Venezuela’s Crisis

Venezuela is facing a human rights and humanitarian crisis. The Maduro administration enjoys tremendous concentration of power, which it has used to gradually erode human rights guarantees and checks on its own power. Opponents including anti-government demonstrators, critics, and opposition politicians have been arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. Venezuelan groups identify over 100 detainees as political prisoners. Security forces have committed egregious abuses, including torture. The Supreme Court routinely fails to demonstrate any independence, endorsing government abuses and stripping the National Assembly of its powers. Severe shortages of medicine and food seriously undermine Venezuelans’ ability to secure adequate nutrition or access to healthcare.

Latest Updates on Venezuela's Crisis

So much has happened in the last few weeks that we thought it would be useful to kick off this blog with a summary of where the discussion about Venezuela’s compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter stands. The most recent events underscore the lack of judicial independence and separation of powers in Venezuela, and the government’s determination to shut down discussion of the crisis, making growing international pressure on the Maduro administration as important as ever to restore human rights and rule of law.

Looting and Death in Caracas Slum

On the evening of April 20, incidents of looting began in El Valle, a hillside slum area in Caracas, according to the Caracas Chronicles. Security forces were sent in to confront the looters, reportedly alongside armed civilians with links to the government. Many social media postings reproduced videos and audios of repeated gunfire, while others reported that the Children’s and Maternity Hospital in the area had to be evacuated after teargas entered the building. Local residents set up a series of small, burning barricades to try to stop security forces and the armed civilians from passing through, the Caracas Chronicles reported.

On April 21, the Attorney General’s Office said it was investigating the death of 11 people, including a 17-year-old boy, and injuries to six others in El Valle on April 20-21. Some victims were electrocuted, and others were killed by a firearm. The office was also investigating the death of another man who died in “a similar incident” in Petare, another poor area in Caracas.

Twins Tortured into Confessing

On April 18, a criminal court in Caracas ordered the pretrial detention of the twins Francisco José Sánchez Ramírez and Francisco Alejandro Sánchez Ramírez, 22-year-old university students and opposition activists. The twins had been arrested five days earlier and accused of participating in an attack, during an anti-government protest on April 8, on a building that belongs to the judiciary.

On the day of their arrest, the interior and justice minister tweeted that security forces had delivered a “hard blow to the Venezuelan right’s terrorism” and that the twins had been “organizing terrorist acts against the country’s peace.” The minister said they had “confessed” their participation in “violence” and the government had “obtained valuable elements of proof that implicate right-wing leaders in terrorist acts.”

On April 16, President Nicolás Maduro aired a video supposedly of one of the twins, with his face blurred—and the voices of those questioning him altered—confessing that an opposition politician had paid him to recruit people and participate in violent acts.

But José Sánchez, the twins’ father and a lawyer, said the twins told the judge at the hearing that, after being detained as they were leaving the home of one’s girlfriend, they were driven to the offices of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services (SEBIN), where they were physically abused and threatened with death so they would film the video. When the father visited SEBIN offices that day, he was told they were not there. He was only able to see them 72 hours later, he said.

A prosecutor at the hearing said the video could not be used as evidence against the twins, the father reported, and that the allegations of torture would be investigated.

At a public appearance at the National Assembly on April 18, the father broke down when he reported what the twins had said: “They bent us, but they did not break us. Dad, tell all our friends that today’s tears will be tomorrow’s smiles.”

Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela

The opposition in Venezuela organized what they called the “mother of all marches” today, as thousands poured into the streets to demand that the government hold elections, release political prisoners, reestablish judicial independence and the powers of the National Assembly, and allow sufficient humanitarian aid into the country.

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called "mother of all marches" against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 19, 2017. 

The turnout was massive. But you’d never be able to tell from the information published by Venezuelan official sources – including the vice-president, Telesur, and VTV – that have been reporting exclusively on pro-government rallies in which large numbers of people participated, including some who sing and dance “in defense of peace.”

