The Organization of American States has confirmed in a 400-page report what millions of Venezuelans, living in that country or in exile, have long known.
In the scathing report, the influential organization accuses the Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro of committing crimes against humanity, setting the stage for a potential investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Last year, an OAS resolution condemning Venezuela lost by three votes. Now, its members can compensate for that failure by officially jump-starting an ICC probe. The report’s chilling findings demand it: At least 131 Venezuelans were killed by soldiers and paramilitaries during last year’s street protests. Worse yet, the report says that the Maduro government carried out more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions.
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After spending months reviewing evidence and listening to witness testimonies, the OAS found that there are more than 1,300 political prisoners in Venezuela, and that torture is carried out in the country’s appalling prisons — electric shock, beatings, burnings and sexual and psychological abuse.
The report is a devastating blow to the world image of a repressive regime that remains in power. It concludes that there is enough damning evidence for the International Criminal Court to investigate the Maduro government — as if more evidence were needed.
It’s a sad irony that Maduro’s chavismo government has strayed so far from the principles of justice and solidarity that Hugo Chávez’s movement tried to embrace in its earliest days. The OAS report unmasks a repressive regime that does not hesitate to use despicable methods to hold onto power and squash opponents.
And what will Maduro and his followers do now that the OAS has denounced his government and threatens to embarrass it with a probe on the world stage? That’s simple. They will try to remain in power at any cost, strangling the opposition and continuing to govern with illegitimate institutions such as the National Constituent Assembly, created to supplant the National Assembly.
To its credit, the United States has long denounced Maduro’s government. It has also sanctioned high-ranking government officials for corruption and crimes such as drug trafficking.
Other nations are getting on board. The government of Canada, for instance, has just imposed sanctions, this week accusing 14 Venezuelan officials of undermining democracy and freezing any assets they have in Canada. Cilia Flores is among the officials that Ottawa has sanctioned. She is Maduro’s wife.
International scrutiny has intensified since the controversial May 20 presidential election in which Maduro all but declared himself the winner. The United States, the European Union and most Latin American countries did not recognize these elections, carried out to give a veneer of legality when Maduro allowed a sham candidate to oppose him.
Now, with the damning report in hand, it’s imperative that at least one member of the OAS request a formal ICC investigation of Maduro and his far-reaching authoritarian abuses. Earlier this year, the ICC’s prosecutor opened a preliminary probe of Maduro. But an OAS member must ask for an investigation for it to have any heft.
In light of the OAS report, the United States should step up and lead in persuading fellow members to present a united front to the ICC — and to all those who value democracy.