
The FPV director pointed out that the victims of political arrests since the latest wave of anti-government protests began in late January tend to be individuals of low socio-economic status, and that he believes that the fact is indicative of a deliberate attempt by the Maduro regime to send a message to that population to refrain from participating in protests.
Himiob also said that since 2014, a total of 7,820 Venezuelans have faced some kind of judicial sanction for political reasons.
US Congress Holds Hearing on Venezuela
The United States Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing today on the Venezuelan crisis. The hearing was attended by Elliot Abrams, Washington’s front-man for Venezuelan affairs.
Abrams was questioned by representative Ilha Omar, who has been critical of the United States involvement in the Venezuelan crisis. During her time, representative Omar questioned Abrams over his infamous past, particularly his role in the Iran-Contra affair and his role in relation to the El Mozote massacre. Slate describes the massacre in the following way:
The massacre Omar was referring to remains the largest single massacre in recent Latin American history. In December 1981, the Salvadoran military, trained and armed by the U.S., killed nearly 1,000 unarmed people in and around a number of small village in hopes of squelching an uprising. In that massacre, an operation to locate guerillas in the nearby hills began with an aerial bombardment of the village and proceeded with a mass interrogation and execution of the villagers. Men were separated from women and children; women and girls—some as young as 10—were raped; and children were herded into a small building that the soldiers then riddled with bullets and set on fire.
Representative Omar pointed out that in February 1982, Abrams testified before Congress that reports of the massacre were little more than communist propaganda.
In pointing out Abrams’ connection to the massacre, representative Omar was attempting to call into question Abrams’ standing to oversee the United States’ file on Venezuela.
Below, Omar’s exchange with Abrams:
Trump Meets Duque, Talks Venezuela
Colombian president Ivan Duque met his United States homologue Donald Trump at the White House today. The two men met with reporters and took some questions, including on Venezuela.
During the meeting, a reporter asked Trump about a note that appeared written on a notepad carried by National Security Adviser John Bolton during a press conference in late January, which appeared to read “5,000 troops to Colombia”. Bolton did not mention the note during that press conference, and it sparked a debate about whether or not the United States was planning to deploy soldiers to the region.
Asked if he was thinking about sending troops to Colombia, Trump gave this answer:
I never talk about that.
Duque was quick to deflect the question following Trump’s answer.
Trump was asked the same question towards the end of the interview. He said:
Uhh… you’ll see. You’ll see.
When the reporter pressed Trump to explain what he meant, he said “you’ll see”.
Asked about whether he was considering a “military solution” to the Venezuelan crisis, Trump was characteristically cryptic:
Well, I think there are a number of solutions. A number of different options, and we look at all options.
A reporter then asked Trump if he had a “plan B” in case Maduro remains in power. Trump answered:
I always have a plan B. And C. And D. And E. And F. I have great flexibility. I probably have more flexibility than any man who’s been in this office, so we’ll see.
Tintori: Leopoldo Would Run in Free Elections
Human rights activist Lilian Tintori said that her husband, Leopoldo Lopez, would run were a free and fair presidential election to take place. Tintori made the comments in an interview published by Spain’s ABC today.
Lopez was a leading opposition figure and head of the Voluntad Popular (VP) party when he was arrested in 2014 and put on trial for allegedly causing the anti-government protest wave last year. His trial was universally condemned by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as a farce. Lopez was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in prison, and is currently serving his sentence under house arrest in Caracas.
In the interview, Tintori said that her husband was “hopeful” that Venezuelans will finally be able to restore democracy in the country soon, and that he would “certainly” run in a democratic election.
Asked how Lopez’s incarceration was impacting her and her family, Tintori said:
With lots of strength and faith. Since the first day I’ve thought that he was going to be freed because what he’s lived through isn’t fair, [and neither is it far for] his children or his family. We’ve become a family of resistance, that goes through everything for Venezuela. It’s been really arduous, and we’ve seen the evil, the worst face of the dictatorship.
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