by Sam Mcgill
On 16 September, the Fact-Finding Mission of the UN Human Rights Council published a report on Venezuela, accusing state officials, including Socialist Party (PSUV) President Nicolas Maduro, of ordering arbitrary killings, torture and other crimes against humanity. This spurious report completely fails to mention the suffocating US sanctions against Venezuela, described as crimes against humanity by the former UN rapporteur Alfred de Zayas last year. Its extreme bias reflects the politicisation of the human rights industry and its role as a mechanism for regime change. Venezuela’s biggest ‘crime’ is opposing US interests in Latin America and daring to propose a socialist agenda. SAM McGILL reports.
‘An irresponsible fraud’
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza lambasted the report as ‘plagued with falsehoods’, lacking ‘any methodological rigour’, produced by a ‘ghost’ mission which conducted its research from abroad. The report contains lurid details of assassinations, blindings and sexual abuse at the hands of the country’s security forces, alleging much of this was personally ordered by President Maduro and dozens of other high-ranking government figures. The mission admits it ‘made full use of available open source information…especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube’. Many of the sources interviewed are politically compromised such as Christopher Figuera, former chief of the SEBIN national intelligence service who fled to the US after participating in a failed coup in April 2019. Despite now being a prized propagandist for US intervention in Venezuela, Figuera’s ‘privileged information’ is given high credibility throughout the report. In one egregious falsehood, the report alleges that opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez was a victim of ‘torture and cruel treatment or punishment’ whilst he was held at Ramo Verde prison. In contrast, CCTV footage shows him openly celebrating family occasions with his wife and children in his roomy cell before he was released under house arrest. Though painted as a political prisoner, Lopez has played a central role in multiple coup attempts since 2002, regularly inciting violence and encouraging attacks on housing projects, hospitals and other flagship achievements of the Bolivarian revolution. The escapade of Oscar Perez, a former police official, who in 2017 stole a helicopter and showered the Supreme Court with machine gun fire and grenades, is described as a mere fly-over of government offices. Perez was later killed in a confrontation in 2018 and is painted as a victim of political assassination; that he was leading an organised attack on the Bolivarian National Guard at the time is a detail too inconvenient for the report to include.
The mission criminalises Chavista colectivos as armed gangs, vilifying the grassroots organisations and social movements that blossomed under late socialist president Hugo Chavez, founder of PSUV and the Bolivarian Revolution. In reality the colectivos include the popular power structures of the communal councils and communes, the committees of local supply and production which distribute subsidised food boxes, feminist networks, workers initiatives, community media outlets, as well as official voluntary Bolivarian militias who play a key role defending their communities and workplaces from sabotage and coup manoeuvrers. Meanwhile nothing is reported about regular incidents of grotesque opposition violence which have seen nurseries set alight, Afro-Venezuelans burned alive and multiple beheadings of motorcyclists at road barricade protests; nothing is reported about May’s botched mercenary invasion that saw the capture of several US operatives. Whilst accepting that their evidence is ‘inferior’ and ‘less than what would be needed to achieve a criminal conviction’, the mission fails to acknowledge that 811 officials and 129 civilians have been charged with committing human rights offences, belying the claim that such acts are committed with impunity in Venezuela.
The concluding recommendations urge the international community to consider ‘initiating legal actions against the individuals responsible’, a barely concealed call for intervention in Venezuela and the removal of Nicolas Maduro and the PSUV government by all means necessary. As Arreaza highlighted, ‘Such a report, which is a monument to war propaganda, is an irresponsible fraud.’
In an official communique, Venezuela stated: ‘As an elected member of the Human Rights Council for the period 2020-2022, Venezuela reiterates its strict commitment to the promotion and protection of Human Rights and ratifies that it will work hard to depoliticise its implementation for selective purposes with the tendentious intention of violating independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the Venezuelan people and of all the peoples of the world.’ The mission is in fact redundant and was set up as a bogus parallel to undermine UN resolution 42/4 which created the 2019 ‘Letter of Understanding’ between the Venezuelan government and the office of Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Under this framework the UN office has visited 14 detention centres, conducted confidential interviews and inspected the SEBIN intelligence agency amongst others. Earlier in September, Bachelet acknowledged Venezuela’s cooperation, renewed the commission and praised August’s pardon of 110 opposition activists imprisoned in connection with violent destabilisation.
The parallel fact-finding mission was sponsored by the Lima Group to the tune of $5m and voted through with the support of Australia and Britain, passing with 19 votes in favour and 21 abstentions. The Lima Group, which today incorporates 13 right-wing regional governments plus Canada, was specifically set up in 2017 to isolate Venezuela and topple Maduro. A central member of the mission is Chilean criminal defence lawyer Francisco Cox who previously represented Jovino Novoa, a high-ranking official of the Pinochet dictatorship as well as ministers of the current Piñera regime in Chile. Whilst Cox clamours for human rights in Venezuela, in his recent assessment of the horrific crackdown on protesters in Chile he apparently could not verify ‘attacks on the civilian population as a State policy’, stating ‘I do not believe that the President (Piñera) has international criminal responsibility’. Since the social uprisings of October 2019, Chile has detained over 1,500 young protestors and has broken the world record for eye injuries from the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds with 500 people mutilated in the space of four months.
