Photo: Raylí Luján

That was one of the slogans used by university and healthcare workers who marched to the Ombudsman’s Office demanding Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, not to believe the regime’s lies, to visit schools and hospitals, to get out of the office.

While that was happening, a block from the Foreign Ministry where Bachelet was, right in Urdaneta Ave., former oil workers were protesting with cardboard signs demanding the payment of what the state has owed them since 2007.

Journalists who were covering this protest were harassed by paramilitary colectivos: some were beaten and others were forced to erase the recorded material, with complicit inaction of the National Guard and the National Police. Raylí Luján detailed that the colectivos had infiltrated protesters and threatened the press after recording. All of this while the High Commissioner is in the country.

The families

Before the offices of the UN Development Programme, the relatives of political prisoners demanded Michelle Bachelet to work for their release, while she held a meeting with Programme representatives. With white balloons and paper sheets with the names of some prisoners, mothers, children and partners demanded their release. According to NGO Foro Penal, there are more than 700 political prisoners in the country. The relatives restated their complaints of tortures, inhuman detention conditions and violations of due process; although ANC-imposed Prosecutor General Saab denies the systematic abuses, there are abundant testimonies about the serious situations still taking place in the country, including clandestine reclusion centers and enforced disappearances.

Serious conditions

Later, members of various NGOs and human rights defenders asked the installation of a High Commissioner office in the country, in the context of our complex humanitarian emergency, and the massive and deliberate Human Rights abuses committed by the regime. Rafael Uzcátegui (PROVEA) explained that the installation they demand means that High Commissioner authorities are always here, which would be a means for victims to talk with them and for them to expand the agenda of visits (regions, public institutions, hospitals, prisons) to supply more information. “We must see this visit as a recognition of the gravity of Venezuela’s situation on Human Rights. The High Commissioner doesn’t visit countries out of courtesy or protocol. She visits countries which have serious human rights problems to try and establish policies with the authorities that control the territory and improve that situation,” Uzcátegui explained.

With the victims

After her meeting with diplomats accredited in Venezuela, the High Commissioner met at Metropolitan University (UNIMET) with the relatives of political prisoners, victims of repression and civil society representatives who document cases and submit the reports of abuses in Venezuela to instances such as her office. She heard first-hand accounts of people who’ve suffered raids, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, robberies, tortures, imprisonment and other abuses. She also heard some relatives talking about the corpses they’ve picked up at the morgue with traces of torture and cruelty, parents telling how agents of the Special Actions Forces (FAES) destroyed their children’s chests with gunfire and how other institutions such as the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudman’s Office have ignored them all these years. All of this denies official accounts made before international bodies, according to which there haven’t been extrajudicial executions or any complaints about them. Most of these patterns of abuse were already being processed by Bachelet’s office, in the technical commission, people with training who have been documenting and substantiating these cases. But listening to the victims and especially making them feel heard was a unique moment for everyone.

With civil society

With human rights defenders, Bachelet received supplies and other information describing each aspect of the Venezuelan crisis. Various defenders pointed out to her that economic sanctions aren’t the reason for the country’s humanitarian debacle, unlike chavismo’s corruption, public policies and official decisions. They also discussed how sanctions could currently affect the national economy’s capacity to respond, so it’ll be almost inevitable that this controversial topic will appear in the final report. Likewise, she was told that organizations try to cover part of the complex humanitarian emergency to bring some relief to the most affected communities and that the work isn’t done with state support, but rather against it.

What she said

Bachelet offered answers to both victims and activists, reminding them that she’s in Venezuela fulfilling her office’s mandate and that one of the most valuable points of her visit was the possibility that her agents could work in here and not just from Geneva. That point shows that the regime was forced to relent amidst the legitimacy crisis and the greatest chaos in its history, which is bound to get worse. Bachelet will leave this Friday and she’ll offer a public statement to the press, at least two weeks before presenting her next report that, of course, will be enriched with the data she collected here.

We, the refugees

Yesterday was World Refugee Day and one in every five asylum seekers in the world is Venezuelan, because the complex humanitarian emergency has forced millions of people to flee their homes seeking protection.

Unlike migrants, refugees don’t have any other option than leaving the country even jeopardizing their lives. Venezuela’s going through a context of mass human rights violations that have been denounced by other nations and, considering our massive diaspora, the cracks in the international obligation to host and protect Venezuelan refugees begin to show. Peru started requesting “humanitarian visas” for access to the country. Trinidad and Tobago closed the two-week register process to allow Venezuelans to get the right to stay in the country, and they’ve started to demand visas, while Ecuador is studying this option as well. The risk of deportation or being blocked from access, leaves thousands of Venezuelans helpless. David Smolansky, coordinator of the workgroup of the OAS General Secretariat on Venezuela, asked the governments of Curaçao and Aruba to regularize the status of the 26,000 and 16,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees that they’ve hosted, respectively.

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A protest is set for this Friday at 11:00 a.m. at Francisco de Miranda Ave., before the offices of the UN Development Programme, to denounce human rights violations in the country to the High Commissioner.

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