Wayuu charity bags?

 

Mis amigos Wayuu

Wayuu people at Puerto Estrella Colombia

What is a Wayuu bag?
The Wayuu women crochet traditional bags out of cotton. According to the NY-Times, those ethno bags have reached high populance. Why? It goes back to 2001, when the Venezuelan model Patricia Velazquez, starring in the movie “The Mummie”, gave those bags to her colleagues on set. The success of the model with her indigenous roots was great. Right off the bat, Patricia founded the Wayuu-Taya foundation in favor of Wayuu children in Venezuela.

Who are the Wayuu?
The Wayuu originate from the northeastern part of South America. Counting 600.000 people, they make up the greatest community of indigenous people in Colombia and Venezuela.

What is a Wayuu bag?

The Wayuu women crochet traditional bags out of cotton. According to the NY-Times, those ethno bags have reached high popularity.

The Wayuu bag market

Since a couple of years, many tradespeople, luxury brands and designers are selling Wayuu bags. This is always done with the premise of supporting the Wayuu people financially. But is this true? Research of the Colombian TV channel RCN reveals the opposite. It is a pity that even the indigenous people contribute to the exploitation of their own kind.

What can be done against the exploitation of the Wayuu indigenous people?
1. Buying high quality, one looped bags
Before the Wayuu bags conquered the international market, Wayuu women waved their bags with one thread. In their culture, bags are crocheted as a socialising instrument, teaching them virtues like perfectionism and patience.
Since the bags are being sold worldwide, intermediaries let them be produced with a double thread, causing a loss of quality. The fabrication gets shortened from four weeks to three days, the pattern is imprecise and the loop often loose. With those bags of two threads, it only takes 1.5 stitches to crochet one centimetre. Therefore, bags made with two loops, take three times less effort!

2. Ask for the origin of the bag.
In case they derive from the Rio-hacha market, it can be taken as a bad sign. The Rio Hacha market is the base of many resellers worldwide, who buy the Wayuu bags to famine wages. A cheap bag costs about 18 USD, whereas in Switzerland they’re sold for 200 CHF. According to the Colombian TV channel RCN, indigenous people receive as little as 8 USD. Maybe you improve the live of a Wayuu women or maybe you increase sales for any middleman.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to buy the Wayuu bags. Information from the RCN is disillusioning. Wayuu are human beings, and good as well as bad ones exist. Exploitation is not an exception.

The Rio Hacha Market

3. Privilege NGOs or bags being sold from NGOs
NGOs or Non-Profit Organizations are legally bound to fulfill their purpose, which is of social nature. Instead is the company’s purpose eager to increase profits for a few owners.

4. Ignore amazon and ebay, where two looped bags can be found for 40 USD. It might be similar to the Wayuu bags, but for sure not an original piece. Bags that are made with little effort are not part of the Wayuu culture. They are simply imitations that drive the original Wayuu bags from the market.

Schlecht versus gutgemachte Wayuu-Tasche

 

We at Mama Tierra support indigenous women and their children. Is our opinion as Non-Profit Organisation, that all the revenues from their artwork should go back to their community. Their talent should benefit mostly them.

Wayuu women and their work from Mama Tierra on Vimeo.

Copyright: Verein Mama Tierra

Maya art weaving

Following the Maya culture is Ixchel the goddess of fertility, water and healing. She masters the art of weaving, which is still today a metaphor for birth and creation. In fact, the mayan designs and technique relate to the birth-weaving concept based on Ixchel’s myth. The maya indigenous associate the motion of the threads during the weaving process to the heart’s beating.  Instead represents the rocking back and forth of the weaver the contractions during birth.

Maya woman weaving

Maya woman weaving

The backstrap loom weaving itself is also a metaphor for the unity and infinity of the cosmos, being Ixchel’s whirling drop spindle said to be at the center of the motion of the Universe.

Goddess Ixchel

“It is said that the Mayan goddess Ixchel gave the art of weaving to her people”

Maya have been weaving for over two thousand years and their weavings have served as artistic expression of their cosmovision. The ancient art of weaving is still a key task in Guatemala. Furthermore,  craftwork is part of a Maya woman’s daily life. Weaving is considered an important social responsibilities as mothers pass on the art to their daughters.

ixchel

Women communicate their social identity as well as their individual artistic creativity through weavings. Maya women weave their personal history, ethnic identity and the design of their cosmovision  into their cloth.

In the highlands of Guatemala, on the shores of Lake Atitlan in a town called San Juan La Laguna, there are several Maya women weavers associations, who produce traditional textiles, such as bags, purses, scarves, hats, tablerunners, tablemats with the backstrap loom technique. But unlike other textiles made throughout the country, these weavers dye their fabrics with colors that nature provides.

Maya woman dyeing natural based

Maya woman dyeing natural based

They use different parts of a plant, such as stems, leaves, seeds, flowers, barks, obtaining a great variety of colors. They use 100% cotton to produce their threads and to prevent fading, this community uses a liquid from the banana bark to fix the colors. The whole process of dyeing and weaving one product might take up to 2 weeks, and even more, depending on the complexity of the design.

Aj’Kemaa Group (meaning “woman weaver” in maya language) is a community development project that seeks to integrate these weavers associations into one big group, in order to create synergies to expand their art and gain access to international markets. At the moment are sales limited to the local market. Only during tourism high season, the women manage to receive an income from selling their weaved products. However, sales are not sufficient to secure a livelihood.

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Aj’Kemaa is formed by 5 weavers associations of San Juan La Laguna town, and each association has an average of 20 members. Each member designs and produces weaved products and then delivers it to theAj’Kemaa association to be sold at local stores. These women seek to share their ancestral natural dyeing technique and art of weaving on looms to rescue the millennial tradition.

If you are interested in buying these products, please send us an e-mail: maya@mama-tierra.org. By buying these products, you will improve the quality of life of these maya families. Below are some pictures of the marvelous products they create.

Interview: Mirja Wark about traditional Wayuu weavings

Mirja Wark

Mirja Wark

Mirja Wark is a professional weaver educated at the Henri Story Institute in Belgium. She has written a book called Si’ria, studying extensively the weavings of the Wayuu women between Colombia and Venezuela. In an interview with her, MAMA TIERRA captured some of her amazing experiences with the best weavers of the world: the Wayuu. 

Why did you investigate the Wayuu weavings? 

I started investigating the Si’ira traditional belt in 1991, while living with my family in Venezuela. As a professional weaver, I was looking for a challenge and I found it in the Kanas designs of the Si’ira and Shei’i belts. The book documents the ancestral designs of the Wayuu with a step by step guide on how to weave the Kanas. The Wayuu had collected this knowledge over hundreds of years and I found it a pity that they were loosing this ancestral knowledge. I wanted to make a contribution and safeguard this weaving tradition. It was then when the plan for this book was born. I wanted to be it a gift to the Wayuu, as a token of my appreciation for their work and as a thank for sharing their knowledge with me. 15 years later my book about Wayuu weavings was first printed.

Who taught you to weave Wayuu patterns? 

Si'iraI was taught by an elderly lady called Cantus in Kareme Venezuela, between 1992 and 1993. We did not share the same language.
It was extremely difficult to learn weaving. Cantus went fast like a spider with her fingers. It took me two weeks sitting daily 8 hours on a stone in front of the loom to figure out how to move my hands correctly. I cried, the women made fun of me but in the end, I left with a half woven belt. Cantus massaged my forehead and sang a song which meant as much as “that you may not loose what you have learned in your travels”. At home I put the belt back on a loom and finished it. When I returned a few months later and showed the women the completely finished piece, they were impressed. From that moment on I was one of them. I was no longer treated as a foreigner, an ‘alijuna’, but trusted and protected.

