ROME – Venzuela’s bishops have called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to “defend” the lives of the Venezuela people.
The statement was hand delivered to former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on June 21, while she was on a visit to the country to produce a report on the ongoing crisis that has led four million Venezuelans to flee the country.
According to sources on the ground, many of those who are still in Venezuela are scavenging for food in dumpsters and dying of treatable diseases in public hospitals lacking basic medicines. In addition, once-eradicated diseases, such as measles, have returned to the country.
“We come to you to intervene in the restitution of the electoral, political and economic rights of the population, allowing Venezuelans to live in freedom, dignity and progress,” reads the document presented by the bishops.
The prelates also called for the “the release of political prisoners and the elimination of police stations as detention centers,” adding “that the fundamental solution to the crisis of governance be found through free and transparent elections.”
On Friday, Bachelet urged Venezuela’s government to release those imprisoned during the protests that have regularly taken place since early 2017. She also confirmed that a delegation would remain in the country to monitor the human rights situation.
The former Chilean president arrived in Caracas on Wednesday for a three-day visit, and met with President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, as well as activists, victims of human rights violations and the leadership of the Catholic bishops’ conference.
Guaido, president of the National Assembly and head of the opposition, declared himself interim president in January, deepening the political crisis in the deeply divided country.
“In my meetings with victims and their families, their deep yearning for justice for grave human rights violations was made painfully clear,” Bachelet said at a press conference before leaving Venezuela. “I sincerely hope that our assessment, advice and assistance will help strengthen torture prevention and access to justice in Venezuela. The Government has also agreed that my team will be guaranteed full access to detention centers to be able to monitor conditions and speak to detainees.”
During her visit to Venezuela, Bachelet said she received first-hand testimony on how the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated, including with regard to the right to food, water, healthcare, education, in addition to other economic and social rights.
According to her initial findings, about 75 percent of the national budget goes to social programs, however she said “we have heard from Venezuelans who are fully employed – many in the public sector – who have difficulty affording medicine and adequate food.”
The Catholic bishops said that “being spokespersons for the most vulnerable population in their human dignity,” they wanted to reiterate the denunciations they’ve been issuing since 2004 of the “serious humanitarian crisis that our people are experiencing. We are defenders of life in all its aspects and the call of the pastors is to hear the cry of our village.”
The crisis, they said, has led to a mass diaspora; new forms of slavery, human trafficking and forced prostitution; conflict on the borders; lack of respect towards the indigenous population; increase in child malnutrition; and a fuel shortage that leads to people having to wait for days in line to fill their tanks.
The also mentioned an energy crisis they blamed for creating a lack of drinking water and basic goods, and a failure of the the public transportation system.
“Desperation has become a problem of public health; the number of suicides have quadrupled in the past year; extreme poverty has grown; and so has the number of children living in the streets,” the bishops wrote in their statement to Bachelet.
The bishops also urged the UN representative to push the government to open humanitarian corridors to foreign aid.
This is also a request that has been made by the Vatican, and is a condition sinequanone for the Holy See to formally serve as an intermediary, something both Maduro and Guaido have requested.
However, Maduro has refused to accept that there is, in fact, a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
Instead, he’s received aid from Russia, but even Vladimir Putin is beginning to withdraw his support to the Latin American leader.
According to a June 17 report in the New York Times, the Russian government has refused to issue Venezuela new credit lines, or even to provide relief on existing debt, to ease Maduro’s battle with the opposition. According to the newspaper, Putin has also stopped new investment in the country.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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