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.

2017 Editorials on Venezuela’s crisis

This year, major newspapers worldwide have published editorials on the Venezuela crisis. They have addressed issues ranging from the humanitarian crisis to the need to release political prisoners and restore powers to the National Assembly. Many editorials have supported the OAS process to evaluate Venezuela's compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter and called for increased international and multilateral pressure on the Maduro administration. For a list of editorials published in 2017, with links to access them, please see here.

Detentions by Intelligence Agents

In August 2016, intelligence agents detained Yon Goicoechea, an activist of the Popular Will opposition party, as he was driving to a press conference about an opposition rally scheduled for the following month. Goicoechea’s family and lawyer received no official information about his whereabouts for more than 56 hours. A judge subsequently charged Goicoechea with several crimes and ordered his pretrial detention. He has since been detained at one of the headquarters in Caracas of the Bolivarian Intelligence Services for almost eight months, despite the fact that the Attorney General’s Office decided not to press charges on October 17, 2016, and a court ordered his release three days later, according to official documentation reviewed by Human Rights Watch.

There have been reports of at least 17 other cases in which people are being detained by intelligence services, even after a court has ordered their release.

Free Press Under Siege

On April 26, two experts on freedom of expression of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized acts of censorship and internet blocking in Venezuela, as well as the detention, attacks, and stigmatization of journalists and media workers covering protests in Venezuela.

At least 12 Venezuelan and international journalists have been detained, some for hours and others for days, according to the statement. Journalist Braulio Jatar, who was detained after his independent news outlet reported on a protest against President Maduro in September 2016, remains in detention.

At least three online platforms offering news and information of public interest in Venezuela have been blocked by private internet service providers, in response to orders by the National Telecommunications Commission, said the UN and IACHR experts. And at least three international news channels suffered interruptions to their transmissions or had their signals suspended.

For updated information on attacks against journalists and the press, visit the Venezuelan NGO Espacio Público’s website.

 

Official Data: Deaths, Detentions, Injuries

Between April 3-25, 26 people died in Venezuela in “violent incidents,” 437 were injured, and 1.289 were detained, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said. An official list of those who died, most of whom were killed with gunshots, is available here. The attorney general reported that 65 people were in pretrial detention and 217 others would be taken before a judge on April 25. 

OAS vs CELAC

On April 24, 16 OAS member states requested a meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council to approve a resolution that will decide to organize a special meeting of foreign ministers to address the situation in Venezuela. It cites OAS charter provisions that allow for such meetings to consider “urgent problems” that are of “common interest.” The meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 26 at 4 pm local time.

Meanwhile, on April 25, the Venezuelan foreign affairs minister warned that if the OAS foreign affairs ministers meet without Venezuela’s consent, the government would withdraw from the OAS—note, however, that under OAS Charter rules (art. 143) that decision would only enter into effect two years later.

The Venezuelan minister also said the Venezuelan government was organizing another extraordinary meeting of foreign affairs minister to denounce “the opposition violence.” Only members of allied governments belonging to another regional organization called CELAC were invited to this one. The meeting is scheduled to take place on May 2.

International community must confront the scourge of Maduro

Maria Patricia Molina, 27, moved to Brazil when she was seven months pregnant due to insecurity and the shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela. Sasha, her daughter, was born at Roraima's Maternity Hospital on February 15, 2017. Molina had requested asylum, and was waiting for a decision by the Brazilian refugee agency when Human Rights Watch met with her. February 15. 2017.

The nurses spoke a foreign language, and narrow beds crowded the stuffy ward, but María gazed blissfully into her newborn Sasha’s eyes. María was far from family and friends, but she’d made it to a land of relative plenty — rich with diapers and cooking oil.