How can one learn to weave the Wayuu Kanas?

A normal way of learning this technique would be to first learn to warp a loom and weave a plain belt with rolled edge and finishing tassels. Then a simple hourglass motive is taught and bit by bit the technical difficulties are introduced. Weaving the Kanas patterns is considered the highest art of weaving in the Wayuu culture. In the past, several women sitting next to each other would weave a shei’i . This would first be a cacique’s cloak and later a funerary cloth. Few shei’i have survived, as people were buried with it. In fact, the shei’i I have seen have corpse stains in it. 

Mirja-Wark2What do you think about the Wayuu weavings? With whom can you compare them? 

Let’s first define what is weaving: that is a piece of cloth constructed on a loom with vertical threads called warps and with horizontal threads called wefts. In Spanish one uses the word ‘weaving’ also for  crochet and knitting. Although I admire the crocheted Susu mochila’s enormously, I think the weaving of Kanas is much more complex. It is amazing that in La Guajira, where the Wayuu were isolated for so long, they developed this complex structure that enabled them to make such complex weaves and patterns and on very basic primitive looms. The Chinese make complex weaves but use complex looms too.

I would compare the Wayuu with the Bolivian and Peruvian Weavers, who also make very complex patterned weaves with an easy technique.

What is the cultural importance of the weavings for the Wayuu people?

Mirja-WarkThe cultural importance in the past is different from that of today. In the past, the girls had to go through a period of ‘blanqueo’ after their first menstruation. During this phase, the women of their tribe would educate the young girl on the women’s tasks. Natural medicine, crafts and skills related to womanhood, are the main subjects.
Learning crochet is a basic task. Weaving a ‘chinchorro’ in ‘cadeneta’ or ‘double face’ would precede learning to weave an ‘hamaca’. Saddle girth’s in double face weaving are the next step. If the instructor is capable of weaving Kanas patterns, the young girl would grasp the technique. Important is also the time the family could miss the girl for the daily chores. The longer the ‘blanqueo’ lasts, the more the girl can learn. However, what the girl learns, depends on the skills of her instructors.

If a girl knows how to weave Kanas designs, her value on the marriage market is much higher.

“The Wayuu used to be a semi-nomadic society. They did not own lots of material goods. Just their jewellery, their livestock and their textiles. Owing few items, made those things very valuable”.

Wayuu People © Jenny Velasco

Wayuu People © Jenny Velasco

In these days, when girls go to secondary education in boarding schools, they often miss the “blanqueo” ritual. The girls might have their menstruation while at school and during the vacation the time might not be right. Also, nowadays is less value placed on the traditional crafts. If a woman is a lawyer or a doctor, this is considered a higher qualification than being a good weaver. Handcrafts are a lot of hard work for little money. Education gives you a job with high salary and esteem.

Will the Wayuu people forget how to weave the Kanas design? 

Thanks to the cultural Wayuu festival in Uribia, the Wayuu’s are made aware of their rich heritage. But will that be enough to revitalise the high standards of the weaving art? Once I was asked to teach the young girls how to weave Kanas. The message I received from those girls was, that it was extremely boring to sit behind a loom and learn about “old things”.
The time is not ripe yet. But my book was written in the way, that there is a record of patterns and techniques so the Wayuu can recuperate the (lost) art when they realise how valuable it is.

What role has the Wayuu woman in the Wayuu society?

I have always maintained that in the Wayuu society, the woman is the boss in their home. Her husband is a guest. Specially, if he has more wives. He needs to provide each of his wives with equal accommodation. The women are the stable factors; husbands migrate to other parts for work and are often away. Women need to solve the daily problems and that makes them strong and inventive.

By Mirja Wark

By Mirja Wark

What do you think about the Wayuu bags (mochilas)?

The Wayuu learned crochet first from the Capuchine nuns. They used the american DMC’s pattern books. Therefore in all Susu’s, old and new, you find a variety of patterns. Crochet gives other possibilities than Kanas weaving. So, the susu’s that I like most are those with geometric patterns. But there are ones with DMC copied patterns and also with completely free designs.

I think the quality of the Susu is very good, although nobody used natural cotton anymore. 

What defines a well done mochila or Susu bag?

Firstly, the mochila should be tight even if made in crochet. Secondly, the more colours the higher the complexity and thirdly a nice bottom design is a quality sign. The strap should be braided, woven or in Osonuchi technique. All these factors make a difference in quality. I have heard about mochilas been made in china. People should pay attention to the things mentioned, when buying a Wayuu bag.

I think it is good for the Wayuu communities to make a Susu production and create an income. On the other hand the Wayuu women sell their bags too cheap. 

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Why is the Wayuu traditional weaving despairing?

The way of living of the Wayuu is changing. As soon as people settle in a village or city life changes. With electricity and running water comes television, then social media and easy communication amongst each other. In order to get some weaving done on a loom, one needs to separate from the daily chores and distractions in order to concentrate and work without mistakes. 

Weaving is still done in Kareme and other remote settlements but in small cities, like Uribia, they do not weave Si’ira anymore. They will work on crochet because it can be done while chatting. 

Since when do the Wayuu weave?

The oldest pieces I found dates back to the late 19th century and early 20th century. But we have to realise that pieces were worn until their disintegration and the Shei’i were buried with the dead. The Wayuunaiki language is related to some spoken in the Orinoco delta. It is possible that the Wayuu migrated from there to the semi arid Guajira. This evolution of weaving has surely taken many hundreds of years. 

How has the Wayuu weavings changed?

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Mirja Wark with her Wayuu friend

Natural cotton grows in the Guajira. It used to be harvested and handspun. As soon as commercially spun yarns became available, handspinning was abolished. 

Natural dyes were present in the Guajira to dye red, blue, black, brownish red and yellow. Cotton is hard to dye. You will find that in old pieces as natural or beige, white and yellowish.

Now the Wayuu buy synthetic yarns already dyed and they love strong colours. I find that they have an amazing colour-sense. Contrasts and colours are daring and challenging but beautiful. On every visit I have brought gifts of mercerised cotton for the Wayuu.

If the Wayuu want to improve quality, let them go back to using natural fibres for their handicrafts. 

Maxima Acuña: the defender of the water

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe in Bern

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe in Bern

Maxima lives in a remote town in the Northern Highlands of Peru, Tragadero Grande in the district of Sorochuco, three hours from the main town of Celendin, Cajamarca. She bought this land with her husband Jaime, in 1994; the transaction was officialised with paperwork proving their ownership. The Chaupe family have lived on this land for twenty-four years in which Maxima would weave and sew garments with her skilled knowledge of the local vegetation for the dying of fabric. She would also sell these products at the market as well as crops from their land.

However in 2011, Yanacocha mining firm undertook its expansion for the Conga project, an open-pit gold and copper with a total surface area of 2,000 hectares. Maxima refused to give her land away to this project. Since then, the Chaupe family became the target of forced eviction attempts, threats and intimidations from the Special Operations Division of the Peruvian National Police (DINOES).

