Author: JUBAL ABRAHAM

Citizens take out a protest march against the Venezuelan dictator

Venezuelan dictator and the worst human rights violations

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro is a Venezuelan politician who won the special Presidential elections held in 2013. He became President after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez who died of cancer in 2013. He was re-elected as president in 2018 but the validity of the elections has been questioned. There are around 50 countries that refuse to recognize him as the President of Venezuela. Maduro is often described as the Venezuelan dictator whose regime is accused of the worst human rights violations in the country’s history.


It is true that the autocratic and socialist policies employed by President Hugo Chavez laid the foundation for the current crisis in the Venezuelan economy. However, the situation went out of control once President Nicolas Maduro took over. His administration is accused of gross mismanagement of the economy thereby plunging the country into a severe humanitarian crisis.


As the economy fell the protests increased. Maduro responded by using lethal force against anti-government protesters and put his critics behind bars. This abuse of power led to a decline in his popularity. As hyperinflation began the standard of living declined. Subsequently, a shortage of basic necessities, poverty, and a series of human rights violations caused almost 5 million citizens to flee Venezuela. It has triggered one of the worst refugee crises in modern history. 


List of Human rights issues under the Venezuelan dictator


1.  EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

Extrajudicial executions by the security forces have killed nearly 18000 people in Venezuela since 2016. These executions were primarily carried out by the Bolivarian National Police through its Special Actions Force. The victims were mostly young men belonging to the low-income communities who were critical of the government. The police claimed that the victims were those who were “resisting authority”. However, there is evidence to suggest that these killings are part of a systematic plan to attack the general public who voice out against the government.


2. ARBITRARY DETENTIONS

Arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances have increased in Venezuela. The police randomly detain people who are part of any protest or those perceived as a threat. They are subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment. In addition to this, the OCHCR reported that trade union leaders, workers, and professionals have been fired and detained for demanding decent salaries and working conditions.


Journalists are especially at risk for reporting on the situation in Venezuela. Foreign journalist Cody Weedle working for The Telegraph was detained by Venezuelan military officials. They put a hood over his head pressurized him to give up his sources and insinuated that he was working with the CIA and would be charged with treason. He was later expelled from Venezuela.


Jorge Ramos from Univision was detained inside the Presidential Palace and later expelled from Venezuela along with his entire team.


3. TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT

The number of cases of torture has gone up since 2014. Prisoners are subjected to all forms of torture. This not only includes brutal beatings but also, asphyxiation, electric shocks, waterboarding, and sexual violence. Tear gas and insecticides were used on some prisoners while others were isolated in dark rooms for weeks.


Cuban intelligence officers provide training to their Venezuelan counterparts. They also participate in the torture of prisoners. This has caused an increase in both severities as well as the number of cases of torture. To add to this overcrowded prisons, lack of basic hygiene and medical services lead to the spread of diseases.


4. JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE
Nicolas Maduro at his inauguration in 2019
Nicolas Maduro at his inauguration in 2019

Judicial Independence in Venezuela has been under threat since 2004. The former President Hugo Chavez passed laws that hampered the independence of the judiciary. These new laws interfered with the appointment of judges. More judges were appointed to temporary posts from which they could be fired or even jailed if they did not side with the government.


The most prominent case was that of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni who was jailed in 2009. She spent 4 years behind bars and had to go through physical, emotional, and sexual torture. Her crime – she passed a judgment that angered Hugo Chavez.


Under Nicolas Maduro, the situation has only worsened. The Venezuelan dictator took advantage of the economic crisis facing the country and granted himself emergency powers for 60 days. He then went on extending it indefinitely. Furthermore, during the period of 2016-17, the Supreme Court of Venezuela passed laws to dissolve The National Assembly calling it invalid.


In May 2017 Maduro unilaterally invoked a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. He completely ignored the two prerequisites. Any changes must first be approved by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and then by a majority vote in a referendum. The lack of an independent judiciary has let Maduro retain his absolute power.


5. MIGRANTS AND REFUGEE CRISIS
The refugee crisis at the Venezuela - Colombia border
The refugee crisis at the Venezuela – Colombia border

Migration had started in the years of Hugo Chavez. The rich and the intellectuals were the first to leave. This was due to his socialist policies that favored the poor. However, the economic crisis truly began when Maduro came to power. Begining in 2014 the prices of oil fell globally. The poor economic decisions made by the Venezuelan dictator at this time led to a state of hyperinflation. Imports were expensive and the price of goods went so high that it was impossible for Venezuelans to purchase. The situation got worse when many businesses began to shut which rendered people jobless. Subsequently, the violence and insecurity reached exorbitant levels forcing people to leave Venezuela either as migrants or refugees. It is estimated that around 5 million people have left going mainly to other Latin American countries while some have sought asylum in the USA and Europe.


