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Latest UN report on Venezuela is not remotely honest (Part 2)


On September 15, UN investigators ( the so called “Mission”) published a 411 page report  about the human rights situation in Venezuela.[1]  Part 1 of my analysis of the report focused on its gross dishonesty about opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The Mission reviewed his career since 2000 but never mentioned his proud participation in coup attempts, in particular the briefly successful one of April of 2002. [2]  Cases like his, that the Mission claimed were examples of “targeted political repression” (Chapter III ), took up about a third of the report. It ignored US involvement with six major efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government since 2002. [3]  Political rights do not include the freedom to ally with a powerful foreign state to attempt to seize power by force. Nobody would be granted such “freedom” in my own country (Canada), never mind the US. 

In Chapter VIII, “recommendations” (numbered 62-65) were made to the “International Community”. The Mission did not even muster a perfunctory statement saying “be careful with sanctions”, much less demand, as any decent person would, that they be lifted. It simply asked the US and its allies to turn up the legal pressure on Maduro’s government.  The Mission thus provided a tacit green light for murderous US sanctions with complete disregard for all Venezuelans, not just the millions who support the government. Similarly, the “recommendations” said nothing about Spain harboring an opposition protester who is a key suspect in the 2017 murder of Orlando Figuera (who I’ll say more about below).

Throughout the report, readers are reminded (138 times be exact) that “reasonable grounds to believe” was the standard of proof used to evaluate allegations against the Maduro government. What standard was used to judge allegations against the US and its opposition allies?  None. The Mission only talked to government opponents (in some cases former officials who defected to the opposition’s side) and cynically ignored grave crimes by the side it was obviously determined to support. 

Ignoring the the third coup attempt and deaths it caused

Consider how the Mission set the scene for the fourth US-backed coup attempt (in 2014):

  1. In January 2014, in a context of economic decline, inflation and widespread insecurity in the country, a group of opposition leaders initiated a campaign to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office. The effort was referred to as “The Exit” (“La Salida”). 

  2. The opposition’s efforts came less than a year after the election of Nicolás Maduro on 19 April 2013, following the 5 March 2013 death of President Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro won by a narrow margin against Henrique Capriles, of the Primero Justicia party, part of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).82 The opposition also lost the majority of positions in the 8 December 2013 municipal elections….

Venezuela’s economy began to struggle in 2013 but it was (arguably) not even in recession by January of 2014. That was one reason for the opposition’s big defeat in municipal elections at the end of 2014. Another reason was the third US-backed coup attempt which the Mission ignored despite mentioning that in 2013 Maduro “won by a narrow margin against Henrique Capriles”. Was the Mission really ignorant about what happened next?

Capriles, with full US support, called for protests in order to annul the results of the 2013 election. At least eight Maduro supporters were killed. Months later Leopoldo Lopez (see Part 1) said Maduro would have been ousted had Capriles kept protesters in the streets as he and others advised him to do.

Reuters belatedly confirmed that some of the deaths strongly implicated Capriles supporters who had attacked a medical center. Provea, a human rights group cited 32 times by the Mission, absurdly claimed at the time that it could find no evidence of attacks on medical centers. It would have taken a miracle to avoid such attacks given how the opposition has spent years vilifying the Cuban staff in many of those centers (see this FAIR.org piece of mine for details).   

Ignoring cases of murdered civilians that implicate the opposition

Opposition protesters murdered civilians, not just security forces as the Mission suggests in the following weak statement it made in passing about protests in 2017  (point 1511): 

Some individuals involved in protests also committed violent acts, including throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails at the security forces. In other incidents, violence against security forces was reported. According to the information available to the Mission, 17 security personnel were killed and 507 injured in the context of protests between April and August. 

It was actually 8 security forces and 11 prominent government supporters, state employees and political figures murdered according to a detailed tally by VenezuelAnalysis.com. Including bystanders, there were 23 deaths directly caused by protesters and another 8 indirectly caused by them. In roughly half of all the 126 protest-related deaths it was not clear which side was responsible.[4] 

One heinous and very revealing murder perpetrated by opposition protesters was that of Orlando Figuera. The report said nothing about it. He was burned alive by opposition protesters in broad daylight in the opposition stronghold of Chacao, where Leopoldo Lopez had been mayor from 2000-2008. Venezuela’s high homicide rate and rampant insecurity have made lynching common, so if not for the fact that this murder was captured on video it might have ended up in the “disputed” or “unknown” category, or maybe not even included among protest-related deaths. 

How can you miss the opposition’s racism?

Figuera was  murdered in a neighborhood named Altamira which is where many foreign journalists live. That might explain why it was actually reported and photographed by Reuters though the news agency also entered into a pitiful attempt at damage control

It disputed whether the young Afro-Venezuelan was murdered because the protesters assumed he was a thief or because they assumed he was a government supporter. While that gruesome debate made it into Reuters, other questions were ignored completely. For example, why was a suspect (Enzo Franchini) able to evade arrest and leave the country? Why would he and other suspects feel they could act with such impunity? The Mission dodged these questions by ignoring the case completely.

