SANTA FE, Argentina – Nicaragua and Venezuela are continuing to experience turmoil due to popular opposition to their socialist leadership. Both regimes have been accused by prominent leaders of human rights violations, and international organizations ask their governments to be open to dialogue.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a report on Thursday denouncing the violations perpetrated by the government of Nicolas Maduro, successor of Hugo Chavez.
The report urges Maduro to “immediately adopt specific measures to stop and remedy the grave rights violations,” warning that if the situation doesn’t improve, people will continue to flee the country and “the living conditions of those remaining will become even worse.”
The report, which covers the period from January 2018 to May 2019, also indicates that in the last decade “the Venezuelan Government and its institutions have launched a strategy aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing the political opposition and those who criticize the Government.”
According to Bachelet, “a Catholic priest told me in Caracas: ‘It’s not about politics, it’s about the suffering of the people.’ This report does not deal with politics, geopolitics, international relations or anything else other than the human rights to which every Venezuelan is entitled.”
On the day the document was released, the government of Maduro rejected it on the grounds that it shows “a distorted view” of the human rights situation in Venezuela.
According to the government, the report — which includes 70 observations, some of which were made by Bachelet after her trip to Caracas in June — presents “a selective and openly biased view of the true human rights situation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which contradicts the principles that should govern the treatment of human rights issues, collected in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action.”
The government said that the distorted vision is due to the weaknesses in the methodology used to prepare the report and point out that in the document “the sources lacking objectivity are overly privileged and the official information is almost completely excluded.”
The report is the result of 558 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and the deteriorating economic situation in Venezuela and eight other countries, but it also reflects conversations Bachelet had with government officials, Maduro included.
According to the latest numbers from the United Nations refugees office, around four million people have fled Venezuela. Crux has previously reported that Venezuelan refugees have complained about a “lack of food, jobs, health care and in general, safe life conditions.”
The Maduro government has also challenged the UN’s estimate of the number of Venezuelan refugees.
However, Cardinal Baltazar Porras of the Archdiocese of Caracas agrees with the UN, saying that the report presented by Bachelet reveals that the country’s situation in “unsustainable.”
Porras insists, “no one can say that the information that was collected has been manipulated or that it represents the interests of one group or another. I think it is responding to the interests of the entire Venezuelan population.”
He also said that given the weight of the report, it cannot remain “simply on paper.”
Opening the bishops’ conference general assembly on Sunday, Archbishop Jose Luis Azuaje said that Venezuela has no option but “to go to elections with guarantees and sustained in the values of the right to choose, [that is] free elections.”
Speaking about the Bachelet report, Azuaje said that in light of the constant human rights violations perpetrated by the government, the Catholic Church is called to continue defending the right to life, the respect of human dignity, and a living standard that has been threatened by “corruption and the lack of maintenance of public infrastructure.”
Seeing the deterioration of Venezuela’s democracy, Azuaje said, the country can’t remain unmoved, simply saying “we have what we deserve.”
On Sunday, the Venezuelan government and the opposition, headed by self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, said that the dialogue will recommence in Barbados this week, with Norway serving as mediator. The latest talks took place in Oslo in late June, with the presence of the Holy See.
Pope Francis has said many times that the Vatican is open to mediation in Venezuela, with the caveat that the conditions “are not there yet.” Sources in Rome with knowledge of the situation have told Crux that the Holy See’s primary condition is the opening of humanitarian corridors to bring foreign aid into the country.
Speaking about the Barbados meeting, Porras said that “it’s not just about saying come and talk, it’s a matter of seriousness and hopefully in this negotiation the points that are going to be discussed will lead to a peaceful exit, with elections.”
He reiterated that the Church, although not directly participating in the dialogue, has always been willing, not to participate in the dialogue but to advance the understanding between the parties and make them realize that they must set aside their personal aspirations and devote themselves to solving the problems of society as a whole.
“As a Church we are willing to help, but in a serious manner,” he said.
Speaking with a delegation of the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need that visited Venezuela last week, Porras said that the country is “living in an exceptional and unheard of situation, which is not the result of war, or of any armed conflict, or any natural catastrophe, and yet which is having similar consequences.”
“The political regime that is running Venezuela has broken the country and has generated an atmosphere of social conflict that is steadily growing worse,” he said.
In late June, the Organization for American States’ General Assembly approved a resolution to help solve the Nicaragua crisis, giving the government of President Daniel Ortega 75 days to resume negotiations with the opposition and to allow international human rights organizations into the country.
The government has refused to give an answer to the OAS, while the opposition has called the resolution “unsustainable” because they want to see action being taken sooner.
Cardinal Leopoldo Jose Brenes of Managua called on the OAS to establish a dialogue with the country’s “popular sectors”, saying that they have been the ones suffering the most as a result of Nicaragua’s socio-political crisis.
“I hope that the people who are going to be sent cannot only talk with the great leaders, but they can go down to those on the ground,” Brenes said of a possible visit by OAS representatives. “Let them go to the neighborhoods to know what the feeling of the people is.”
“If they come, that would be my request: Talk to everyone, especially those who always stay here,” the archbishop said after concluding Mass in the capital’s cathedral on Sunday.
Since the crisis began in early 2018, the Catholic Church has been the victim of attacks by the National Police. Security forces have tried to stop protesters from taking refuge inside churches and have fired rubber bullets and tear gas bombs at houses of prayer while threatening several priests and some bishops with physical harm and even death.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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