One of these attempts took place on the 9th August 2012 when DINOES members intruded into the Chaupe’s land and violently assaulted the family, unmoved that women were victims of their abuse.

“They threatened my child with their machine guns, they threatened my husband from behind the Fuster, they beat my daughter in law, they took my daughter who knelt before the machinery to the road and beat her. When I saw my daughter passed out on the road, I went to see her and three policemen grabbed me by each arm and more police came ahead. I lost consciousness and they hit me with their sticks; my son took pictures with his phone and they beat him with a stick and he dropped the phone from which he was taking the photos”. Maxima Acuña Chaupe

Máxima’s legal battle to obtain Justice

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe: the defender of the water – from Mama Tierra on Vimeo.

Following these several incidences Maxima filed a complaint at the local Police Commissioner, denouncing the physical aggression from Yanacocha staff and DINOES, the impact these have made on her safety and wellbeing.Yanacocha representatives retaliated against the Chaupe family accusing them of usurpation. On the 29th October 2012, Maxima and her family were found guilty of ‘illegal occupation’ and were sentenced to three years suspended prison sentence. In addition they were ordered to pay 200 soles (72 USD) in compensation to Yanacocha.

In August 2013, a court annulled the 2012 ruling that accused Maxima and her family of usurpation. The judge found that the first ruling presented a series of irregularities, including the failure to consider evidence presented by Maxima Acuña’s family, such as their land purchase documentation. The judge ordered a new trial.

Although this is seemingly a positive step towards justice for the Chaupe family, the hearings are systematically postponed denying Maxima the right to Justice and freedom from these aggressions. Meanwhile, the violence against Maxima and her family, the virulent attempts at forcefully evicting her from her property and the infringements to her personal safety have continued.

Until now, neither Yanacocha nor any DINOES personnel have been charged for assaulting Maxima. She is frustrated at seeing that her denunciations are not taken seriously and feels that the Peruvian government and judicial system has failed its own citizens in siding with the mining company.

“The municipalities are just as guilty as the mine because they had not informed us that the mine will come to our community. […] They had not looked for dialogue at all. It is such a great pain all that we have been through with the mine.” – Maxima Acuña Chaupe.

Advocates are calling on the authorities to “thoroughly investigate all acts of human rights violations, intimidation, threats and harassment to Maxima Acuña Chaupe and her family, committed by the Yanacocha mining company, its private security forces and the National Police of Peru.” They are also requesting investigations on a series of alleged illegal evictions and acquisition of property.

Maxima and lawyer Mirtha Vasquez after sentencing was declared void. Source: Red Ulam, 2013

Insecurity and urgent need for protection

Maxima alleges she still fears for her life, that she is scared to leave her house and to be followed by Yanacocha personnel or DINOES.  ‘I fear for my life, for the life of my husband, for the lives of my children and for the lives of the people in my community who defend us and our water’, says Maxima Chaupe.

As a measure of protection, Máxima has allowed local Ronderos to 4 camp on her land since October 2013. Sadly this has not protected her. Maxima reports that DINOES and workers of the mine frequently record her as she goes about her daily activities. This constant surveillance and restriction of movement has made Maxima concerned for her and family’s safety. She is extremely isolated and scared to leave her land for fear that DINOES and mine workers will destroy her home and crops – everything she has.

Maxima’s concerns are real, on various occasions she has suffered targeted attacks although the trial is still underway; for example, at 10:30am on the 30th January 2014, Maxima received a phone call from a private number telling her “leave your property or you will be killed” (Salga de su propiedad, si no, vas a morir).

One hour later, she was farming with her daughter when two DINOES entered her land and told her to stop working the land as it is not theirs. Two further DINOES were standing on the side of her land and a further four remained in pick-up trucks parked in front of her home. At 12pm on the same day, one armed DINOES and one police officer entered Máxima’s home and told everyone to leave immediately and to stop cultivating the land. When Maxima rang the local radio station to denounce their actions, the officers left.

Facing these threats, Máxima has yet to be offered protection by the Peruvian government. However, with the help of her family and other residents of Cajamarca, opposed to the Conga project, Máxima is keeping on the fight to defend her land and its resources.

In view of the above Maxima, LAMMP.org and MAMA TIERRA demand:

– Guarantee her physical safety and that of each member of her family and all human rights defenders that oppose the mining project. Ronderos are Campesinos/Campesinas en Peru who traditionally provide protection in rural areas

– Guarantee that police and DINOES officers stop entering her home and land without her consent as well as halting all acts of intimidation including the recording and monitoring of her activities.

-Give an explanation as to why Peruvian National services are intimidating and harassing a citizen who has not broken the law.

-Carry out an in-depth investigation into all violations of human rights, intimidations, threats and harassment that she and her family have been subject to, committed by the mining company Minas Yanacocha, their private security forces, and the National Police of Peru. Maxima and her family, Source: El Cajamarquino, 2013

What you can do to support Maxima?

– Send a letter to Valcambi,the Swiss raffinery which buys 70% of the gold of the Yanachocha gold, asking them to force their suppliers to follow sustainable policies which respect human rights. Valcambi via Passeggiata 3, 6828 Balerna. 

– Send a letter to Peruvian Ambassador in your country of residence and/or Ollanta:

Humala, President of the Republic of Peru, Ollanta Humala, Presidente de la Republica de Peru, Casa Presidencial, Jirón de La Unión s/n, Lima, Peru

 Stating your dismay at the mistreatment of Maxima and her family and urging them to put a halt on forced eviction for the expansion of mining industries.

– Send a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and/or the InterAmerican Commission Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders  informing them of Máxima’s battle to protect her livelihood and her land.

Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Palais Wilson, United Nations Office CH 1211Geneva 10, Switzerland

– Send a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and/or the InterAmerican Commission Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

 Sr. Jose Jesus Orozco Henriquez, Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Inter-American, Commission on Human Rights, 1889 F St., N.W. , Washington, D.C., 20006, US

– Send a letter to Yanacocha (see contact below) urging them to cease their intimidation Campaign against Máxima and to recognise their responsibility in these attacks.

Minera Yanacocha S.R.L, Av. La Paz 1049, Edificio Miracorp, Piso 5, Miraflores, Lima,San Isidro

– Support Red Ulam, a network of Women Human Rights Defenders to which Maxima belongs to and subscribe for updates on the Campaign. http://redulam.org/

Text: www.lammo.org

Interview

Carlos Luis Sánchez: one of the most promising Venezuelan artists

Starting a career as painter at the tender age of 7, Carlos Luis Sánchez is a Venezuelan artist based in Maracaibo. His talent developed rapidly as Carlos has been drafting and painting daily since he was 14. This is the artist’s way to socialise with others, he says. Carlos motives are often linked to indigenous, because he grew up in the Zulia-state, which is the epicentre of the Wayuu tribe. Carlos studied plastic arts in the renown “Universidad del Zulia” in Maracaibo. Today he is one of the most promising young talents of the country.

Carlos Luis Sánchez Becerra

Lila Morillo, an  Venezuelan artist, singer, actress with Wayuu-indigenous roots

Carlos Luis Sánchez Becerra Bjork Wayuu

Wayuu Bjork

Carlos Luis Sánchez Becerra Mujer Wayuu

Wayuu women

1077055_133375526872246_554423066_o sabino romero

Cacique Sabino Romero. A Yukpa indigenous leader murdered 2013 for fighting for his ancestral land.