The focus on Venezuela in the region is ludicrous. Where is the global condemnation of the coup in Bolivia and the massacre of indigenous protesters? What of the human rights of Movement Towards Socialism campaigners brutally attacked by ‘para-statal groups’ as they canvass for upcoming elections? Where is the global condemnation of Colombia’s government which this year has presided over the assassination of at least 244 people? What of Ecuador’s proscription of left wing coalition ‘Fuerza Compromiso Social’ from next year’s elections? Where is the outcry against the campaign of violence and assassination against journalists and activists in Honduras, Haiti and Guatemala? This so-called ‘independent’ report on Venezuela has been sponsored by the same Lima Group countries committing these atrocities.
The report’s authors have the temerity to express ‘deep concern’ about access to adequate food and medicine in Venezuela, while failing entirely to mention the illegal, unilateral US sanctions which have blocked shipments from neighbouring countries, frozen transactions and led to the prosecution of companies in Colombia and Mexico that attempt to trade with Venezuela. The US Trump administration is tightening sanctions further, ending all exemptions for oil exports and fuel swaps, cutting Venezuela off further from much needed oil revenue. Former UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas estimates these sanctions have killed up to 100,000 Venezuelans, a collective punishment that violates the human rights of the whole Venezuelan population. Referring to a similarly biased UN report in 2019, de Zayas commented ‘The report…gives scarce attention to the central problem – the financial blockade and sanctions that cause so much suffering and death. Venezuela’s problems can all be solved, but first the criminal US sanctions must be lifted.’ Venezuelan envoy to the UN, Jorge Valero, reported that US sanctions and bank freezes have cost the Venezuelan people $30bn in the last four years, including the $1bn of gold withheld in the Bank of England in London: ‘This is an amount that the Bolivarian government will no longer be able to spend on food, medicine, and medical supplies.’
A cover for regime change
The fact-finding mission has of course been splashed across the capitalist media. The BBC and The Guardian gleefully ran headlines denouncing Venezuela’s ‘crimes against humanity’ repeating the ‘evil dictator’ trope against Maduro, preparing public opinion for intervention. The same sensationalism was employed in the run-up to the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein (2003) and the war in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi (2011). The well-worn ploy of categorising states as ‘failed’, ‘terrorist’, ‘narco-trafficking’ or ‘violators of human rights’ is willingly taken up by these mouthpieces of British capitalism. They have long distorted reality when it comes to the struggle for socialism in Venezuela, especially The Guardian, a paper that has deliberately denied Venezuela’s success in controlling coronavirus, and backed every coup attempt against Maduro and the PSUV government. Despite a severe economic crisis and the return of over 130,000 economic migrants, Venezuela has implemented a robust system of testing, quarantine centres and free healthcare and by the end of September had registered fewer than 600 deaths, an astounding feat, especially compared to the huge death-tolls of neighbouring Colombia and Brazil. Meanwhile, over three million units of social housing have been built since 2012, over six million families currently receive subsidised food boxes, five million elderly people now receive state pensions and more than six million children have benefited from school care programmes. The deliberate silence of The Guardian on these achievements is part of its crusade to support regime change in Venezuela. The consequences are dangerously familiar; sanctions and military intervention in Iraq and Libya decimated economic, social and political progress as imperialists scrambled to seize control over their natural resources. The British press dutifully presented the case for war as an issue of human rights. The cowboy US bounties on the heads of Hussein ($25m) and Gaddafi ($1m) saw them hunted down and executed as headlines triumphantly crowed victory. The Guardian’s pseudo-left coverage backing intervention in Venezuela provides political cover for anyone seeking to claim the current $15m bounty on Maduro’s head.
The human rights narrative is central to the next phase of attack against Venezuelan democracy. Elections for the controversial National Assembly are due to be held in December. In 2015, amidst claims of election fraud, the opposition’s coalition of ‘democratic unity’ won a majority of seats in the legislative body. Refusing to rerun elections for three contested seats, the Assembly was ruled to be in contempt of the Supreme Court in 2017. Sections of the opposition, including former Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, have confirmed their participation in the upcoming elections, however Juan Guaido, who swore himself in as ‘interim’ president in January 2019 and led a string of failed coup attempts in the last 18 months, is pushing a boycott, backed by the US. With the opposition hopelessly divided and Guaido increasingly unpopular within Venezuela, an international campaign to refuse to recognise the results is now being prepared. Quick off the mark, OAS Secretary General and Lima group architect, Luis Almagro declared that, due to such alleged human rights conditions, elections could not go ahead and should not be recognised. Accordingly, the ‘International Contact Group’ on Venezuela, made up of the European Union and several Latin American states, demanded the postponement of elections, turning down Venezuela’s invitation to observe December’s elections and indicating that they too will refuse to recognise the results. Notably, all of the European Union ICG member countries recognize Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. Simultaneously, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo embarked on an autumn tour of Venezuela’s neighbours, visiting Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Suriname, drumming up support for intervention and proxy war. The stage is being carefully set.
US and EU imperialism are determined to drown Venezuela in blood. Despite the contradictions and challenges faced by a movement trying to build socialism in the framework of a capitalist oil exporting state, strangled by sanctions and surrounded by hostile enemies, the Bolivarian revolution is steadfastly resisting. It demands our solidarity!
Hands off Venezuela!