Another issue raised by the Figuera’s murder is racism (closely linked to classism) within the ranks of the opposition. The Mission devoted an entire chapter to “Gender analysis and sexual and gender based violence” but nothing to race. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with gender-based analysis of human rights problems in Venezuela. Real problems exist, as they do throughout the world, but the credibility of the Mission is a separate issue.  

The Mission does hint at racism (on the part of the government of course) in its discussion of alleged extrajudicial executions by police as part of Maduro’s anti-crime initiatives. But the very well documented and flagrant racism within the opposition (some striking examples discussed here and here) was ignored. 

Missing context on Maduro’s anti-crime initiatives

Though poverty was reduced drastically while Hugo Chavez was in office, Venezuela’s homicide rate continued an upward trend that began a few years before Chavez first took office in 1999. Chavez was often accused of being anti-police, of deliberately undermining their ability to fight crime based on various conspiracy theories. One book, an apologetic for the April 2002 coup, suggested that Chavez weakened the police to help Colombian rebels active in Venezuela.[5]

Maduro adopted a much more heavy-handed approach. The Mission concedes, despite its total reliance on opposition sources, that Venezuela’s homicide rate has come down significantly in recent years, and that Maduro’s approach appears to have significant public support (points 1004 and 1018).  But point 1013 states

According to information from 2016 (the only official data that is publicly available), the numbers of killings committed by State security forces outweigh the number of State security officers killed each year. In 2016, for example, the Public Prosecutor’s Office documented 325 police or military officers killed compared to 4,667 deaths by security forces.1789 It is unclear how many of these officers were killed while on duty.

There is no disputing that these figures are alarming. But are they worse than in the US, the country leading the campaign to overthrow Maduro? 

Relative to population, Venezuelan police do indeed kill many more people than US police, about five times more, but they are also at least ten times more likely to be killed while on duty than US police. Consider the table below. 

Moreover, Venezuelan police are about 2.5 times more numerous (per capita) than police in the US. That further underscores how much more dangerous being a police officer is in Venezuela than in the US, which is of course linked to Venezuela’s much higher homicide rate. [6] 

Vilifying “colectivos” – a pretext for massacres in future?  

The demonization of “colectivos” is a common feature of reports by western media and big NGOs that completely swallow the opposition’s perspective. The Mission’s report is no exception. It constantly refers to colectivos as “armed”. If a US-imposed government takes power in Venezuela we can safely predict the story peddled by the Mission will flip from denouncing Venezuelan police to cheering them on as they shoot up poor neighborhoods to “combat colectivos”. When Aristide was overthrown in Haiti in 2004, this is exactly what happened. A US-installed dictatorship killed thousands of Aristide supporters in Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods. Police who were vilified before the coup were (afterwards) immediately depicted as crime fighters in desperate need of more firepower.

The Mission clearly wants to facilitate a similar outcome in Venezuela.    

_____________

NOTES:

[1] Leonardo Flores explained that the “the formation of the fact-finding mission is suspect…the Lima Group, an ad hoc group of nations dedicated to regime change in Venezuela, maneuvered in the UN Human Rights Council to establish a parallel mission outside of the purview of the OHCHR”

[2] Amnesty International (absurdly) named Lopez a Prisoner of Conscience in 2015, a designation it alway denied Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange..

[3] The six US-backed coup attempts summarized below:

April 11-14, 2002 

Chavez was deposed for 2 days in a military coup. Dictatorship under Pedro Carmona was installed. Most likely breakdown of 79 violent deaths: 68 Chavez government supporters (chavistas), 7 opposition, 5 bystanders)

December 2002 – February 2003

Management led shutdown of state oil company, PDVSA. Caused a loss of 29% of GDP. Increased income poverty from 48% to 62%. 

April 2013

Violent protests led by losing candidate Henrique Capriles tried to annul Nicolas Maduro’s first presidential election victory.  Nine deaths, all Maduro supporters (chavistas) but one possibly from crime unrelated to protests. 

February-April, 2014

Violent protests led by Leopoldo Lopez were aimed at ousting Maduro. 

Most likely breakdown of 43 deaths: Twenty two strongly implicate the opposition protesters or supporters as being responsible. Sixteen strongly implicate the government’s side (security forces or supporters). In the case of three deaths it is unclear who was probably responsible. 

April-July, 2017

Violent protests aimed at ousting Maduro. 

Most likely breakdown of 126 deaths: 50 opposition supporters, 29 bystanders, 19 government supporters or police, 28 unknown or disputed  

January, 2019 – ongoing

Juan Guaidó was recognized as interim president by the US and many allies. US dramatically intensifies economic sanctions:

[4] As invariably happens in reports with this slant, hundreds of murders during the Chavista era that implicate wealthy landowners who vehemently oppose land reform were ignored. Two articles that discuss this issue are here and here.

[5] “The Silence and the Scorpion” , Brain Nelson, pg 205. Greg Wilpert’s review of the book is here

[6] Data in the table for Venezuela was taken from a few different anti-government sources here, here , here . Data for US police taken from here and here   

 

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