Yukpas en la Sierra

Yukpa indigenous in la Sierra de Perija. An rainforest threaten to disappear due to the economic plan of Venezuela. Many of the Yukpa people have been murdered or forced to flee do to mining activities of the Venezuelan regime or threats by landlords of Perija like the Vargas family.

El Peruano

Peruvian man

Carlos Luis Sánchez Becerra1

Carlos Luis Sánchez: is an contortionist and one of the brightest young talents in Venezuela born in 1987. He has gained international recognition as the mention of honour  “Salon Pintura Miranda de Hispanoamerica” in Spain 2009.

Humanitarian disaster in La Guajira

La Guajira is located at the northern end of South America: in the peninsula between Colombia and Venezuela, on the Caribbean Sea coast. Around 600.000 Wayuu-indigenous straddle between both countries, living by their traditions, laws and world view. In La Guajira no paved roads exist but green ways, where donkeys take people to their destination. A Neverland, in which the rain dod Juya and the Goddess Pulowi reign. 

However, their lives are far from being idyllic. The Wayuu are starving due to corruption and political tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, as well as by the pollution of multinational mining companies.

Famine affect children and elderly people the most

The Colombian National Indigenous Organisation – ONIC – has issued alerts about the famine affecting 130.000 Wayuu people in La Guajira. Recently, the Colombian People’s Defender, Jorge Armando Otálora, informed that 40.000 indigenous are starving: 70% are children, women and elderly Wayuu people. In the Colombian 2965 children have died between 2008 and 2013,due to hunger and preventible diseases.

The problem: Wayuu people in Colombia depend on food supply from Venezuela

In the recent years the Colombian Guajira has been importing food from Venezuela at low costs, thanks to Venezuelan subventions. After the social unrest in Venezuela escalated, the 2.219 kilometer border with Colombia has been closed. Caracas justifies the shut down with the lack of food due to food smuggling in La Guajira as the main reason. Also the population from Venezuela suffers from the border being closed, as the imports from Colombia have diminished to 2.5 billon $ from 7 billion $, worsening the scarcity of products. Suspiciously, the Tachira State, where the Venezuelan opposition is the strongest, also limits with Colombia. Protests in Venezuela have precisely escalated due to the scarcity of common goods as flour, rice and milk.

Institutional persecution of Wayuu people in Venezuela 

The Zulia State government, a bordering state with Colombia, has repeatedly made responsible the Wayuu people of this product scarcity. Authorities claim that due to food smuggling, 40 percent of products in Venezuela are made unavailable to the general population.

In 2003 the deceased President Hugo Chavez began the export of gas via the Wayuu people to Colombia. Before that, gas smuggling was not common. In fact, the gas stations in Maicao, Colombia have closed only in the recent years. Mr. Chavez militarised completely the Venezuelan Guajira in 2010, as the gas business was upsetting the diplomatic relations with Colombia. Since then, 28 Wayuu have died. The NGO Human Rights of La Guajira has repeatedly denounced the human rights violations by the Venezuelan army, without success. The last victim by the Venezuelan armed forces is Nelson Enrique Gonzalez, a Wayuu teacher and policeman, who didn’t hear the stop call of a soldier and was shot dead in the head.


Military persecuting Wayuu people

Corruption in La Guajira: as strong in Colombia as it is in Venezuela

Luis is not indigenous but lives in La Guajira and works as dogwatch, smuggling food and gas from Venezuela to Colombia. He earns a month salary in 4 hours, around 50 $ in cash. Luis explains that in order to bring goods to Colombia, there are 6 military stations to pass by. His gang needs approximately 1.000 $ for bribing the Venezuelan military. Trucks carry a maximum of 32 gas pipes, each one with 216 litres. Food is sold 5 times more expensive, gas revenues promise a 100% margin selling it in Colombia.

The other issue is the corruption which is omnipresent in both countries. Even if the government has released funds to build schools and infrastructure in La Guajira, the funds never arrive and disappear in some politicians pocket.

Venezuelan media from left to right accuses the Wayuu people of being responsible of the food shortages. The accusations influence the public opinion, fomenting racism and prejudices toward the indigenous. In an article from the opposition newspaper La Verdad, the Wayuu people are described as: “modern slaves of the Mafia, living on the state subsidy and making a great business on expenses of the Venezuelan citizen”.

Extreme poverty and illiteracy

Following the Colombian Statistical Department, 80% of Wayuu people are illiterate, 30% live in extreme poverty with less than 1 $ a day and a daunting children’s mortality rate menaces toddlers. Benposta, a non government organization which helps indigenous children in Venezuela claims that indigenous women have up to 20 children to ensure that some of them will survive.

Exploitation of natural resources

Big mining companies, such as the Swiss-based GlencoreXstrata occupy the Wayuu-land. The mining activity pollutes their water source and causes environmental damages.  Clencore is to mine for coal The Rancheria river in Colombia, the only water source for the Wayuu.Currently there is a drought in La Guajira. This drought is a huge threat to the Wayuu people self-sufficiency, their animals and agriculture sharpening the dependence of food from Venezuela.

Misgovernment of Colombia and Venezuela is killing the Wayuu people

Daily, Colombia and Venezuela export millions of dollars in oil barrels, coal and salt. Paradoxically, the Wayuu indigenous people are dying of hunger and curable diseases.

The lack of literacy of the Wayuu indigenous is beneficial to the economic systems of Colombia and Venezuela. As both countries rely heavily on their natural resources, it is convenient that the indigenous have no idea how to defend themselves.

A call to all human rights and environmental activists

All this are devastating consequences of the misgovernment of both countries. If social, human rights and environmental activists do not work united, the Wayuu people will disappear. With them their 2500 year culture: a world’s heritage will silently die.

Request for the withdrawal of the accreditation of theVenezuelan People’s Defender – submission of reports

Geneva, March 19, 2014

To the attention of : Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA)

Purpose: Extraordinary request for the revision and withdrawal of Venezuela and Submission of Reports

Distinguished Members of the Sub Committee on Accreditation,

On May 2013, pursuant to article 15 of the Statute, the SCA considered applications for re-accreditation from the NHRI of Venezuela, and the SCA subsequently recommended that the Defensoria del Pueblo de Venezuela (DPV) be re-accredited A status.

In the May 2013 report, the SCA mentioned it sought additional information on whether the DPV had made statements or recommendations on recent human rights concerns in three particular instances, namely: the continued detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni; the withdrawal of Venezuela from the American Convention on Human Rights; and the Uribana prison incident.

The SCA was then of the view that the DPV’s response at interview did not show that it had taken a strong public position on these issues. It did not, for example, call for the end to the continued detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni. In additional it did not speak publicly about the importance of respect for judicial independence notwithstanding the recent report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which considers such detention as a “reprisal” (A/HRC/22/44 (24 December 2012) paragraph 22). Furthermore, the SCA noted that it was unaware of any strong recommendations made by the DPV arising from the Uribana prison incident.

The SCA considered then the DPV’s silence on the country’s withdrawal from the American Convention on Human Rights incompatible with the obligation of an NHRI to advocate for the ratification of Human Rights treaties.

The SCA strongly urged the DPV to be more pro-active in the exercise and fulfillment of its mandate, and that it take a clear public stand on critical domestic human rights issues. The SCA highlighted the importance of NHRI’s responding within a reasonable time to alleged gross human rights violations, noting that the delay in doing so impacts adversely on the perceived independence and credibility of, and public confidence in, a NHRI.