6. RIGHT TO FOOD AND WATER

The economic crisis hit the food sector most severely. When hyperinflation set in the purchasing power of people decreased drastically which affected access to food. As a result, Venezuelans are eating poor quality food and less often. Moreover, it affected the quality of food and its distribution. As the economic crisis worsened people not only began to eat rotten food but there were even reports of people going to the zoo to eat the meat served to animals. It has also been often reported that people are offered food in exchange for their political support. This is indeed a clear violation of their right to food. Additionally, access to drinking water and sanitation is another problem. Drinking water is available only two days a week. This leads to problems especially in hospitals and prisons where lack of water can lead to the spread of diseases.


7. RIGHT TO HEALTH
Hospital services impacted by the economic crisis
Hospital services impacted by the economic crisis

Hyperinflation led to a shortage of medicines and medical supplies. Some estimates are that around 85% of medicines are in short supply. In addition to this, frequent power outages affect medical procedures. Many of the doctors and health workers have left the country making it all the more difficult for hospitals to function. The lack of food and medicines has led to the spread of diseases. Cases of Malaria and typhoid that were once well-controlled are now on the rise. Additionally, there have been significant increases in deaths occurring due to health reasons. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high and increasing. Patients who need regular medicines and treatment like those suffering from kidney problems, cancer, or HIV are the most affected.


8. FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Police fire tear gas shells at protesters in Caracas
Police fire tear gas shells at protesters in Caracas

The police used excessive force to crackdown on peaceful protesters. Many of them have been injured and some have also died. In addition to this, police have often fired pellets at close range and have caused severe injuries.





9. FREEDOM OF PRESS

Journalists who report on the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela face arrest and detention. The authorities go after journalists who speak against the government. Since Maduro came to power in 2013 more than 115 news organizations have shut down. Moreover, the condition of radio stations and online websites is no different. Closing down radio stations and blocking websites that are critical of the regime is common under the Venezuelan dictator. Being a reporter in Venezuela is extremely dangerous. One could even lose their life.


Jorge Ramos, a television anchor with Univision, was detained in the Presidential Palace along with his team for asking the President an uncomfortable question. Additionally, their equipment including cell phones were confiscated.


Luis Carlos Diaz who worked at a radio station was arrested and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officials and accused of public instigation. Agents raided his house, threatened his wife, and seized his cell phone and other equipment.


10. IMPUNITY FOR ABUSES

Venezuelan authorities have regularly failed to investigate and prosecute those found guilty of human rights violations. Most of the time the people involved were the security forces or those close to the Venezuelan dictator. They enjoy immunity and can get away with any crime. Moreover, the lack of judicial independence means that they can hardly ever be challenged.



SEE: Top 5 Human Rights Violations in Belarus

Hugo Chavez was a key factor in ruining the Venezuelan economy

Venezuelan Economy: 4 factors that led to a failed state


Venezuela was once the richest country in all of South America. From the 1950s to the early 1980s the Venezuelan economy was flourishing making it the most prosperous country in the region. So how exactly did the richest country in South America become one of the poorest? How did a country that once attracted many immigrants come to find itself in one of the worst refugee crises in modern times?


While some people blame socialism in Venezuela others point to the over-dependency on oil calling it the ‘oil curse’. The truth however as we shall see is that both these factors have a role to play in the crisis of Venezuela. As some have rightly pointed out Venezuela is most certainly one of the worst man-made disasters in recent times.

1. The Venezuelan economy and Oil

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The 2019 edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy estimated that the country had a whopping 303 million barrels of oil. So how did a country rich in oil become so poor? The problem was that the country focused too much on oil production while ignoring all other industries. In economics, this is known as Dutch disease.

The problem with having an oil-dependent economy is that the country does very well when the prices of oil are high but when the price of oil goes down the country begins to suffer. This was the case in the 1980s and this is what has happened since 2014. When oil prices plummeted from $115 a barrel in 2014 to nearly half that, Venezuela’s GDP shrank by 10%. By 2019 that figure was down by 25%.

2. The rise of Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez

In the early 1990s, there was growing public discontent against then-President Carlos Andres Perez. Low oil prices, a contraction in the Venezuelan economy, high rates of inflation accompanied by charges of rampant corruption were among the main reasons. During that time Hugo Chavez (an officer in the military) made a coup attempt to overthrow the President. However, the coup was a failure and Chavez was imprisoned.

