Venezuela: HRF Calls for Peaceful Resolution of the Crisis

VENEZUELA: HRF CALLS FOR PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF CRISIS; CONDEMNS SHUTDOWN OF TV NETWORK AND ARREST WARRANT FOR OPPOSITION LEADER

Reposted from: Human Rights Foundation

Photo: The Guardian

NEW YORK (February 14, 2014)—The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) reiterates its April 2013 call on Venezuela’s leaders to resolve the ongoing political crisis peacefully and through dialogue. HRF condemns the killing of two opposition demonstrators and a pro-government activist in Caracas and asks that the government impartially investigate and punish the perpetrators, regardless of whether they are police officers or individuals from either faction. HRF also strongly rejects the arrest warrant hurriedly issued yesterday against Mesa de la Unidad leader Leopoldo López on charges of “murder” and “terrorism” linked to the deadly protests, as it is not an indication of good will and impartiality in the government investigation and instead threatens to escalate the violence. HRF also condemns the shutdown of international TV channel NTN24 after its network reported live during the ongoing demonstrations.

“It may seem pointless to call on Venezuela’s authoritarian government to act reasonably when for years it has used police intelligence officials, the military, pro-government militias, and the courts to consolidate power and harass, persecute, and shutdown political opponents and the independent media,” said HRF chairman, Garry Kasparov. “However, the international community’s role in such a volatile and polarized conflict is to call on the ruling party, which by now controls all armed and unarmed institutions of the state, to open an honest and democratic dialogue with the other half of the country’s leadership. This includes opening up the airwaves so that the world and Venezuelans can see what is happening in the streets from a source other than state media. The shutdown of NTN24 is just the latest abuse against the independent media by a government that shut down RCTV in 2007 and again in 2010, and fined, sued, and vandalized Globovisión, before buying it recently through government proxies,” concluded Kasparov.

As reported by numerous media outlets, two student demonstrators and a pro-government activist were killed in Caracas on Wednesday, February 12, in clashes that followed weeklong university student protests across Venezuela. Demonstrations began peacefully, but as protestors engaged in vandalism against government institutions, violent clashes ensued as rock-throwing students were met with rubber bullet shotguns and tear gas from the National Guard. In some areas, protestors clashed violently with armed pro-government militias that appear to have caused at least one of the deaths. University students from across the country originally took to the streets to protest rampant criminality and shortages of basic goods and called on President Nicolás Maduro to step down.

The main leaders of Venezuela’s opposition continue to consider Maduro an “illegitimate” president following the April 2013 presidential elections, in which the government-controlled National Electoral Council gave Maduro a 50.61%-to-49.12% win over opposition leader Henrique Capriles after a controversial recount, in spite of over 1000 specific complaints denouncing abuses by government officials and supporters at voting stations across the country. In November 2013, the Venezuelan National Assembly—where opposition legislators have been harassed, beaten, and denied the right to voice their opinions—passed an “enabling law” that gives President Maduro broad legislative powers over all areas of the economy, as well as over political liberties.

On February 12, 2014, Venezuela’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) ordered cable service providers to immediately remove international TV channel NTN24 from its programming as the Colombia-based international network reported live on the demonstrations. Hours later, William Castillo, chairman of CONATEL, stated via Twitter: “We call on the international media to respect Venezuelans. Promoting violence and disobedience of authorities is a crime.”  This morning, Castillo stated: “Foreign media should understand that Venezuela is a sovereign country. They’ll not be able to do here what they do in other radio spectrums.” Yesterday, NTN24’s general manager Claudia Gurisatti stated that “this is a straight forward act to stifle any independent media, a violation to the citizens’ right to be informed and an attack to freedom of speech.”

Upon news of the deaths of the three demonstrators, President Maduro stated: “the ones responsible for these acts were a small group of irresponsible violent leaders, filled with hate and personal ambition, financed by neo-fascist groups from the United States of America.” The same day, Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, added that “they are murderers, poor-spirited sick people, and they are being led by former presidential candidates Leopoldo López and María Machado. They are the ones responsible for what is happening. Irresponsible vagrants, scoundrels […] if they couldn’t handle Chávez, they will not be able to deal with Chávez’s successors; they will not be able to handle the Bolivarian revolution; fascists, murderers.” The following day, the minister of communications tweeted: “@leopoldolopez represents the most rancid and outdated voice of Nazi fascism! His actions fall between cowardice and criminality!” The minister of foreign relations added: “Leopoldo López is the intellectual author responsible for the death and injured in Caracas. The state has no more excuses to punish this murderer!” These statements were followed by the issuance of an arrest warrant against López on charges of “murder” (specifically, “intentional homicide for futile reasons”), “terrorism,” “conspiracy to commit a crime,” “incitement to commit a crime,” “vandalism,” “assault,” and others.

“HRF reiterates its April 2013 call for peace and dialogue while stressing that, even though both incumbent and opposition leaders share a responsibility for preventing violence, this responsibility falls much heavier on the shoulders of Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, because they control all government institutions. They must decide whether they want to give democracy a shot or if they instead want to shoot their way into outright dictatorship,” said Kasparov. “Referring to proven democrats such as López, Machado, Ledezma, or Capriles as ‘Nazis,’ ‘fascists,’ ‘terrorists,’ and ‘murderers,’ and treating them as such, is not only offensive to those individuals but also insults democrats around the world. It is also an attitude that inflames passions inside Venezuela and can only lead to more violence. HRF strongly condemns even the smallest act of violence and vandalism from the opposition, but let us be clear that as human rights advocates we are clearly not interested in the ‘peace’ of cemeteries, jails and gulags for those who disagree with the government. Venezuela’s government must open up and foster a peaceful transition toward a political system that listens to the opposition. Or it must go,” concluded Kasparov.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Jamie Hancock, (212) 246-8486, jamie@thehrf.org

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