The SCA received a submission from NGOs that was then sent to the DPV for comment. However, as the original submission was not received within the time proscribed by the SCA, it was not possible to translate and consider the submission or the DPV’s response.

The SCA also encouraged the DPV to develop policies and procedures to ensure that staff representation is broad and pluralistic. As of today, not a single staff is from other political party than the PSUV (Chavez political party, and Ombudsman’s one). The Ombudsman and the General Attorney proudly reiterate to be part of the Government’s majority. You will see in one of the reports submitted (UCAB’s report) that between other things the Ombudsman proudly exhibit a profile picture with defunct President Chavez.

Geneva, March 19, 2014

___

We would like to mention that because of Venezuela’s withdrawal of the American Convention, all the citizens are now, since September 2013, in a legal vacuum regarding the claiming and defense of their rights before an international tribunal. The SCA may already know that on September 6, 2012, Venezuela formally notified the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) of its intent to withdraw. Venezuelan officials have accused the Court of acting as a puppet to United States interests, and of meddling with Venezuela’s national sovereignty. Recent decisions by both the IACtHR and the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) drew derision from Venezuela.

In July, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez reiterated statements made a few months earlier that the country would withdraw after the Court issued a decision in Díaz Peña v. Venezuela that required Venezuela provide compensation for the inhumane detention of Raúl José Díaz Peña. That same month, the Commission sent another case to the Court, Hermanos Landaeta Mejías v. Venezuela, and cited Venezuela’s failure to comply with its recommendation that the alleged arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings of the Mejías brothers be fully investigated. Through its reports, the Commission has expressed concern about political intolerance, restriction of free speech, impunity for human rights violations, and highlighted the Venezuelan government’s reluctance to allow the Commission to conduct observation visits for the past ten years. Most recently, the IACHR urged Venezuela to investigate reports of a massacre of the Yanomami indigenous people last year by illegal Brazilian miners inside Venezuelan borders. Just one day later Venezuela formally notified the OAS of its intent to withdraw from the Convention. (Human Rights Brief)

The Ombusdman never condemned the withdrawal, and never answered the doubts raised after President Chavez’s decision. As for now, the only judicial instance able to judge the huge human rights violations committed in Venezuela is the Venezuelan judicial system, which is well known for its partiality and non independence (United Nations).

Through this petition, we would like to raise concerns over:

  • –  The lack of financial independence. Indeed, the DPV is required to seek the approval of the government for expenses, and depends only on the Government, violating as such article 4 of the Ombudsman’s Organic Law, and the Paris Principles. Such a situation has implications for the financial independence of the institution.
  • –  The lack of impartiality. Indeed, the Ombudsman is more likely to pay attention to the complaints of service failures rather than abuses related to citizens, violating as such articles 3, 7 and 14 of the Ombudsman’s Organic Law, and the Paris Principles.
  • –  The lack of independence. Indeed, the Ombudsman, Gabriela Ramirez, has been know as the “Defensores del Puesto” (“Defenders of the position”) spending her time more defending the untenable positions of the Government regarding human rights violations, than those of the people. Over the last few week, little has been heard from Ramirez, while repression blossomed in Venezuela. Moreover, during a parallel event organized by the Venezuelan Mission at the Palais des Nations on 16 May 2014 in Room XXIII, the General Attorney explicitly raised concerned over the deaths of three National Guards instead of the deaths of at least twenty-five young students and some adults due to the failure of National Guards to abide by the mandate of protecting their citizens since the protests escalated on 12 February 2014.The SCA might be aware of the situation in Venezuela since 2 February 2014, when protests began. Indeed, 30 dead, hundreds injured, some 2000 arrested (105 condemned to jail so far

for protesting) and denunciations of torture, illegal repression by security forces and irregular groups and attacks on the press are the fruits of over a month of political confrontation in the streets of some 30 Venezuelan cities.

The Government of Venezuela is violating the United Nations’ basic principles on the use of force and firearms [approved in Havana in 1990], with regulatory bodies like the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office treating them with contempt.

According to eye-witnesses, press investigations and videos circulating on social networks and other websites (including online press), several protesters were shot to death by plain-clothes police, by armed groups (accused and witnessed to be working for the Government) that intimidated protesters and initiated and carried out violent incidents, or by pellets allegedly fired by members of the militarized Bolivarian National Guard. In several cities there were reports that young detainees were soaked with gasoline and threatened with being set on fire, were tortured with electric prods, or raped with weapons. There were also reports of security agents shooting at, raiding and throwing tear gas canisters into private residences, as well as destroying private property.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, which should act ex officio, have turned though a deaf ear, improperly issuing opinions ahead of time in favour of the Government and blaming opposition leaders, and also remaining silent when evidence was contaminated by executive branch officials.

Despite more than a month of protests, Ramirez has been fairly invisible. In fact, a few days ago, she claimed not to have any accusations of torture, despite individuals making them (56 so far have been submitted to the OHCHR), as well as those of Foro Penal Venezolano, which have been very clear and extremely specific and quantitative (Alfredo Romero tweets and updates regularly under @alfredoromero in Twitter). In fact, Ramirez claims that “bullets” have come from “somewhere else” while there are numerous videos which show cops, police and National Guard shooting real bullets at people, exactly what Ramirez says is prohibited.

Finally, on 8 March 2014, she said in a public statement that “la tortura tiene un sentido, por eso nosotros tenemos que ser muy rigurosos con el uso de los términos. La tortura se emplea para obtener información…” (Torture makes sense, that is why we have to be rigorous in the use of terms. Torture is used to obtain information…), which caused a lot of controversy and suggested that she was not impartial in the alleged cases of torture to students by the National Guards.

This is why, according to the recommendation provided by the Secretariat, we kindly submit through this petition an extraordinary request to revise and withdraw the accreditation given to Venezuela, due to the urgency of the situation, the human rights emergency in the country, and the clear violation of the Paris Principles by the Ombudsman.

You will find in this regard six complete reports submitted by the signatories of this petition, providing details on the aforementioned violations of the Paris Principles by the DPV:

  1. A Report and its annexes elaborated by the Human Rights Commission of the Venezuelan Political Party MUD, under the direction of Delsa Solorzano, Coordinator of said Human Rights Commission, and Deputy to the Latin American parliament
  2. A report elaborated by the Inter-American Bar Association, which highlights clearly the lack of independence of the Ombusdman, under the direction of Rafael Veloz, President of the Venezuelan Chapter , Inter-American Bar Association (IABA), former President of the IABA
  1. A petition introduced by Lawyers Thelma Rodriguez and Jose Amalio Graterol (Judge Afiuni’s Lawyers), against a Mayor prohibiting the right to peaceful protest and assembly, as well as the right to movement within the municipality of Libertador, highlighting the complete lack of support from the Ombudsman.
  2. A report on human rights violations against the Indigenous group “Wayuu” and “Yukpa”, never attended by the Ombusdman, elaborated by Katherine Portman, indigenous specialist, member of the NGO Benposta,
  3. A report on general human rights violations committed by the Government, never denounced by the Ombusdman, elaborated by Gianna Alessandra Sanchez Moretti, ex-official of the UNESCO and Consultant for UNITAR.

A report on political persecution over 2013, highlighting the complete absence of involment of the Ombusdman to defend the persecuted people, elaborated by the NGO Venezuela A wareness

We also enclose for your information a public Report elaborated by the Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello, which highlights clearly all the violations mentioned supra.

