Photo: @raulstolk

A 400-page report that describes, in harrowing detail, the horrors endured by hundreds of persons arbitrarily detained and tortured in Venezuela since 2013, prepared by a panel of independent international experts designated by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), concluded that there are “reasonable grounds to presume that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela, as envisaged in Article 7 of the Rome Statute,” the International Criminal Court’s founding document.

Araminta Gonzalez, a 33-year-old engineering student and certified chemical products technician is one of those arbitrarily detained by CICPC operatives in 2014. She was sexually and psychologically tortured, kicked and hit with wooden boards and helmets, and brutally beaten while wrapped in a padded mat to avoid leaving bruises. Her toes were hit with a hammer. She received electric shocks on her breasts and her hair was yanked out of her scalp. She tried to commit suicide twice in custody.

Based on testimonies from victims of arbitrary detentions and torture, and their families, former government officers (like Major General Hebert Garcia Plaza, former Minister of Food), and NGO representatives, as well as numerous documents and other evidence from a variety of sources, the three experts (Santiago Cantón, Irwin Cotler and Manuel Ventura Robles), analyzed the nature and context of the crimes committed in Venezuela, identifying 131 murder victims from the 2014 and 2017 protest cycles; more than 8,292 extrajudicial executions since 2015, including that of Óscar Pérez and his group which occurred earlier this year; at least 289 cases of torture; an estimated 15,000 persons injured during the 2017 protests; and 786 civilian demonstrators presented before military courts since April 2017. The number of political prisoners in Venezuela, which was near 676 at the height of the 2017 protests, is said to be the highest since the Venezuelan military dictatorship of the 1950s.

There are “reasonable grounds to presume that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela”.

It’s clear from the report that the regime’s main motivation is widespread and systematic political persecution, something that would fall under Article 7’s definition of “crimes against humanity.” It also identifies that, at least since February 2014 “the civilian population identified as, or suspected of being an opponent of the government, has been victim of an attack by the different agencies of the Venezuelan State, as well as by members of ‘colectivos’ acting in coordination with the State,” as part of a State policy.

It all stems from the PSUV’s “Bases Programáticas,” or programmatic bases, that define friends and enemies, the latter being “any and all social sectors” that oppose the government’s policies and who “must be attacked.” This hypothesis of an “internal enemy” has been evolving throughout the years and is ingrained in the regime’s policies regarding national security and defense. An example is resolution No. 008610, of January 27, 2015, that authorized the use of potentially deadly force in public order control by the military. This provision was the basis for the use of lethal force in the 2017 demonstrations and, as stated by the panel, served as legal shield to “ensure impunity for the murder of protesters by government security forces.”

Part of the same policy, affirms the panel, is the transformation of the armed forces into a tool to defend the government’s ideology, specifically through plans such as the Zamora Plan in its green phase, which converts the entire territory in a “theater of operations” where the military apparatus, with participation of colectivos, are activated to crush all forms of political dissent. It’s sustained by a complex network of bodies, legal tools, structures and public organisms that include CICPC, CONAS, DGCIM, GNB, PNB, and SEBIN, as well as State-dependent structures like the People’s Anti-Coup Command, the Bolivarian Workers Militia, the Special Brigade against the Actions of Groups Generating Violence, the “Shock Force” under the Strategic Operational Command, and the People’s System for Protection of Peace.

The State maintains total control of the food sector, including the supply, sale and distribution, all of which is used as a strategy described to the panel as “food apartheid.”

Even more significant is the experts’ framing of the humanitarian crisis as part of that attack against the opposition. The State maintains total control of the food sector, including the supply, sale and distribution, all of which is used as a strategy described to the panel as “food apartheid.” About this, the experts argue that Maduro has “weaponized” the crisis: “Food, medicines, and other basic necessities have become tools of political and social control, weapons with which to persecute their own people.” Limited supplies are used to reward loyalty, they say, and to punish those who have been deemed their enemy, forcing hundreds of thousands into exile.  

The experts hold the Maduro government responsible for what they label “one of the worst humanitarian crises the region has experienced,” a “man-made” crisis repeatedly denied by the regime that is the result of economic mismanagement and corruption, “driven by ideological and personal greed.”

The report will now be sent to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), as a contribution for the preliminary examination phase about the situation in Venezuela opened earlier this year. It is the second time the OTP opens a preliminary examination on Venezuela. The first one, conducted in 2006, was dismissed as the requirements needed to initiate an investigation in accordance with the Rome Statute had not been satisfied.

The cases, arguments and evidence in the report will have to be duly scrutinized if the ICC decides there are enough merits to open an investigation. This document itself and its conclusions do not hold legal binding status.

Yet, the establishment of the panel and its report are a remarkable and unprecedented effort in Latin America’s (and the OAS) recent history, particularly since the entry into force of the Rome Statute, as it translates into concrete actions the region’s growing commitment to defend democracy and human rights.

This document itself and its conclusions do not hold legal binding status.

Understanding this effort as the silver bullet that will solve Venezuela’s chaos is unrealistic. It may take years before any of the 156 persons, including Maduro, El Aissami, Defense Minister Padrino Lopez, Interior Minister Reverol Torres, Delcy and Jorge Rodriguez, named in the report as “intellectual authors behind the repression and the war on the internal enemy” go to trial at the ICC in The Hague.

But the fact that this happened at all, puts us closer to the now almost universal aspiration of seeing members of the Maduro regime pay for their crimes.

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  1. It will be hard for Venezuelans to forget Chavistas offenses, but this is an escalation by which the world may be unwilling to forget. This implies that even if Chavistas would negotiate and extort immunity for their crimes from an incoming Venezuelan government, it may not be enough because the world may be unwilling to look the other way.