Covering Venezuela for Human Rights Watch these past eight years, I’ve watched the country tailspin into repression and privation. In recent weeks, security forces have used excessive force and fired teargas indiscriminately against anti-government protesters, and the Supreme Court effectively shut down Congress — although it later reverted part of its ruling, at the president’s request. There’s little doubt that the Maduro administration looks more and more like a full-fledged dictatorship. My story shows disturbing parallels with the Latin American dictatorships of yesteryear, said Tamara Taraciuk Broner in an article published by the Miami Herald.

The article was also published in Spanish in La Nación (Argentina), La Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador), La Nación (Costa Rica), El Tiempo (Colombia), El Nacional (Venezuela), and in O Globo (Brazil) in Portuguese. 

The “Ombudsman” on Leopoldo López’s isolation

Often, Venezuelan authorities have imposed bans on visits to Leopoldo López—the opposition leader who was arbitrarily detained and convicted to almost 14 years in prison—by his family or lawyers. The most recent ban, his wife reports, has been in place for a month. Instead of questioning the ban, Venezuela’s ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, said he had “mediated” with the government, and told López’s family they would be able to see him after his “sanction” ended. This just adds to the list of abuses Saab has failed to speak up about, and has made more than 100 Venezuelan NGOs call for his resignation

Venezuelan Emigration in Numbers

On April 21, the Spanish newspaper El País reported that 3.960 Venezuelans had requested asylum in 2016—a seven-fold increase from 2015, when 585 Venezuelans had done so. More Venezuelans sought asylum in Spain during that year than nationals of any other country. According to official sources reviewed by Human Rights Watch, 124 Venezuelans had requested asylum in Spain in 2014, up from 35 in 2013 and 28 in 2012.

Although Spain is a popular destination for Venezuelans who are fleeing the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in their country, a review of official sources elsewhere shows a similar increase of Venezuelan immigration:

  • In Argentina, the number of temporary residencies granted to Venezuelans increased from 1.777 in 2014 to 4.707 in 2015. An additional 3.768 permanent residencies were granted in the first four months of 2016
  • In Brazil, as of December 31, 2016, 4,670 Venezuelans had requested asylum in Brazil since 2012. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Brazil increased from 54 in 2013 to 208 in 2014, 825 in 2015, and 2,595 between January and December 1, 2016. There are more than 4,000 Venezuelans in a waiting list to file asylum applications in Brazil.
  • In Chile, the number of visas granted to Venezuelans (including student, work, and temporary visas) increased from 1.463 in 2013, to 2.874 in 2014, and to 8.381 in 2015.
  • In Mexico, in 2014, 56 Venezuelans requested asylum and nine were granted asylum; in 2015, 57 requested asylum and 26 were granted asylum; and in 2016, 361 requested asylum and 296 were granted asylum.
  • In Peru, the number of Venezuelans who requested a foreigner’s ID increased from 180 in 2013 to 550 in 2014, 1.445 in 2015, and 1.543 in 2016.
  • In the United States, in 2014 Venezuela entered the list of “Leading Nationalities for Asylum Applications filed with USCIS.” In December 2014, the US received 395 applications, in December 2015 it received 958, and in December 2016 it received 2.334. In December 2016, it was the first country in the list.

The Demonstrations Continue

Today, the Venezuelan opposition organized “The National Plantón,” a demonstration that consists of sitting on the streets and closing down main roads in various cities. For updated information and pictures on what’s happening in different parts of the country, visit NTN24’s website.

 

What the world needs to do about Venezuela

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.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have reached a breaking point over the country's humanitarian and political crisis poured into the streets all over the country on Wednesday. They demanded that the government let aid enter Venezuela to help the many people who are desperate for food and medicine. They demanded that the government hold elections, free political prisoners, and reestablish judicial independence and the powers of the National Assembly.

The Venezuelan government's harsh reaction -- complete with a show of force -- was a hugely irresponsible replay of its response to previous protests. The government's response to these protests is further evidence of the need for strong international pressure, especially from other states in the region, to push for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela -- and a demonstration of the potential cost of a failure to act, said José Miguel Vivanco and Tamara Taraciuk Broner in an op-ed published by CNN.

 

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.

 

.