Thank you for your time and attention. Sincerely yours,

Delphine Patetif

Screenshot 2014-03-23 07.52.40Permanent Representative of FIACAT to the United Nations Volunteer Contributor to the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal Venezolano

Signatories:

  • –  Delsa Solorzano, Deputy to the Latin American parliament; Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission, MUD
  • –  Rafael Veloz, President of the Venezuelan Chapter , Inter-American Bar Association (IABA), former President of the IABA
  • –  Thelma Rodriguez and José Amalio Graterol (Judge Afiuni’s Lawyers)
  • –  Katherine Portman, indigenous specialist, member of the NGO Benposta, working for indigenous children in Venezuela, member of the Swiss association Benposta’s friends. CEO of Wayoo International. Journalist. Master in Communication Sciences and Economics.
  • –  Gianna Alessandra Sanchez Moretti, PhD candidate in Law, University of Brasilia. Master in International Studies and Human Rights. Ex-official of the UNESCO. Consultant for UNITAR.
  • –  Patricia Andrade, Director of the NGO Venezuela Awareness

Lies and manoeuvres of Venezuelan politicians in Geneva – No one does anything!

People Defender’s Office Website

People Defender’s Office Website

The news published on the Venezuelan People Defender’s Office website on Thursday 13th March, struck the Venezuelan community in Switzerland. While Venezuelans were protesting in front of the U.N. against the human rights violations in their country, their Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez tweeted about a “prize” she had received from the U.N.  Apparently, for the excellent work Ramírez and her institution carry out. The Ombudswoman was pictured receiving an acknowledgement from Flavia Pansieri, the U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Mr Lawrence Mushwana, described as Chairman of the Institution for Protection of Human Rights (ICC). In reality, the picture was not taken the 13th March 2014 but back in 2013. Moreover, the “recognition” referred retrospectively to the period from 2007 to 2012. Here is the news in English.

This February, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced deep concern with regard to the excessive use of force by the Venezuelan authorities in response to protests. Ms. Pillay urged an impartial, full and independent investigation into every case of death and injury. But how? When the Venezuelan People Defender’s Office, in charge of defending the human rights, is lying publicly and nobody representing those international institution even complain? The Associated Press journalist based at the U.N.,  John Heilprin, just repeated the monologue of the Venezuelan politicians like a parrot without even asking them questions.

Gabriela Ramírez said recently with regard to the human rights violations of the authorities that; “Torture has a meaning. It is used to obtain a confession; a physical suffering is inflicted (on the detainee) in order to lure a confession. We have to differentiate this from excessive treatment or from disproportionate use of force.” Ramírez is the highest deputy of the People Defender’s Office in Venezuela. Anchored in the Venezuelan constitution, the People Defender’s Office is to advocate for the human rights of Venezuelan citizens. And this independently from any interest from the government. Just like an Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) would act.

Parliamentarian Maria Corina Machado beaten up. Again!

On Tuesday members members of Chávez’s socialist party, including the Deputy Nancy Ascencio, beat up the parlamentarian and oppositional leader Maria Corina Machado. The brutal attack happened in Puerto Ordaz, where also the Bishop of Guyana Mariano Parra was injured, among other detractors of the Venezuelan government.


On Friday the Venezuelan parliamentarians Alfonso Marquina, member of the opposition party (MUD) and Francisco García (Parlatino) attended meetings at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Their purpose was to follow up on complaints made previously to the IPU about violations of human rights to a group of Venezuelan parliamentarians, who were beaten before in the Venezuelan National Assembly 2013. Of course, the parliamentarians reported the recent aggression of Maria Corina Machado as well. The U.N. journalists did not interview these parliamentarians. Why?

Ortega at the U.N.

Ortega at the U.N. 14th March 2014

Also this week, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz was supposed to inform the international community about the human rights situation in her country, during the 25th session of the Human Rights Council at the U.N. Instead, Ortega blamed the Venezuelan protestors of acting aggressively against the states institutions, backed up by the U.S. Additionally, the prosecutor also accused United Stated of “violating human rights in Guantanamo, invading Vietnam and Afghanistan”. Following Ortega; Washington’s intention is “seeking to fund violence in Venezuela”. 

“If you can’t convince them confuse them” – Garfield

It seems that accusing the U.S. is an overall strategy of Caracas to deviate the attention of the serious human rights violations in Venezuela. The Venezuelan politicians have repeatedly accused the US of orchestrating social unrest in the country, which left 28 people dead. Nearly all victims, who were protestors, were shot in the head by the armed forces of President Maduro. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua, has accused US Secretary of State, John Kerry, of inciting violence and called him a “murderer”. President Nicolas Maduro suggested his American counterpart, Barack Obama, following advice: “let’s hope that Mr Obama doesn’t pass into history as the man who attacked Venezuela and filled it with violence.”

The UN, the European Union, Amnesty International, UN Watch, the Pope, Madonna, Hollywood actors and politicians like US Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed their concerns over the violent way demonstrations have been suppressed in Venezuela. There have been about 800 injured and more than 1100 people arrested.  Even more, the NGO “Foro Penal” (Criminal Forum) adds 44 cases of torture. 

Meanwhile violence, torture and death tolls increase daily in Venezuela. Watch this documentaries, share it, tell your neighbour about it. Please spread the word. #SOSVenezuela

Video from the NGO Foro Penal reporting human rights abuses. Foro Penal is responsible for providing free legal defense for students and also to disclose the arrests of political activists.

Watch this documentary from the Venezuelan students.

 Is the Venezuelan People Defender’s Office really an independent institution? Is it really separated of the socialist party? 

Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez with the President Hugo Chavez

Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez with the President Hugo Chavez. This was for a long time the official image of the Twitter account of  the Venezuelan People Defender’s Office.

 

VENEZUELANS IN SWITZERLAND: “WE FEAR MORE VIOLENCE IN VENEZUELA”

Students, journalists and members of the opposition in Venezuela continue their protests against crime, repression, media censorship, and food shortage. These problems have only worsened under the regime presided over by Nicolas Maduro.  Students in Venezuela demand legal action against the killings and violations of human rights, as well as the freedom of imprisoned students.

Torture of dissident students by authorities: The crime watch NGO Foro Penal has said that police anally raped detained students with rifles, beat them on the head and also burned their cars. Until today, the protests resulted on 18 dead, 200 injured and 600 students arrested in all of Venezuela. Foro Penal is providing free legal defense to the students and aims to raises awareness about the arrests of political activists.  

Paramilitary Guerrilla 

The former President Hugo Chávez fostered the creation of these informal armed groups after the coup d’état which briefly deposed him in April 2002. Through the creation of a pro-government militia that distributed war weapons to civilians in order to “protect the revolution”. The better known among them are the “Tupamaro” and “La Piedrita” collectives, which call themselves the “armed wing of Chavism”. There are over 90 such groups throughout the country. The collectives are sanctioned by the government to the point that the Minister for correctional services, Iris Varela, has referred to them via Twitter as the “fundamental pillar for the defense of the homeland”.

 

Political persecution 

Opposition leader Leopoldo López, former Mayor of the Chacao district from 2000 to 2008, has made repeated calls for peaceful demonstrations. In reaction,  President Maduro issued an arrested Lopez for breach of public order: “Lopez: you cowardly nazi-fascist“! Maduro said  on a televised address that all public and private broadcasters were forced to air. Maduro announced yesterday the expulsion of 3 officials of the Embassy of United States in Caracas for alleged conspiracy. Around 20 journalists have been jailed.

