Venezuela’s de facto news blackout keeps us glued to social media to try to piece together what’s really happening on the streets. Last night phones and Twitter accounts went loco sharing a video that went viral the minute it was born. It shows a young man, by the name of Yibram Saab, talking to the country and to his father: Tarek Willam Saab, Venezuela’s Human Rights Ombudsman.

The young Saab condemned the repression he and others suffered at the hands of security forces. Yesterday, that repression took the life of yet another student. Looking at the camera he defiantly says: “that could have been me.” He then asked his father to put a stop to violence and to do what he is expected to do. “I understand you. I know it’s not easy.”

The basic contradiction in his role: he’s supposed to be a watchdog over the government, but he thinks of himself as a member of that government.

Yibran Saab is but the latest person to ask the Defensor del Pueblo to do what is right. He was a well-known attorney and human rights defender before the Chávez era. So people have been writing to him as if appealing to his former self, to the man he used to be, asking him to take the actions his role demands.

Journalist Mari Montes sent out a series of tweets reminding him of Mari Verónica Tessari, a reporter hit on the head by a can of tear gas during protests in Caracas in 1992, and whose case was denounced by Saab:

Another journalist, Mireya Tabuas, in a Carta Urgente a Tarek wrote to “(…) that disinterested and supportive boy who was the voice of those who didn’t have one, that carajito who would show up at the end of the afternoon in the press room of El Nacional asking for help in order to make public an injustice committed by the State against someone.”

To be sure, Saab père seems to be a reasonably kind man. He is a poet and loves rock and roll. During his time as governor of Anzoátegui, he unveiled a sculpture of now Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, in an attempt to give prominence to artists and intellectuals. He manages his Twitter account and responds affably to many of the comments people address to him.

People have been writing to him as if appealing to his former self, to the man he used to be, asking him to take the actions his role demands.

But he also seems to have a low threshold for criticism or confrontation. He’s been dubbed “bloqueador del pueblo” because he keeps blocking critical voices from his Twitter account, including many human rights activists who often tweet to him about violations or irregularities that demand his attention. He famously blocked Lilian Tintori when she wrote a few days ago demanding responses for the latest episode of isolation and punishment of her imprisoned husband, Leopoldo López.

As an Ombudsperson, he has advocated for political prisoners and has helped victims of arbitrary arrests. Although his appointment originally garnered mixed reactions, one of his first actions in office was to hold a meeting with more than 100 human rights NGO’s: an unprecedented move, and a good signal.

But Tarek can’t overcome the basic contradiction in his role: he’s supposed to be a watchdog over the government, but he thinks of himself as a member of that government. His ideological and political loyalties make it impossible for him to truly play his constitutional role. He came to the post after serving both in National Assembly and as state governor, both times elected under the ticket of the ruling PSUV.

Yibram Saab is but the latest person to ask the Defensor del Pueblo to do what is right.

In the midst of today’s severe institutional and political crisis, Tarek has chosen to remain true to his chavista values, and repeats many of the lines in the government’s script when referring to opposition leaders and even peaceful protesters. His office and his role have been degraded by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions for not speaking sufficiently “loud and clear” in condemning human right violations.

But most importantly, he is on record supporting both of the Supreme Court’s rulings that meant a de facto coup d’Etat. As president of the Consejo Moral Republicano — the three-member body he shares with the (recently wobbly) Prosecutor General and the (fully-PSUV-committed) Comptroller General — he could step in and remove the Supreme Tribunal judges who’ve created the crisis.

He hasn’t. And all indications are that he won’t.

15 COMMENTS

  1. i’d do the same thing. would i help the people that illegally detained me and abused me back in 2002 rule the country? they might do that stuff again. they might do that stuff to my kids, to my family. my idiotic son doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he’s just succumbing to peer pressure. he doesn’t know what that people wanted to do to us

    do you think he wants to help leopoldo lopez and capriles rule the country? they didn’t exactly go to rctv and denounce the illegal detainment of a deputy, or went to globovision to defend parliamentary immunity in front of the cameras. they probably celebrated it. i think what he’s doing is perfectly reasonable

    • Welp, his son almost got offed by the very criminals he’s been defending for so long, trying to make a deal with the “coscorroneadores” seems like a better choice than finding out one day that your son just got killed by having his skull crack open with a tear gas bomb or from being gunned by the colectivos.

    • Sadly, I concur. I strongly disagree with his position and I think he should resign, but placing myself in his shoes, I can understand where he’s coming from and why. Let’s also not forget that the stint in power turned him into someone comically vain. Experiences have changed this man and I can easily see him warping his mind and even past to adjust the current scenario.

    • “my idiotic son doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he’s just succumbing to peer pressure. he doesn’t know what that people wanted to do to us”

      If that is what you would think of your son, then shame on you.

      If my son did this to me – yes I would be incensed to no end, but I at the same time, would feel incredibly proud that MY SON, has become a man, a leader, who is willing to stand up for what he thinks is right. (apparently, that is what Yibram dad did in his youth)

      Passion, and risk taking has been in short supply. Maybe, this will open the eyes of others before it is too late

      • how the fuck is he a leader? he’s an opportunist. did he suddenly realize there’s a big problem with human rights in the country? exactly when the psuv is in its worst moment? didn’t he read the news or see people eating trash on the streets? if so, at best, he’s an idiot. at worst, he’s just trying to leave the ship before it sinks, after surely using the benefits of being who he is for years

        i wouldn’t feel proud of my son if i thought he was being reckless and mindlessly harming my daughter, or my other son, or me, or himself. being willing to stand up for what he thinks is right is not any good. many people have done so and ruined many lives, because they were idiotic or reckless

        • “at best he’s an idiot” – he’s a kid. He’s 18. Why do people expect this particular guy to have known at 14-15-16-17, whatever, to what, stand up in arms, reject his father’s financial support, have a critical stance? Or now according to you he should then I don’t know, choose to follow chavismo til the end cos that’s what daddy did?

          It may be reckless, I don’t know, but he has a right to a mind of his own and he can’t be held accountable for the sins of his father. He’s required to understand them as such and reject them, as he is doing, but he shouldn’t be accused of ‘jumping ship’ – in fact, if that’s what we’re gonna say to every regretful chavista, we’re screwing ourselves out of a future again by being every bit as hateful, intolerant and simple minded as they are.

          • Saab got separated from his wife 14 years ago, precisely because he was a fanatic chavista qhile the wife was oppo.

            So the kid hasn’t been raised by Saab, and he’s no chavista either, so he’s not “jumping the wall” here.

            The opposition cannot rely on statements made by tangential relatives of officers as this case, nor in “I’ve got to save my bacon” ambiguous claims as those of Luisa Ortega to undermine chavismo’s power.

  2. While everyone was talking about him, the situation was particularly terrible in Barquisimeto. It is not cleat yet what happened there or how many people died. It looked terrible. No one has mentioned it today. We made a big deal out of nothing and forgot what is truly important. What is killing Venezuela is our naivete and our mediocre antiintelecualism.

  3. The guy seems to be spending more time in the gym, injecting steroid and botox than worried about his job.
    I think people are expecting too much out of him.
    Besides, it is a freaking dictatorship, his role is vacuous.

  4. He’s “El Poeta De La Revolucion”, visiting/embraced by Chavez when he (Chavez) was imprisoned, for Chrissake–nuff said.

  5. Like you mention he is a key player that could bring the house down. I think the oppo is right on focusing on him. Hopefully something will budge.

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