Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently arrived in Venezuela to investigate the ravages of the crisis in the South American country. However, she did not visit prisons or hospitals, did not leave Caracas, and remained behind desks listening to testimony. What she did, she could have accomplished via Skype from her office in Geneva, and saved the UN the cost of an expensive plane ticket.
Although Bachelet did meet with representatives of the regime and the opposition, officials of the Nicolás Maduro dictatorship, participated in a meeting with interim President Guaidó, met with relatives of political prisoners, and listened to human rights defenders, the reality is that she does not know about the crisis first hand.
“We would have liked to see more field visits. Normality in our country has been lost. This visit helps the crisis not to normalize. I am sure this visit will be important because it entails recognition of the crisis,” said Guaidó after meeting with the UN official.
It took 17 years for a senior UN Human Rights official to travel to Venezuela; a visit of this kind surely merited more dedication, and more than four days.
Venezuela is the country with the highest number of refugee claims in the world, the nation with the highest inflation, the highest rates of food and medicine shortages, and a record numbers of political prisoners.
It is a country where most of its states do not have access to public services, and is currently facing a war-time economy, where the right to private property is violated daily, businessmen are arrested, and dissidents are tortured.
It is a country where suicide, as well as the deaths of children and adults due to lack of access to medical supplies, transplants or basic medicines, is increasing day by day. In short, to know the urgency of the crisis in Venezuela, one must venture out from beyond offices.
The former president of Chile, for example, did not visit hospitals in the country where patients die every day waiting for access to their treatments; she did not visit the prisons where political prisoners are held where they are tortured and kidnapped by the dictatorship. Bachelet also did not go through the streets of the country to see the Venezuelans eating from garbage or bathing in the filthy Guaire River in Caracas.
The UN High Commissioner did not leave the Venezuelan capital or visit the border or Zulia state, the hottest in the country, with an average temperature of 104 degrees, where the population does not have access to fuel, electricity, water, or gas.
It is not sufficient
When Bachelet met with human rights defenders, who were grateful for her arrival in the country, they say that she was concerned about and supportive of the victims of the dictatorship. However, she was not a direct witness to what millions of Venezuelans suffer and endure.
Susana Raffalli, human rights defender, nutritionist, and expert in food security, said that at her meeting, the former president of Chile was committed, and said she would open up an office in Venezuela.
Alfredo Romero, president of the Venezuelan Criminal Forum, commented that Bachelet was “made aware” of the situation of political prisoners and that at least two of the High Commission’s officials will remain in the country for three months. However, he pointed out that what is really needed is for Bachelet to demand the immediate release of all detainees for political reasons.
“For us it is important to obtain results such as the release of political prisoners and the end of the persecution,” he said.
Meeting with criminals
Bachelet arrived in Caracas, and started off by meeting with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in the Yellow House. The forces of Chavismo set the agenda and met with the leaders of the revolution, who are trying to influence the High Commissioner to link the national disaster with the financial sanctions of recent months.
According to the newspaper El Mundo, the dictatorship controlled the routes taken by Bachelet, so that she would not see or hear the genuine protests. In fact, Caracas was full of demonstrations. “Social activists, relatives of prisoners, health workers, employees of the oil industry, and university professors” joined their voices to the growing chorus against Maduro.
Bachelet listened to the Minister of Interior and Justice of Maduro, Néstor Reverol, as well as to the Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, as well as Attorney General Tarek Wiliiam Saab, and the Chavista president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Maikel Moreno.
Each of these characters has a file: Reverol, for example, has charges pending in the United States for drug trafficking. Padrino López, on the other hand, has politicized the Armed Forces and is responsible for the savage repression against the Venezuelan people.
William Saab denies that human rights are being violated in Venezuela, attributes cases of terrorism to dissidents, and ignores the existence of political prisoners.
Finally, Maikel Moreno has a checkered past as well; today he is the illegitimate president of the Supreme Court. Moreno has been in charge of issuing sentences against opposition deputies. He has also been charged with annulling all the constitutional actions of the National Assembly of Venezuela. He was also convicted for homicide; he was convicted of the murder of a young woman in the state of Bolívar in 1987, while he was a member of the fearsome Venezuelan political police. In 1989 he was also involved in the murder of Rubén Gil Márquez, which occurred in Caracas, and he is also linked to the death of Venezuelan attorney Danilo Anderson.
An imprecise report
After her visit to Venezuela, Bachelet must present a report to the world and the Human Rights Organization; but apparently it will be a document based on what the Chavistas told her.
Political analyst César Sabas told the PanAm Post that the visit by the High Commissioner was “a salute to the flag.”
“She is employing a strategy of neutrality, which is what the regime needs. Neutrality always favors those who have the power. This way no one can attack her for saying she did not go to Venezuela, and she did not do it when she had to…I expect a very lukewarm statement with a very mild criticism of Maduro’s government, it will be a statement that will soon be lost and forgotten.”
At the beginning of March, Bachelet sent a technical team that spent nearly two weeks in Caracas and two other cities in order to assess the human rights situation and the conditions in anticipation of her visit.
On that occasion, and despite the fact that the dictatorship wanted to disguise the reality in the South American country, Bachelet verified the violation of human rights at the hands of the regime and for the first time spoke forcefully from the UN.
The former president showed “concern” because Venezuelan security forces repress dissent with excessive use of force. She acknowledged that there are “armed groups” that violate human rights during peaceful demonstrations; groups “that have been criminalized” and spoke out against the limited access to “freedom of expression and the press” in the country.