NGOs launch alerts

Human Watch describes the situation in Venezuela as serious during an interview with CNN. Amnesty International is asking the Venezuelan Government to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. These rights are enshrined in the Venezuelan Constitution in its article 68. Venezuelan human rights NGOs such as PROVEA, Súmate and the indigenous rights activist José Palmar, a catholic priest, was beaten up during a peaceful protest.


International concern

Elias Jaua will meet United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva next 4th March amid growing international concern.The UN, the European Union and US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed their concern over the violent way demonstrations have been suppressed in the past few days and have asked President Maduro to give a peaceful culmination to the severe social crisis facing Venezuela. The former Latin American Presidents Felipe Calderón (Mexico), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica) and Álvaro Uribe (Colombia), have reported serious violations of human rights by the Venezuelan State and harshly questioned the democratic spirit of President Nicolas Maduro.

Points of protest

Crime: with approximately 200,000 violent deaths during the past 15 years, Venezuela is one of the countries with the highest murder rates in the world. According to NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia (OVV), violent deaths in Venezuela continue to climb, reaching 24,763 lives during 2013. Violent assaults occur anywhere: shopping centers, hairdresser shops, gyms, hospitals and even churches: on Saturday February 16th, two priests were killed in a Catholic school in the city of Valencia.

Placards held in the recent demonstrations read “Mr. President, we do not want any more deaths” or “How many children do I have to lose to the irresponsibility of Chavism”? We urge the international community to demand that the Venezuelan State eliminates armed groups created by Chavism to prevent further violence,” said Javier Arreaza and María-Alejandra Álvarez, Member of VENEX in Switzerland.

Shortages: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. The majority of Venezuelans are not benefiting from this wealth. The scarcity of such basic goods as flour, soap, toilet paper inflicts suffering on our people. Located in a zone in the north of Venezuela that exports millions of dollars in oil barrels daily, the Wayuu indigenous people are dying of hunger and curable diseases.

Annual inflation amounts to 56%, making any purchase a luxury.  The exchange rate of the dollar on the black market brings the minimum wage to just about 50 dollars a month.

Katherine Portmann, representative of the NGO Benposta in Venezuela writes: “it is for us very difficult to provide food for our child centers in the Guajira. The worst part is that the governorship of Zulia negotiates the delivery of food trucks to reduce indigenous peoples to silence.”

Censorship: The Governor of the State of Miranda and opposition leader Henrique Capriles charged that there is a direct order to censor his statements. Venezuelan television and radio networks have not given any significant coverage to the student demonstrations for fear of losing their license to broadcast through Government retaliation. Only international networks such as CNN and Colombia’s NTN24 covered the demonstrations.  The latter was taken off the air in Venezuela on direct orders of Nicolas Maduro.

Social networks have become the main channel of communication for Venezuelans, which in turn has prompted the Government to partially block Twitter. Journalists incur serious risks when exercising their profession. Daniella Morrell, a Venezuelan journalist who was harassed for divulging information about the demonstrations states, “journalism in Venezuela is conditioned not only by Government editorial line, but by journalists’ very need for survival. Having a job to meet basic needs is difficult”.

During Venezuela’s war of independence, students and other young people fought the battle of La Victoria on February 12th, 1814. The royalist army was largely superior to the number of students they fought. Yet young people fought with fervor to liberate their land from elites. 200 years later history repeats itself.

          END       –

How can you help Venezuela?

Write a letter to the Embassy of Venezuela in Berne expressing your discontent about the current situation:

Schwarzenburgstrasse 73

3097 Bern – Liebefeld

Apartado Postal 1059, 3000 Bern 23

Tweet President Nicolas Maduro @NicolasMaduro calling for end to political persecution.

Remind the Minister of indigenous peoples Aloha Núñez to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in Venezuela @AlohaNueez

Share this video on social networks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFS6cP9auDc and follow us on Twitter @venexsuiza

Talk about Venezuela. Join us in our demonstrations in Bern, Geneva and Zurich

 

 

 

URGENT ACTION ON SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN VENEZUELA

Caracas, 24. February 2014 – Press release: Member organizations of Foro por la Vida, together with other Venezuelan organizations, in light of serious violations of human rights in Venezuela claim: 

We, the undersigned organizations, given the worsening of the Venezuelan situation resulting from violence, misinformation, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights that have occurred in the month of February 2014 make a call for urgent action in support of the observance of human rights, justice and peace in Venezuela.

The events taking place in Venezuela showcase the deterioration of public institutions to effectively arbitrate the diversity of political positions that exist in the country. In light of this situation it is important that various sectors of the national and international community take a stand to challenge human rights violations, calling for an independent investigation, requesting the cessation of repression and the opening of genuine dialogue.

Criminalization of protests

Students and other social sectors of Venezuelan society have convened and conducted peaceful demonstrations throughout the month of February. Systematically, high-ranking public officials have disqualified these mobilizations and demonized sectors participating in them.

Disqualifying speeches are frequently featured in the National System of Public Media or through mandatory radio and television broadcasts. Acts of vandalism and street closures that have involved a minority of protesters —rejected by the organizers and broad sectors of Venezuelan society— are overexposed in such broadcasts. Thus, because some participants incur in violent acts, all participants and organizers of peaceful demonstrations have been disqualified as violent, as a justification for the authorities to widespread repressive responses.

Arbitrary detentions

Starting February 12, there were numerous arbitrary arrests in the context of demonstrations.  Protesters have been subjected to punishments that include torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Detainees have been taken to places without minimum conditions to ensure their fundamental rights, lacking adequate ventilation, and have been denied access to lawyers or food supply by their family. Likewise, detainees have complained that officials had searched into their belongings, and particularly their electronic equipment, such as cameras and cell phones. Minors were kept in adult detention centers, in a context of severe repression and torture. Finally, there have been reports of detainees who have been severely beaten and sexually assaulted, as well as having had their personal property damaged.

State actions regarding these arbitrary arrests offer no guarantees of due process. The authorities have failed to properly report on the number of detainees, their identities and ages. Arrests in many cases exceeded the time limits established by law to be brought before a judge. Likewise, in some cases judges have threatened detainees with keeping them imprisoned, instead of on probation, if they requested forensic reports of attacks against them.

Freedom of expression

In this context, there is a restriction of the free flow of information in the Venezuelan media, and this leads many people to seek information through international news networks or social networks. Attacks and aggressions against journalists and reporters persist as well as blockings of websites, promoted by the Venezuelan authorities.

Traditional media refrain from publishing information about the demonstrations and violent and irregular situations, due to government pressure and fear of reprisals. Many journalists and reporters have been assaulted or attacked while covering violent events and repression from authorities. Most of the perpetrators of these attacks are police officers, members of the armed forces or pro-government armed groups.

Likewise, without due process, the Venezuelan Government ordered cable companies to take international news channels off from their programming, and as well blocked access to several websites, made it difficult to upload and send images through Twitter and created other restrictions within the internet. These policies lead to serious restrictions to freedom of expression and information, endangering people and impeding the exercise of their rights, with less and less space for expression and repressing critical voices.

