Photo: El Dinamo retrieved

After months of expectation over its contents and right after the visit of UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to Caracas weeks ago, the full report from her office on the Venezuelan crisis was publicly released on July 4th, and the verdict after reading it is crystal clear: the situation is dire and the full responsibility falls on the Venezuelan state, because of both its repeated violations and deliberate inaction.

The unveiling comes right when human rights violations in the country are making headlines over two new cases: the death of retired Navy Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo (after enduring torture while in custody of Military Intelligence) and the violent attack of Tachira police officers against 16-year-old protester Rufo Chacón, who’s now permanently blind. He was protesting over the lack of gas in the town of Tariba.

The verdict is crystal clear: the situation is dire and the full responsibility falls on the Venezuelan state, because of both its repeated violations and deliberate inaction.

Before addressing the highlights of the report, I want to point out that its findings cover mostly the period between January 2018 and May 2019. Even if it includes details about Bachelet’s recent visit, the information was gathered by UN technical missions, which weren’t limited to the one coming here almost four months ago. Teams from her office (OHCHR) interviewed Venezuelan migrants and refugees in nine different countries.

One of the main subjects is the role of the CLAP food program, heavily criticized because “it does not meet basic nutritional needs.” Access to this program is politicized:

“OHCHR received accounts of people who, despite not having adequate access to food, were not included in the distribution lists of the CLAP boxes because they were not government supporters.” Similar claims go into the related carnet de la patria program.

As people’s dependence on CLAP boxes has surged in the last year alone, its use as a political coercion tool cannot be dismissed for a possible electoral scenario in the future.

The huge toll of the ongoing economic crisis in the lives of most Venezuelans is laid bare:

“In 2018 and 2019, the economic and social crisis deteriorated further as the economy continued to contract, inflation skyrocketed, and public revenues dropped with the drastic reduction of oil exports (…) Misallocation of resources, corruption, lack of maintenance of public infrastructure, and severe underinvestment has resulted in violations to the right to an adequate standard of living related to the collapse of public services such as public transportation, access to electricity, water, and natural gas.”

Those effects are felt especially in the access to food and healthcare. No words I can write can attest nor simplify the harrowing findings of the report on those two fronts.

What about the government’s main excuse, the effects caused by international sanctions? The report says that “the economy of Venezuela, particularly its oil industry and food production systems, were already in crisis before any sanctions were imposed.”

Even if it recognizes that “latest economic sanctions are exacerbating further the effects of the economic crisis, and thus the humanitarian situation,” the UN also says that most of them “are targeted in nature, consisting of travel bans and asset freezes with respect to some 150 people, including senior-level government officials, or arms embargoes.”

The disproportionate use of repression to curb both political opposition and public protests was brought out as well, pointing at an accelerated trend since 2016: a quasi-permanent “state of emergency”, security forces using excessive force and the poor investigations from the General Prosecutor’s and the Ombudsman’s offices.

This goes in hand with the work of the state’s communicational hegemony, its efforts going into “enforcing its own version of events and creating an environment that curtails independent media.” Arrests of journalists, closing news outlets and internet blockings are also mentioned.

The report says that “the economy of Venezuela, particularly its oil industry and food production systems, were already in crisis before any sanctions were imposed.”

Two disturbing issues are discussed in detail: first, the constant use of torture by security forces, particularly intelligence agencies as part of a larger web of persecution that includes arbitary detentions and lenghty trials without due process and, second, the chapter titled “Excessive use of force and killings in the context of security operations,” where the role of the police task force FAES and its predecessor, the OLP security raids, are put front and center. The modus operandi is described in a way that it’s evident how such groups are official death squads.

The environmental disaster of the Orinoco Mining Arc is indirectly discussed on the chapter about Indigenous Peoples, whose human and collective rights have been hurt.

Finally, the massive exodus of Venezuelans into neighboring countries (which reached the threshold of four million last month and could even be doubled next year) is addressed as well: those who are being forced out because of the crisis become new victims of abuses from government agencies, soldiers and irregular groups.

“Venezuelans face obstacles to obtain or legalize documentation, which infringe their right to leave their country and the right to an identity. These obstacles also have a negative impact on the right to acquire a nationality and the right to family life and they impede family reunification, regular entry and residence, and the ability to access education, health care, and decent work. Migrants who are leaving or re-entering Venezuela are often victims of extortion and requisitions, especially at the hands of GNB. Moreover, border closures and additional requirements to travel to both transit and destination countries force migrants to use unofficial crossing points and therefore increase their exposure to abuses.“

Sadly, it does not mention the growing number of those who attempt to leave by sea and some who lost their lives while trying to reach Aruba, Curaçao or Trinidad. If there was a mention of the plight of the “caminantes,” there should be one for the “navegantes.”

I don’t even have to go through the conclusions of the report, as they just vindicate the work by local and foreign NGOs. That includes the role of the Inter-American Human Rights System, who still has paid attention to Venezuela, even after Chávez formally quit it in 2013. The coverage from local reporters and outlets (along with some international correspondents) has been key to show the magnitude of the crisis, too. 

The environmental disaster of the Orinoco Mining Arc is indirectly discussed on the chapter about Indigenous Peoples, whose human and collective rights have been hurt.

Maduro’s representatives already released their own comments. Obviously, they keep on saying the usual excuses and grievances, kinda disappointed that their PR operation during Bachelet’s visit didn’t work. Of course, the question of “What’s the point of this?“ comes to mind; there have been plenty of similar reports and press articles and academic pieces before this, and there will be more in the future. Particularly for those of us suffering first hand what this report describes, it hardly comes as news.

But reports like these are key. We’re stuck in a deep hole, but we will be out of it and we need a record of how it happened, and whose responsibility it was. This is the sort of attention chavismo doesn’t want to get, and that’s enough reason to keep sharing the report.

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