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.

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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

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