There aren’t many reasons to sing and dance in Venezuela today. Leave aside, for the moment, the political, economic, human rights, and humanitarian crisis that pushed thousands into the streets in protest. Today, security forces used force and deployed teargas against demonstrators, and dozens of people have been detained. Journalists covering the protests reported suffering harassment at the hands of security forces and pro-government supporters, and a TV cable channel that reported on the protests was taken off the air. At least one person was killed – a 17-year-old boy who was reportedly not participating in the demonstrations died after being shot in the head.

This was totally foreseeable. Today’s protests unfolded amid explosive tensions, in a country where security forces have brutally repressed anti-government demonstrations, sometimes in collaboration with armed pro-government groups. Before today’s demonstration, President Nicolás Maduro – invoking his “defending peace” slogan – accused the opposition of engaging in “violence, conspiracy, [a] coup d’etat, and interventionism.” He announced he would multiply the number of pro-government militias and arm them, while organizing parallel pro-government demonstrations to counter the opposition’s one.

In advance of today’s protests, the region’s eyes were on Venezuela. What is happening today should only be further evidence that there is an urgent need for strong international pressure to push for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela – and that the potential cost and risk of not exercising such pressure is rapidly increasing.

Maduro gets ready for April 19 demonstration

Repressing dissent

The Venezuelan Penal Forum, a local group that provides legal support to detainees, reported today that 470 people have been detained during anti-government protests in Venezuela between April 4-14, including 165 who were released before being brought before a judge. Security forces used excessive force and teargas indiscriminately to disperse demonstrations, leading to serious injuries, the report says. At least five people were killed with firearms during the demonstrations, some of them by pro-government armed groups, the report says. Lawyers collaborating with the organization report that some detainees were beaten and tortured, while others were prosecuted without evidence implicating them in any crime, including sometimes by military courts. 


Report: Venezuela's Humanitarian Crisis is Spilling into Brazil

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders, Human Rights Watch said today. Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave the country.

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is spilling across its borders.


Latin America is watching

On April 17, in advance of anti-government protests scheduled to take place in Venezuela on April 19, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru called on the Maduro administration to ensure Venezuelans can exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully, and set a date for elections “to solve the grave crisis that Venezuela is facing, and worries the region.”


Venezuela’s crumbling façade of democracy

On March 29, the Venezuelan Supreme Court effectively shut down Congress, the only key government institution that remained independent of executive control, making the incredible announcement that it would assume all legislative powers itself or choose some other institution to delegate them to. This ruling is the end of Maduro administration’s façade of democracy, José Miguel Vivanco writes in Univisión.

Venezuela: Government Assails Critics as Crisis Deepens

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Regional governments should press the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to adopt immediate measures to better address the profound humanitarian crisis, including by exploring avenues for increased international assistance.

The Venezuelan government has targeted critics of its ineffective efforts to alleviate severe shortages of essential medicines and food while the crisis persists.


Venezuela: Dissidents Allege Torture, Coerced Confessions

The Organization of American States (OAS) should press authorities from Venezuela’s Maduro administration to release and drop criminal charges against anyone who has been arbitrarily detained and charged, Human Rights Watch said today. The OAS should also press Venezuela so its authorities investigate allegations that several detainees have been beaten and tortured in custody, and make the results of the investigations public.

Venezuela: Police Raids Hit Poor Areas

Police and military raids in low-income and immigrant communities in Venezuela have led to widespread allegations of abuse, the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. The allegations included extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary detentions, maltreatment of detainees, forced evictions, the destruction of homes, and the arbitrary deportation of Colombian nationals.

Venezuela: Unarmed Protestors Beaten, Shot

Venezuelan security forces have used unlawful force in response to antigovernment demonstrations, severely beating unarmed protesters and shooting them at point blank range, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Security forces also subjected detainees to severe physical and psychological abuse, including in some cases torture, and justice officials failed to safeguard detainees’ due process rights.