Maduro seeks to intimidate the opposition into silence

A protesting student at Central University in Venezuela shouts out slogans denouncing President Maduro.
A protesting student at Central University in Venezuela shouts out slogans denouncing President Maduro. AP

Recently the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Lieutenant Diosdado Cabello, published an article in the New York Times, with the headline Hectoring against Venezuelans, regarding human rights. He expressed how unfortunate it was that while the U.S. Congress passed a law to punish violators of human rights in Venezuela, African-American communities in the United States expressed outrage at the killings of unarmed black men by police officers.

What Cabello wants to hide is that in Venezuela there is another type of discrimination as detestable as racial discrimination — political discrimination. Anyone who thinks differently from the Maduro regime is persecuted in some way. Worse, this discrimination comes directly from the highest power and institutions in Venezuela.

Cabello says, without evidence, that the protests this year were to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. However, no one is being tried for fomenting these protests. What he isn’t saying is that these protests occurred because of the country’s deep crises — political, social and economic. Venezuela ended 2013 with the highest inflation in the world, the most violent year in its history, a shortage of products never before seen and an extreme restriction of freedoms.

Cabello also says that most of those killed in the protests were government supporters. This is not correct, nor is it relevant. It does not matter the political leanings of those who died. What matters is determining the truth and punish those responsible. We must remind him that the first three dead protesters, and that which unleashed all subsequent events, were caused by armed officers of a government intelligence body, SEBIN, and escorts linked to the minister of Interior and Justice. To date, only four of the deaths are being investigated. And interesting enough, the commission designated by the National Assembly, chaired by Cabello, to investigate the events has not yet issued the first report.

The protests were peaceful and, in some cases, excessive repression caused outbreaks of violence. Maduro’s regime reacted with unprecedented brutality: 43 killed without justice, more than 3,000 arbitrary detentions, 2,000 criminal trials still open, restrictions on political freedom and about 150 cases of torture have been reported.

To say they only imprisoned those who violated the law is to take readers for fools. The mention of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López makes a mockery of that assertion. The Arbitrary Detentions committee of the United Nations has called Lopez a prisoner of conscience.

Young students are still detained in dangerous prisons and are being tortured with practices that we thought had disappeared. For instance, Alexander Tirado and Raul Baduel have been beaten badly that they have fractures and, in the case of one, burned genitals. There are Venezuelans behind bars for tweeting.

Cabello says that the economy has a few small problems, but that they are going to solve it by cutting the budget. The reality is that 10 months after the start of the protests, the scenario is much worse: 80 percent of the population views that situation negatively. Maduro’s popularity has fallen more than 20 points and now is at only 24 percent. This year again we ended up with the highest inflation in the world, with more shortages — (no toilet paper or soap — much more violence and less freedom.

It is laughable for Cabello to say that Maduro “extended an olive branch” to the Obama administration to appoint an ambassador to the United States. But he doesn’t say that the government of Venezuela has, for 15 years, not just throwing a branch but an entire forest of insults and accusations against the United States. Less than a week ago he called a march against the United States and in a television program said that he “was considering severing relations with the United States.”

The Venezuelan conflict has led Maduro to opt for the Cuban script: repression and intimidation. He aims to silence the voices of change, which has led to serious human-rights violations as ratified by the report issued by the Committee Against Torture of the U.N.

So we ask, Who is intimidating whom?

Carlos Vecchio is political coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular and one of the top lieutenants of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. He lives in exile in South Florida.