EspañolFor many Latin-American nations, the 1970s and 1980s were witness to cruel military dictatorships which tortured their citizens and made thousands “disappear.” These dark times only ceased when external forces and internal activism came together to usher in democracy.
Among the most effective measures was the reporting and exposure of human rights violations. The United States under president Jimmy Carter took the lead, and local NGOs provided vital groundwork. Eventually, the autocrats were forced to yield.
Upon returning to democracy these societies promised themselves one thing: never again would they return to the horrors of the past. Where possible, governments compensated the victims. Many of them, perhaps motivated by their experience of repression, now govern in their respective countries.
One might expect a victim of torture to have particular empathy for those individuals and societies facing human rights abuses. But unfortunately, this seems to be far from the case.
So do they really care about those who continue to suffer injustices? Or do human rights violations depend upon who’s doing the violating? Can dictatorships be divided into “good” and “bad,” depending upon their governing ideologies?
The answers to these questions are clear when we examine various reactions of several regional leaders to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuela has yet to adequately respond to allegations of fraud in the 2013 election, which saw President Nicolás Maduro succeed the late Hugo Chávez. The last few years have seen the dismantling of the separation of powers and an end to freedom of speech and the press.
The government imprisons those political opponents and student activists who dare to question the country’s rampant insecurity and mass shortages. The army now claims the authority to use lethal force, including live ammunition, to quell demonstrations and “prevent disorder.”
Venezuela has now graduated to the elite club of repressive regimes: it is now torturing its citizens.
Following a recent visit to Venezuela, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana told press about the existence of “the tomb.”
According to Pastrana, several of Venezuela’s political prisoners (who number at least 83 in total) are imprisoned five stories beneath the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) in Caracas. Student protesters are placed in cells of two by three meters, subject to below zero temperatures thanks to harsh air conditioning, where they are prevented from seeing sunlight for up to four months.
Inmates spend almost 24 hours a day in their cell under the surveillance of microphones and cameras. According to a complaint filed by Tamara Sujú Roa, an attorney and human rights advocate, three young students have spent the last five months locked in “the tomb,” Lorent Saleh, Gabriel Valles, and Gerardo Carrero. Sujú Roa claims they’ve been locked up simply for “protesting against Maduro’s government.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also condemned the mistreatment of political prisoners in Venezuela, and the impunity enjoyed by those who caused the deaths of student activists during protests in the country in early 2014.
“A year after a violent crackdown on non-violent demonstrators and bystanders, there has been little accountability for the scores of abuses — including killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and torture — committed by security forces,” read the NGO’s statement.
HRW also denounced the decision of the Defense Ministry to authorize the use of lethal force to control protests. The United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), and other multilateral organizations have similarly expressed their rejection of this policy.
José Miguel Vivanco, HRW executive director for the Americas, said: “Deploying the military to control political protests is a very bad idea, especially in a country where security forces already have a record of getting away with egregious abuses against nonviolent demonstrators.”
Within this context, the US government took careful aim and sought to strike at the heart of the problem. In the past, the US government has imposed sanctions like the sui generis embargo, which ultimately hurt the ordinary citizens of the targeted nation.
In this case, however, the bill signed by President Barack Obama targeted — directly and exclusively — Venezuelan officials accused of violating fundamental human rights. The act suspends visas and freezes assets in US territory belonging to Venezuelan officials identified as being behind the human rights abuses that followed widespread street protests in 2014.
Following approval of the act, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio commented: “With these sanctions, we can end the days of Venezuelan regime officials and thugs repressing innocent Venezuelans in their day jobs, and then coming to Florida to live in the lap of luxury and splurge Venezuela’s wealth.”
This measure was the international community’s first step in the right direction. It is the same sort of action that put an end to the dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s, which is why the cynicism displayed by several regional rulers is so surprising.
Maduro asked for support from his friends, and he got it. UNASUR foreign ministers met on February 9 in Montevideo. In a statement, they said “the application of unilateral sanctions violates the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and does not contribute to stability, social peace, or democracy in Venezuela.”
Uruguayan President José Mujica then met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, after which Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro and Rodríguez gave a joint press conference.
“Mujica believes these sanctions do not constitute a valid instrument and do not conform to international law,” said Almagro. “Sanctions have never served to help the people [of the targeted nation], and only bring harm and destabilize democracies, not only in Venezuela, but throughout the region.”
In one of its meanings, the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defines “accomplice” as the gesture that conveys solidarity and camaraderie.
There are some complicities that are difficult to understand … and even more difficult to accept.
Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Fergus Hodgson, Guillermo Jimenez, and Laurie Blair.