The List of Political Prisoners Keeps Growing, and We’re All a Target

The list of political prisoners keeps growing at alarming rates. Same illegal procedures and violations of due process, different victims.

Photo: Efecto Cocuyo

As the first quarter of this troubling year in Venezuela ends, the nation morphs into an orwellian reality where the inside of your own house isn’t safe anymore. Victor Navarro experienced this first hand when, at 3:00 a.m. on January 24, SEBIN officers arrived to his house for a kidnapping masked as detention. Another name added to our already long list of political prisoners.

Victor, a journalism student on his mid 20’s, has a life on hold, with dubious future. I wasn’t allowed to publish his name up to this point since the prosecution “suggested” to his lawyers that the less his name appears on social media, the better his chances of walking out with a slap on the wrist. Three months after the arrest, his name was trending topic (#LiberenAVictor), and his friends, professors and family were speaking out. So far, his audience has been postponed more than five times and the charges are the usual kit, tailor-made for dissidents: a selection of treason, illicit association to commit crime, conspiracy, terrorism and illegal possession of military weaponry. Justice is supposed to deem you innocent until proven guilty, but right now you are guilty until proven otherwise.

On the last quarter of 2017, Maduro came on TV flaunting his disposition to ease political tensions, mentioning a “mass release” of political prisoners, yet some were actually house arrests. By december of last year, there were 218 political prisoners after the “presidential pardons.”

Six people were accused of possessing weapons and foreign currency, besides violating the hate law by publishing “illegal” messages on their social media profiles.

Not even a week into the new year came the first victims of the “Law Against Hate.” Erika Palacios (41) and Ronald Cevilla Güemes (25), one taken from the supermarket and another from his house, had more than 40 State agents invading their residences looking for evidence. By January 9, hunger fed a series of protests nationwide and the government response was to catch as many protesters as possible; 44 new political prisoners were added to the list, and their names remain a mystery if you look in the media.

On January 13, six persons of interest to the government disappeared, all related to the victims of what would be known as “the Junquito Massacre.” José Antonio Pérez Cisneros, Jonaldy Deyón González, Juan Carlos Urdaneta Marcano, Eva María Lugo, Laura Vanessa Ruiz and Antonio José Aguado Sequera were accused of possessing weapons, foreign currency (which is now a crime), and violation of the hate law by publishing “illegal” messages on their social media profiles. Most troubling was the alleged method used to acquire information (even pointing a gun to a three-year-old).

By January 18, Human Rights Watch mentioned 340 as the number of political prisoners and, by the end of the month, Gonzalo Himiob, head of Foro Penal, stated there was at least one new political prisoner a day, with five not yet presented to court. On January 25, the events surrounding the Oscar Pérez’ siege provided the excuse to incarcerate more than 20 new dissidents, including 8 Armed Forces’ officers and the mother and brother of Luis Argenis Vielma, lawyer of captain Caguaripano, were arrested because the captain’s lawyer wasn’t there to be detained himself. Their only crime was having “Vielma” as a last name.

Far from this being a list of names, it’s a cry for action. We can’t allow ourselves to forget those currently suffering unspeakable atrocities by Maduro’s thugs, most of them without an actual criminal case. They’re mostly kids, mothers and fathers, who were protesting chavismo’s “my way or the highway”, and some were just hungry, asking to know why they can’t put food on their plates.