Public order

The undersigned organizations of this Urgent Action recognize the State’s obligation to maintain public order, but we must remember firmly that this responsibility should be carried out in strict compliance with the Venezuelan Constitution and international standards in this matter. All in accordance with the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the United Nations, and the landmark judgment in the Caracazo Case, dictated by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which is binding for the Venezuelan State.

All measures for restoring order must be compatible with human rights and the principles of a democratic society. The Venezuelan State has a constitutional obligation to adjust its operational plans to control public order to reestablishing order, providing various means for differentiated use of force, maintaining independent functioning of the Judiciary, respecting and guaranteeing due process and providing judicial guarantees for all persons.  As well, it must implement crowd-control techniques that minimize the need to use force, employing methods of persuasion, negotiation and mediation, as well as complying with the constitutional ban on the use of firearms and toxic substances in controlling peaceful demonstrations, as is enshrined in Article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution.

Paramilitarism

We express deep concern regarding repressive actions against the demonstrators by paramilitary pro-government groups. In some parts of Venezuela, these actions have been coordinated with the National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police and state police forces. A member of the Venezuelan human rights NGO Provea was a victim of kidnapping, beatings and death threats by these irregular organizations.

Some senior State officials, through their accounts on the social network Twitter, have encouraged the actions of such groups.  To date, President Nicolas Maduro has made no condemnation of those groups. Neither the Attorney General nor the Ombudswoman have questioned the actions of paramilitary groups that have helped to contain demonstrators, through tear gas and gun shots, even against family homes.

We recall that the State is responsible for violations of human rights when not taking adequate measures to prevent the actions of such armed groups and even more when their actions are executed with the cooperation of the authorities.

 Situation of human rights defenders in Venezuela

The conditions under which human rights defenders carry out their work in Venezuela have deteriorated significantly. The Venezuelan State has failed to fulfill its obligations to provide the necessary means for human rights defenders to conduct their activities freely; to protect them when they are threatened, to prevent attacks on their lives and personal integrity; to refrain from imposing obstacles to the realization of their work, and to conduct serious and effective investigations regarding violations against them, preventing impunity.

When the political polarization in Venezuelan society is at peak levels, the attitude of the Venezuelan State towards NGO´s and human rights defenders changes: from neutralizing the actions of human rights defenders by adopting a defensive strategies against criticism from the sector, to the adoption of a clear policy of confrontation and public discrediting, which has caused serious consequences. Evidences of this change are public and notorious: holders of highest public office not only fail to recognize their work as human rights advocates, but also make serious allegations against organizations and human rights defenders, among them as “traitors to the motherland”.

Public Prosecutor and Ombudsman

Instances of violence and human rights violations that have occurred should be subject to a fair, serious and thorough investigation by an independent authority. In accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution this is a responsibility of the Public Ministry, chaired by the Attorney General’s Office. However, these investigations have not been carried out with due diligence, in violation of constitutional and international obligations of the State. Therefore, this conduct of the Attorney General amounts to a serious renunciation of her institutional functions.

Similarly, the Ombudswoman is responsible for the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights. However, her performance has been directed at silencing human rights violations against government dissidents and to politically defend the arbitrary actions of the State´s security forces. Wherefore also in practice the Ombudswoman has severely declined to exercise her constitutional powers and duties.

State of Exception

Article 337 of the Venezuelan Constitution expressly provides that during states of exception guarantees enshrined in the Constitution may be temporarily suspended, except those relating to the right to life, prohibition of solitary confinement and torture, the right to due process, the right to information and other intangible rights. This means that there are a number of constitutional guarantees that under no alleged circumstance may be suspended. As it is impossible to suspend them during a state of exception, it is equally inadmissible to suspend the exercise of legal warrant actions.

States of exception correspond to objective situations of extreme gravity against which the ordinary means available to the State are insufficient to meet them. The Declaration of a State of Exception does not allow public authorities to act in disregard of the law, to which must adhere at all times. Therefore they must abide by the principles and obligations of proportionality, timeliness, and non-discrimination, and this declaration must be officially decreed because, otherwise, this would be a de facto State of Exception, inadmissible in a democratic state.

Dialogue

In the current Venezuelan crisis, with the unfortunate deaths of 12 people in the context of the recent demonstrations, and over 120 wounded by gunfire, we urge the Venezuelan Government to create minimum conditions that allow for a democratic solution to the conflict, which involves refraining from the criminalization of dissenting opinions, recognizing the social and political factors critics of the government, opening spaces for dialogue and ensuring the exercise of the right to peaceful demonstration.

We also urge opposition political leaders to strongly condemn the violence and to generate conditions favorable to establishing with the government a minimum agenda for a sincere and productive dialogue, in order to face the various problems affecting Venezuelan society today.

We therefore urge to write letters, press releases or communiqués:

Expressing concern at the criminalization of social protest, the systematic harassment of journalists and media, the actions of paramilitary groups and calling for guarantees necessary for an independent investigation of human rights violations;

Calling for the cessation of recurrent public insults against demonstrators by State officials and urging them to fulfill their obligation to guarantee the rights to freedom of assembly, expression, personal integrity and due process;

Urging the different sectors to establish mechanisms for a real dialogue that enables national understanding and the implementation of proper procedures to effectively investigate violations of human rights and to achieve justice in each case.

 

SEND MESSAGES BEFORE APRIL 1st TO:

President of Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro Moros

Final Avenida Urdaneta, Esq. De Bolero, Palacio de Miraflores Caracas, Distrito Capital Venezuela

Twitter: @NicolasMaduro

Greeting: Mr. President

Dear Mr. Presidente

Send copies to Venezuelan diplomatic representatives and to the Foreign Affairs Ministers in your country

Send copies to:

Foro por la Vida (Spokes group)

Bulevar Panteón, Puente Trinidad a Tienda Honda, Edif. Centro Plaza Las Mercedes, PB. Number 6 Phone numbers/fax: +58-212-862-1011 / 53.33 and 860-6669

Caracas, Venezuela

E mail: voceria.foroporlavida@gmail.com

 

Organizations members of the Foro por la Vida who sign and promote this Urgent Action:

Acción Solidaria

ACCSI Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA

Caritas Los Teques

Centro de derechos humanos de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (CDDHH UCAB)

Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos –  Universidad Central de Venezuela

Comisión de Justicia y Paz de la Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana (CEV)

Comité de Familiares de las Víctimas de los sucesos ocurridos entre el 27 de febrero y los primeros días de marzo de 1989 (Cofavic)

Espacio Público

Observatorio Venezolano de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres

Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Vicariato de Puerto Ayacucho

Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea)

Vicaría de Derechos Humanos de la Arquidiócesis de Caracas

 

Other organizations who sign and promote this Urgent Action:

ACOANA (Asociación Venezolana para la Conservación de Áreas Naturales)

Asamblea de Educación

Asociación Civil Banco del Libro

Cáritas Ciudad Bolívar

Cecodap

Centro de Investigación Social Formación y estudios de la

mujer (CISFEM)

 

CESAP Asociación Civil

Ciudadanía activa

Civilis – Derechos Humanos

Comisión Venezolana del Servicio Social Internacional Centro
Comunal Catia

Convite AC

Fenasopadres

Fuerza Ecológica Calabozo (Fecolca)

Fundación Aguaclara

Fundación CIIDER

Fundación de Derechos Humanos de Cumaná (INCIDE)

Grupo Social CESAP

Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos (Invesp)

Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones

Sinergia

Transparencia Venezuela

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