After his release in 1994, Hugo Chavez traveled extensively not only across the country but also around Latin America. He looked for support to his Bolivarian cause of social revolution or what he called “the Bolivarian Revolution”. The promises he made of widespread social and economic reforms gained him the support of the poor and the middle class. This ultimately led to his win in the 1999 Presidential elections.

While socialism represented by the social-democratic parties was already strong in Venezuela, the form of socialism associated with Hugo Chavez (Chavismo) was more radical in nature and with militaristic leanings.

Chavez launched the “Bolivarian Missions”, a series of social programs aimed at tackling a wide range of issues. There were different missions for food and nutrition, poverty, education, and social justice to name a few. Taxes were reduced and government spending increased. All these social programs were funded by the money earned from the country’s oil trade. These programs benefited lots of poor and middle-class Venezuelans making Chavez an extremely popular leader.

3. Problems of Venezuelan Socialism

As oil exports boomed the value of the Venezuelan Bolivar shot up which in turn made it cheaper for the country to import foreign goods. The rise in foreign products began to affect the domestic market. To add to this the government went on a spree nationalizing the production of various goods and services. This further impacted a lot of businesses forcing them to close down. By 2008 all export industries apart from oil had collapsed. To add to it there was rampant corruption and these government organizations were so poorly run that they never made a profit. In fact, they were going into losses!

Hypermarkets are empty in Caracas as food and utilities become scarce
Hypermarkets are empty in Caracas as food and utilities become scarce

There came a time when the government had to borrow money in order to fund its expenditure. The Venezuelan government did not care about the fact that the oil prices would not always be high. By this time it was so deeply in debt that any drop in oil revenues would cause serious financial hardships and bring the Venezuelan economy crashing down.

Hugo Chavez may have aimlessly thrown money at the people but there was also a dark underbelly. Chavez was an autocratic leader. During his tenure, he gradually neutralized all opposition against him and crushed all forms of dissent. This combination of authoritarianism and left-wing populism that kept him in power for more than a decade would soon prove to be the undoing of an entire nation.

In 2010, a global fall in oil prices led Chavez to announce that he was decreasing the value of the Bolivar. Devaluing the currency caused a rise in inflation that plunged the country into a downward spiral from which it has been unable to climb out ever since.
 

4. Maduro: The final nail in the coffin

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

In 2013 Chavez died of cancer. Nicolas Maduro was elected as the next President. As the oil prices continued to fall the country faced a shortage of funds. There was no money to import the daily utilities needed or to continue funding the social programs. Maduro then did what a poorly run government would do. He tried to print more money to get out of the trouble. Inflation spiraled out of control reaching a state of hyperinflation. Even the most basic utilities had become so expensive that Venezuelans could not afford them.

As time passed the situation only worsened. Food and water became scarce and expensive, malnutrition, and poverty levels increased, medicines were in short supply. Maduro was unable to stop the slide in the economy and focused rather on clamping down on those protesting against him. Venezuelans struggling to survive began to flee in their thousands to nearby countries some even seeking asylum in the US and Europe.

Venezuela is a sad story given the extent of human misery. Once a rich and prosperous country, it has been destroyed by ignorant and callous dictators whose greed for power has plunged an entire nation to near collapse.




SEE: Venezuelan dictator and the worst human rights violations

Belarus Russia EU: the 3 sides involved in the crisis.

Belarus Russia EU: The Long Road Ahead



A Brief Overview…

Belarus is politically gridlocked. Ever since Alexander Lukashenko was declared as the President for the 6th term on the 9th of August 2020 there have been massive protests against a series of human rights violations. Citizens demand free and fair elections and the ousting of Lukashenko. While protests were successfully suppressed in the past this time around citizens from all sections of the society have joined in across the country creating a united front. The chances of being able to suppress these protests by the use of force seem rather unlikely. However, the impact that Russia and the EU have on the crisis in Belarus is significant as we shall further examine.


Belarus is also geographically landlocked. One look at the map of Europe will reveal the significance of what many experts refer to as the ‘geopolitical factor’. Belarus is located between the European Union and Kaliningrad (Russian territory) on the left and Russia to its right. Over the years president Lukashenko has made use of this fact to further his agendas and hold onto power. Whenever Russia has pushed him for further integration of the two countries he has run to the EU promising to implement democratic reforms. Similarly whenever the EU has asked him to come good on his promises he has gone back to Putin for support.

