Thursday, September 17, 2020

Crimes against humanity in Venezuela -- UN report (Sept. 17, 2020)

 "Venezuelan authorities and security forces have since 2014 planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which, including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture, amount to crimes against humanity," according to a new 411 page report by United Nations investigators. The report looked at more than 220 cases since 2014, a year after President Nicolás Maduro came into power.

Rafael Uzcátegui, general coordinator of the Venezuelan human rights group Provea, said the report corroborates years of public complaints against Maduro’s government. “There is a systematic public policy of violence,” he told the Washington Post.

While severe human rights violations in Venezuela have been documented for years, the report released yesterday is the closest U.N. investigators have come to establishing a chain of command that leads directly to Maduro, reports the Washington Post. “This is the first time that they are being very clear that crimes are under international law and that President Maduro, and his minister of defense and interior, have all been involved,” Valentina Ballesta, Amnesty International researcher for South America told the Washington Post. “Some of the crimes were systematic and widespread enough to be considered crimes against humanity.”

The report could bolster the preliminary investigation that the Netherlands-based ICC opened in 2018 when it began looking into allegations of rights abuses under Maduro, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch told the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. investigators said that Maduro directly told the head of the intelligence agency, Sebin, whom to target. The report said that arrested opposition activists and critics were taken to the headquarters of the intelligence service and other buildings in the capital, Caracas, and were tortured with beatings, asphyxiation with plastic bags, cuts and mutilations, and electric shocks. Sexual violence, including rape, was used against detainees to elicit confessions, implicate other people or to punish and humiliate them. (New York Times)

The investigators said they documented the killings of 36 protesters, some shot with firearms. Venezuelan authorities also coordinated with paramilitary groups—fearsome organizations called colectivos—known for swarming opposition protesters on motorcycles to establish order through violence.

Killings by security forces, including the FAES special police force, cannot be attributed to lack of discipline, but rather "appear part of a policy to eliminate unwanted members of society under the cover of combating crime," said one of the investigators yesterday. The FAES were responsible for 64 percent of the deaths reviewed in the report.

The damning report will likely harm Maduro's attempt to break his government's international isolation ahead of December legislative elections. It could however also harm attempts to encourage defectors from Maduro's government. “Venezuela’s opposition has tried to offer guarantees for those who break from Maduro,” Geoff Ramsey, director of the Venezuela program at the Washington Office on Latin America told the Washington Post. “But it’s hard to imagine tempting them with anything that could outweigh the possibility of ending up in a jail cell in Miami or The Hague.”

More Venezuela
  • Iran's economy has withstood U.S. sanctions, and Tehran is now teaching Maduro's government how to do the same, write Esfandyar Batmanghelidj and Francisco Rodríguez in Foreign Policy.
  • Venezuela’s finance minister offered to speak with bondholders about a potential renegotiation of the cash-strapped country’s debt, but economists and financial industry sources said the move would face challenges due to U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Venezuelan migrants in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista this week. The visit is part of a whirlwind trip to Venezuela's neighbors, including Colombia, Suriname and Guyana, reports Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Venezuelan migrants and refugees face unprecedented challenges and risks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, border closures, and inhumane treatment of migrants both within and outside of Venezuela, writes Kristen Martinez-Gugerli at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
El Salvador
  • The problem is not that Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele negotiated with street gangs, but that he did so in secret, argues Óscar Martínez in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See Sept. 4's post.) There is a long history of secret political negotiations with gangs ahead of elections, and of later implementation of mano dura policies. In return, the gangs have used homicide rates as a leverage tool. Instead, Bukele should take advantage of his tremendous popularity and U.S. support and negotiate to disband the MS-13, writes Martínez.
  • The Constitutional Tribunal (TC) will likely reject an injunction President Martín Vizcarra requested against lawmakers' attempts to oust him, reports La Republica, which means impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra start tomorrow. (See yesterday's briefs and Monday's post.) 
  • He is unlikely to be impeached, "but the fact that he’s on trial at all suggests the precariousness of Peru’s political system, where ongoing conflict between the presidency and Congress is distracting from efforts to combat one of the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks and deepest economic recessions," writes Jo-Marie Burt in Americas Quarterly. However, "if there is a positive takeaway from the impeachment imbroglio it is that the Peruvian armed forces rebuked the effort of congressional leaders to get involved in a political dispute." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Critics of the impeachment move say it is a disguised coup d'etat, and are concerned that it comes as the country battles the coronavirus epidemic. Vizcarra remains popular among Peruvians, despite the country's high coronavirus death rate. (Washington Post)
  • Peruvian lawmakers voted against ousting the country's star economy minister on Tuesday. (Reuters
  • Former commanders of the now disbanded Farc rebel group in Colombia have for the first time issued an apology for the kidnappings they carried out during the armed conflict, reports the BBC. Eight commanders called the kidnappings an "extremely grave mistake" and acknowledged the pain they had caused.
  • Last week's protests against police violence in Colombia -- spurred by the killing of Javier Ordóñez -- are the continuation of demonstrations last year expressing social discontent, according to NACLA. (See last Thursday's post.) It remains to be seen whether the current protests will be limited to this weekend, or whether they will serve as a prelude to a new strike that had already been scheduled for September 21.
  • Eighteen Nicaraguans shared accounts of torture and sexual abuse at the hands of their country’s security forces in Costa Rica last week. Their testimony before a panel of legal and psychological experts is meant, in part, to build cases that could eventually be taken to regional and international courts, reports the Associated Press. The so-called Court of Conscience was organized by Costa Rica’s Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. The victims offered online video testimony of what the experts called systematic sexual abuse aimed at terrorizing their captives. It ranged from repeated rape to amputation of fingers and psychological torture.
  • Cuba has a rare surplus in the pandemic world: doctors. The success of the island's international medical aid program has been a setback for the U.S. government's unprecedented campaign against Cuba’s medical missions in recent years, reports Reuters.
  • A Chinese fishing armada plundered waters around Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, according to new data from Oceana, a conservation group. The new evidence supports claims made by the Ecuadorean government last month, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentina's government is working towards a fiscal deficit of 4.5% of gross domestic product in 2021 and an economic rebound of 5.5%, according to a draft budget sent to Congress this week. (Reuters)
  • Influenza infection rates have been low to non-existent in the Southern Hemisphere winter -- Guardian.
Costa Rica
  • Drought conditions in Central America's "Dry Corridor" are expected to worsen -- Alexander Villegas writes about how dragon fruit, a native plant, has brought new hope to his family in Costa Rica. (New York Times)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 



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