The Maduro regime seems to think that a couple of cosmetic fixes can make the world conclude that human rights abuse is a thing of the past and that they deserve recognition and legitimacy in the international arena for it. But giving FAES a new name or targeting civil society instead of massacring protesters is clearly not enough to wash their faces.
The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela published two separate but closely related reports, in order to explain how they have reasons to sustain that crimes against humanity are still being committed here.
The first report, on the ways the State keeps restricting the civic and democratic space, shows how dangerous it is to live in a country where new repressive methods keep victimizing both civilians and police and military personnel. The Mission says the Maduro regime is harassing and criminalizing all kinds of people: teachers, healthcare public employees, social leaders, union leaders, bloggers, politicians, NGO workers, journalists, anyone who is related to a “suspect”, any person who works for the opposition (or the government thinks he or she does), and actually anyone who dares to express negative comments toward the government.
This report lists 124 facts, from arbitrary killings to short-term forced detention, torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and sexual and gender violence. Arbitrary detention in the context of a protest or demonstration between 2020 and 2023 diminished by 92% compared to the 2014-2019 period, but not because the government is following the recommendations or the technical council it received from the human rights agency. The Mission says the reason is that there are fewer people protesting, and that arbitrary detention is still the most common modus operandi deployed by the Venezuelan authorities as a tool of selective repression, within a policy to silence, inhibit and annulate all opposition.
The government’s message is clear: everyone needs to understand that having an opinion, or even worst, joining any kind of organization that implies using your right to protest or do politics, means that you and your family can suffer all kinds of mistreatment without any general attorney or ombudsman coming to protect you from the security forces and the courts.
The Mission says that the Defensoria del Pueblo (the ombudsman’s office) deliberately refrains from doing its job, and lacks all independence.
Actually, the same morning the Mission was releasing its report to the press, a court on terrorism dismissed the evidence presented by the defense in one case the Mission has been investigating, the so-called Operación Constitución, and issued “express” sentences for the defendants, from 16 to 30 years of prison.
DAET, the security force formerly known as FAES
The second report of the package tells that the Dirección de Acciones Estratégicas y Tácticas, DAET, a branch of the National Bolivarian Police created in July 2022, is no more than the rebranding of FAES, the protagonist of the mass killings reported in the previous years. The Mission confirms that the government did not disband FAES, as former UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet had demanded. The government just readjusted the corps, with a new name and uniform, but the practices are the same.
The report registers that DAET took a central part in seven “Trueno” (thunder) operations, from August to October 2022 in the states of Aragua, Yaracuy, Guárico, Miranda, and Anzoátegui. DAET has a new chain of command (under major commissary José Miguel Domínguez, director of DAET; general commissary Carlos Alberto Calderón; chief commissary Leonel Alberto García; and operations chief Florencio Ramón Escalona), but every operation is approved directly by Maduro.
Not a detail that contributes to removing sanctions, at least not without demanding, in exchange, something important. The Mission report was released while the UN celebrates in New York City its annual General Assembly (where the foreign minister will represent absent Maduro) and the US, Norway, and the negotiators from the government and the opposition try to restart dialogue once again, with chavismo demanding the immediate end of all sanctions.
The Mission says the reason is that there are fewer people protesting, and that arbitrary detention is still the most common modus operandi deployed by the Venezuelan authorities as a tool of selective repression, within a policy to silence, inhibit and annulate all opposition.
Other factors, besides human rights, are part of that negotiation, but the work of this Mission and the ICC add pressure to the international community to keep tabs on the Venezuelan government. It most definitely makes sanction relief more uncomfortable. Even if the global attention around Venezuela is not the same that was four, five years ago, reports like the ones released yesterday reminds the world that Maduro’s is a rogue regime where human rights are suspended.
The prevalence of the human rights abuse and crimes against humanity, that remains under investigation by this Mission and the International Crime Court, leads one to think that the Maduro regime is not ready to renounce to violence. Preserving its grip on power seems to prevail over the goals of being recognized as a legitimate government by the international community and securing sanctions relief.
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