A Regime that Persecutes the Best People in Venezuela


Pancho y GaboYesterday, while the OAS busied itself with odes to dialogue in Venezuela, Voluntad Popular (VP) activists Francisco Márquez and Gabriel San Miguel sat in a holding cell in National Guard Post 321, in the rural state of Cojedes, uncertain of what would happen to them.

Twenty-four hours earlier, on Sunday morning, Pancho and Gabo had set out on the six hour drive to the state of Portuguesa. They had been designated MUD’s liaisons with the local volunteers in Portuguesa State working to validate the signatures requesting a Recall of president Maduro.

The National Guard stopped them at the Apartederos checkpoint, one of the many alcabalas along the way. When going through their belongings, the Guards found a significant amount of cash in the car. But the real reason they lay into them is that they realized they’re activist for Voluntad Popular, one of the main opposition parties.

This latest human rights outrage hits especially close to home. This is not the first time one of my friends has ended up behind bars for defending democratic principles, but it is the first time a Caracas Chronicles contributor has become a political prisoner.

Pancho and Gabo are the regime’s most recent political prisoners. They were taken into custody by simply transiting the roads of Cojedes. They weren’t participating in any demonstration, they weren’t part of a plan to do anything other than working to defend a right enshrined in the constitution their jailers are sworn to uphold.

Chavismo has gone into full blown conspiracy theory mode over the two. The story is old: MUD —in particular VP— is financing riots and looting. Decent Venezuelans are perfectly happy and content with the situation, but these evil folk, with their dirty money, coerce them into looting and rioting.

The truth couldn’t be more different. Pancho and Gabo are energetic, intelligent, engaged, and committed to the well-being of the country. They are folks with strong values. They’re the sort of people who dare call out the mistakes of those they agree with. The sort of people who work late for no pay. They volunteer in elections, and are willing to work hard with grassroots organizations everywhere.

It’s not like they don’t have other options: Gabo is a lawyer from Universidad de Carabobo. At 24 years old, he’s already pursuing a Master’s Degree in Constitutional Law. Pancho graduated with honors from UCAB, and went on to get a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. He passed up a chance of a career at McKinsey to be a public servant in El Hatillo Municipality.

Currently they are held as criminals. They were interrogated by the Intelligence Police (SEBIN) repeatedly. They were not allowed to contact their families, and they’ve been given minimal access to legal council.

They had cash —just under three million bolivares — which amounts to less than US$3,000. None of it was ill-obtained, nor its use had ill-purposes: it was earmarked for food, water, tents and pamphlets so that activists could work the signatures validation stations during the five-day process. A volunteer mobilization like this costs money, obviously: part of their job was to deliver it.

The prosecutor is pressing charges on money laundering and instigating violence, which could carry up to 15 years in prison. On top of that, the judge ordered that they be held in military custody until and during their trial at the National Guard post where they were taken. In spite of those instructions, the two were taken on a roadtrip to Tocuyito Prison, in Carabobo State (where they were refused admission — the joint is full), and then rerouted to San Juan de los Morros, to the garish Penitenciaria General de Venezuela jail where Vasco Da Costa is held before the confused authorities decided to send them back to their original detention facility. Un ruleteo judicial.

Their case is developing. We hope that both Gabo and Pancho know they aren’t alone. We want their families to know that good people are working hard to make sure that their sons, brothers, and friends are OK, and that soon enough they will find themselves amongst their loved ones. And once they are out, they will continue to fight against injustice, repression and the dictatorship that Venezuela has become.  

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  1. Rodrigo, great reporting. I’m not so sanguine on a quick resolution–remember, LL was constantly going to be freed at any moment, and that was 2+ years ago. What’s even more concerning, is that Shannon is “dialoguing” with the Regime–point 1 should be the freeing of all political prisoners, which was not done with Obama’s detente with Cuba. As for persecuting the best, the Regime is great at enshrining the worst, as the Comision De La Verdad just did, dredging up/glorifying 3 “Revolutionary martyrs” from that “despicable tyranny of the People” from 1958-1998.

  2. Thank you for reporting this, Rodrigo. Gabriel is a personal friend of mine. It infuriates me to no end the shameful treatment they’ve both received. I hope they get out soon.

  3. Wow.. This is what defines a dictatorship. No real justice, no real separation of powers. Corrupt judges, corrupt cops. Venezuela is nothing but a full-blown dictatorship – almost 18 years in power – and they will not go away peacefully. Because they risk jail, plus confiscation of all their assets and bank accounts overseas.

    That’s why they have political prisoners, and they crack down violently at every popular protest in the streets. It’s a reign of terror, designed in Cuba. They instill fear everywhere, so that people are scared enough not to revolt.

    A disguised “socialista” dictatorship, which indeed is nothing more than a Kleptocracy, a bunch of spineless thieves, getting richer every week. They could not care less about average people. All they care about is their fat wallets. They don’t care about “Chavismo” fake ideals, either, at all. They are Capitalists, all Chavistas love money and power, not “socialism”. Bunch of criminal liars is all they are.

    • I thought that a regime who sent government-armed criminal gangs to shoot down protesters was a dictatorship: The april 11 slaughter by Richard Peñalver and the Llaguno Bridge gunmen, along with the snipers who happily murdered a dozen more in the same day.

      Also, “chavismo” didn’t have any fake ideals, chavismo’s ideals were pretty clear from the beginning: “EVERYTHING BELONGS TO CHÁVEZ AND HIS FRIENDS NOW, and kill everybody who says the contrary”

  4. Thank you for reporting on this Rodrigo. These are certainly among the bravest people in Venezuela. They are doing something about this mess, at huge personal risk. Some of us have family and friends doing what these guys are courageously doing. They could be next. These two, and others in their situation, have to be defended.

    All people deserve equal protection of the law, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the right to participate in democratic processes, the freedom of movement, the right to protest. All people. This regime is completely ignorant of the basic principle that all people are equal in the eyes of the law, in a democracy. Who is searching Delcy Rodriguez’s vehicle? Diosdado Cabello’s? The PSUV-backed criminals in official offices throughout the country?

    This farce of a democracy has revealed itself once again as a fully blown dictatorship. This kind of thing should have ended once and for all in the 1970s and 80s, but Maduro and company, who so regularly invoke the abuses of the past, have fully embraced them.

    I find it perplexing, infuriating, that some regional leaders are having so much difficulty recognizing the worst aspects of their own past, playing out next door, unchecked. A plague has returned to the region. Do they not understand that if they don’t step up, the plague comes to them?

    • The gov’t line (believe by their supporters) is that the opposition pays people to riot and loot. Note that a surprisingly useful way to see what one party is REALLY doing is to pay attention to what they accuse THEIR OPPONENT of doing.

  5. This terrible case needs not be devalued by factual errors, note that Gabo’s Linkedin profile tells a different story than the one listed here. Please confirm.

  6. There is an article on the web from San Diego, Ca. about how Marquez’s family is trying to get him out. He has a dual citizenship. Sorry. I don’t know how to copy a link.


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