The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) should condemn the grave human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government against political opponents and protesters, and Venezuela should release people arbitrarily detained and bring to justice those responsible for abuses committed against protesters, Human Rights Watch said today:
On February 20, 2015, the UNASUR secretary general, Ernesto Samper, announced that the foreign affairs ministers of Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador would travel to Venezuela in the coming days to “open channels of dialogue and understanding” in the country. UNASUR and its member states – with the exception of Colombia and Chile – have failed to voice concern regarding the detention of political opponents and the widespread abuses committed against protesters and bystanders during demonstrations in Venezuela over the past year….
On February 24, UNASUR “lamented” the death of Kluibert Ferney Roa, a 14-year-old student who, witnesses told the media, had been killed that day by a member of the Bolivarian National Police during a demonstration about the scarcity of food and medicine … While some protesters engaged in violence at some of the 2014 protests, Human Rights Watch research shows that the security forces repeatedly used unlawful force against unarmed protesters and bystanders.
“If UNASUR wants to promote a genuine dialogue, it should first press the Venezuelan government to stop locking up the people it needs to be talking with,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas executive director at Human Rights Watch. “The regional body should call for the immediate release of all the government opponents who have been arbitrarily detained, and justice for the widespread abuses that have been committed against protesters over the past year.”
Two recent surveys show that seven to eight of every 10 Venezuelans believe that President Nicolas Maduro is doing a lousy job, and more than 85 percent say the country is in bad shape. Maduro’s personal approval rating has fallen to just 22 percent, Bloomberg reports:
A poll in January found that although some 40 percent of Venezuelans sympathized with the opposition message, [yet] only 19 percent backed the flagship opposition bloc, the United Democratic Roundtable. “No discourse, no message and no proposals,” is how pollster Oscar Schemel, president of Hinterlaces, described the anti-Chavista predicament in a televised interview.
Official election rigging hasn’t helped. In 2010, the opposition candidates won 52 percent of the vote, but thanks to gerrymandering ended up with just 41 percent of legislative seats. Then there’s the political guillotine. The latest victim was Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a fiery critic of the Bolivarian regime, arrested by Maduro’s intelligence police on Feb. 19, on sedition charges.
A government that has run out of money will find it more difficult than it has in the past to contain popular unrest. Mr. Ledezma has appealed to Venezuelans from prison to “continue the struggle in the streets,” and the increasing economic desperation raises the odds of a bloody confrontation, The Wall Street Journal adds.
Venezuela not socialist, but a Petrostate
And yet the opposition’s bigger problem may be existential, Bloomberg adds:
Foes of the Bolivarian regime have eloquently decried human rights violations, media censorship and the blackout in civil rights that has struck a chord with groups such as Human Rights Watch, and drawn slaps from global heavyweights, such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.
The message is less resonant among Venezuelans, eight in 10 of whom believe crime and economic disarray trump politics. For all its stirring jeremiads, the opposition has failed to offer a credible alternative. That may be because deep down they share some of Chavismo’s basic illusions.
“Venezuela is not a socialist state,” said New York University historian Alejandro Velasco. “It’s a Petrostate, which means that the conversation is not over how to make a stronger democracy but all about distribution of rents and who controls the national wealth,” he said. “That makes dictatorship and democracy two sides of the same coin.”