    It would seem that Chavistas must ride power for as long as they can and up to the bitter end and go with the biggest and bloodiest bang they can get, because there are not going to be many safe havens as there were for other oppressors. I think this is the Sudan’s formula.

    Alternatively, the only move left is for someone to ‘break good’ like Luisa Ortega and cash in the compinches for clemency. My guess here is someone in the army.

  2. I love the “tough guys” with the truncheon/whip in the above picture…. A UNIVERSAL TRUTH TO FOLLOW

    1. You are only as tough as your similarly armed adversary.

    Hence, you ain’t shit if you have brass knuckles and your opponent has a squirt gun. I can assure you, Mr. Tough Guy Chavista wouldn’t be so ballsy if he and his henchmen were up against a similar number of adversaries who were armed as well as they were.

    Throughout my time in the military, it was ingrained in us that while we were warriors whose job it was to wage war, we were also representatives of a greater humanity. ERGO, we didn’t go around brutalizing people. When we were in Panama (Just Cause), I transported far, far more food and medicine boxes than I did bullets and rifles. Because at the end of the day, these people were going to remember us for better or worse. I prefer to be remembered as the guy who brought in a shitload of antibiotics and pallets of flour as opposed to the guy who barked at terrified locals.

    I hope that Venezuelans don’t forget the atrocities that the Chavistas have foisted upon them. That picture should be in every schoolhouse wall when Chavismo ends up in the ash heap of history.*

    *When I was in high school, a history teacher had a picture of the Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” hanging behind his desk. The picture deeply affected me then, as now, because I saw not only a innocent in fear and pain, but military men walking with her with indifference. I have that same picture on my desk now (with others, like the Tienanmen Square “Tank Man”) to remind me that none of us live in a vacuum.

  3. Well put. This is a serious case. And any diplomat, government, any company, any non-governmental body or church having dealings with this regime, any public event that the Venezuelan government wants to patronize outside the country, any civil servant, judge, prosecutor or military person inside the country who is still holding a candle for the “upside” of chavismo, will have no excuse for not reading and taking very seriously, the contents of this report. It is unavoidable and cannot be rationalized away when it is in one devastating package like this.

  4. Luisa,
    I left a late comment on a previous thread, “Punishment for the abusers”, before I saw your article.
    My comment is more appropriate here, and so I have copy-pasted it below. (I wrote…)

    I welcome the OAS submission to the ICC, but it looks like yet another case of ineffective signalling with no chance of success. The ICC is not like your average national prosecution service with local power to subpoena and enforce. It can only take action if (a) it is asked to do so via a UN Security Council resolution or (b) it is asked to take action by the recognised government of the country where the alleged crimes took place and that country is a State Party to the Rome Statute. Neither of these things have happened or are going to happen anytime soon.
    There is a provision for a referral to the ICC by another State Party to the Rome Statute:-
    “In the absence of a UNSC referral of an act of aggression, the Prosecutor could initiate an investigation on her own initiative or upon request from a State Party, after obtaining prior authorization from the Pre-Trial Division of the Court. ”
    The problem with this is that for very practical reasons, the ICC cannot pursue an investigation inside a State where the government does not want them there. “Also, under these circumstances, the Court would not have jurisdiction in respect to crimes of aggression … with regard to States Parties that had declared that they did not accept the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. ”
    Although Venezuela is a signatory to the Rome Statute, Maduro can simply declare that he does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICC over the alleged crimes. Without a UN Security Council resolution or a new government in Venezuela, this puts the crimes outside the jurisdiction of the ICC.
    There have been almost 10,000 complaints formally communicated to the ICC. Of these, there were only two investigations opened that did NOT arise from either a UN request or a direct request from the government of the country involved.

    • Doesn’t the AN classify as a direct request from the government?

      Especially with overall non-recognition of the ANC by the majority of the international community?

      • Ira,
        It is not a recognition thing; it comes down to pragmatism – who controls the local forces of law and order. The ICC has no muscle itself. It needs muscle from the UN (after a Security Council resolution) or from the police, judiciary and prosecution services in the country where the alleged crimes were committed. It can carry out a preliminary pre-trial examination “proprio motu” , but even if the ICC decides after this that there is a clear case for an investigation, it cannot carry out such an investigation without muscle in the country. Can the AN command this muscle? Specifically, can the AN guarantee the ICC the police and the judicial support it needs to carry out such an investigation? You know the answer to that question. So the ICC really does not have any choice other than to try to prompt a UN Security Council resolution, and failing that, declare the problem outwith its jurisdiction under Article 12 of the Rome Statutes. As I said above they are not like your average national prosecution service. There is no world police force.

  5. Dear Luisa
    As always, on-point, concise and instructive. A rarity in terms of Venezuelan opinion pieces where, more often than not, we are simply treated to tripe, clichés and the author´s ignorance or unfettered bias. I actually learned something new, which is even more rare. Thank you.

    However, I´m not sure that I agree with the statement that “… the establishment of the panel and its report are a remarkable and unprecedented effort in Latin America’s (and the OAS) recent history, particularly since the entry into force of the Rome Statute, as it translates into concrete actions the region’s growing commitment to defend democracy and human rights”. Though certainly “remarkable and unprecedented” we must not lose sight of the fact that this is an initiative of the Secretary General not shared by many Member States and in fact, opposed by some. It may even be argued (as many OAS diplomats do) that the SG´s activism has only served to alienate some Member States and contributed to the paralysis on the actual power-wielding aspect of the Organisation.

    I must also admit that, though as thirsty for justice as anyone, I´m not very optimistic regarding the effectiveness of targeted sanctions or recourse to international instances. I´m just not very sanguine at the prospect of achieving both freedom and justice, at least not at the same time. If the strategy is to increase the cost of oppression for the oppressor, I find that targeting the capos may be the wrong tactic.


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