As the protests in Belarus continue the EU has imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and many of his ministers. This has forced Lukashenko to seek support from Russia. Hence, it is now impossible for him to align himself with the West without actually ushering in significant changes. This brings an end to his long played act of balancing on a seesaw!


Belarus and Russia

Belarus Russia leaders meet in Moscow
Belarus and Russian leaders meet in Moscow. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

It is true that Russia remains the largest trade partner of Belarus. The Belarusian economy is heavily dependent on the cheap supply of oil and natural gas being provided by its neighbor. However, Russian interests go far beyond economics. Russia under Vladimir Putin harbors imperialist motives. It frequently attempts to put pressure on Lukashenko for the creation of the much talked about union state. In the past, Lukashenko had managed to stall Russian advances. However, deteriorating relations with the EU over the past couple of months has pushed Lukashenko into a position where he could agree to increased Russian control over Belarus.

Some defense experts also point to a specific geopolitical factor influencing relations between Russia and Belarus the so-called Suwalki corridor. It is a small zone lining the Polish-Lithuanian border. It separates northwest Belarus from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Russian control over Belarus could also prompt radical Russian imperials to think about the possibility of the military occupation of the Suwalki corridor. This will essentially separate the Baltic States from the rest of the EU.


Belarus and the EU

Belarus EU meeting in Austria
Belarus opposition leader meeting members of EU state. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The European Union which closely monitors the situation in Belarus has extended support to the Belarusian citizens and opposition leaders. As reports came in of the elections being rigged the EU made it clear that it does not recognize Lukashenko as the lawful president of Belarus. It has urged authorities to hold fresh elections that would comply with international standards for free and fair elections. It has condemned the violent attacks by the Lukashenko regime on the protesters. EU member states have granted asylum to many Belarusian activists and opposition leaders. This includes Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who contested against Lukashenko and claims to be the winner of the elections. The heads of States of several EU Nations have met with Tikhanovskaya and expressed their support for the Belarusian cause.


Is there a way out of this deadlock?
  • Russia and the EU take a step back

Both Russia and the EU could refrain from getting further involved in Belarus. As the citizens have maintained they are not against Russia and that this fight is only to oust Lukashenko. The outcome of the revolution could then be left to the citizens to decide. However, given the strategic importance of Belarus, it is highly unlikely that either side will step back.

  • Russia to accept a Democratic Belarus

So far there has not been any anti-Russian protest in Belarus. However, if Russia continues to support Lukashenko it could lead to anger against Putin. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has already led to a slowdown in the Russian economy. This, compounded by Putin’s own authoritarian rule could mobilize sentiments against him in Russia. This does put Russia in a spot where it could have to accept a democratic outcome in Belarus.

  • Russia and EU reach an agreement

The only way that a win-win solution can be found to the crisis in Belarus is for backchannel talks to be initiated between Moscow and the EU.  If Russia can be persuaded to reach an agreement by using other diplomatic means it could ensure that the interests of Belarus, Russia, and the EU are met.
 

Finally, whatever approaches are being considered to help Belarus, the one and only demand of the Belarusian citizens must always be kept in mind – An Independent, Democratic Republic of Belarus!

Alexander_Lukashenko_2020-09-14

Top 5 Human Rights Violations in Belarus


Human Rights Violations in Belarus have constantly been highlighted since Alexander Lukashenko it’s first and only President took the oath on to the 20th of April 1994, over 26 years ago.


He assumed almost absolute power in 1995 through a referendum, which dismissed the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, the highest decision-making body in the country.

The Soviet-era strongman has ruled Belarus ever since with an iron fist and is accused of a series of human rights violations which led to him being referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”.


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 1. LACK OF FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS

Citizens protest against the Human Rights Violations in Belarus under President Lukashenko.
Protests erupt in Belarus after Lukashenko was declared President for the 6th consecutive term


The Belarusian Presidential elections have constantly been under the scanner with many in the West claiming that they were rigged & that it failed to meet the international standards for a free and fair democratic process.


In September 2016, based on the observations of several human rights activists The Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported several election violations. The lack of equal access to state media for all candidates was the primary problem. The other violations included partiality of election commissions, the abuse of administrative resources in favor of the pro-government candidates, forcing voters to vote early, and the non-transparency of some election procedures for observers.


The recent elections held in August 2020 were also marred by the allegations of widespread electoral fraud. President Lukashenko was sworn in for the 6th term in a secret ceremony after he claimed to have won 80% of the votes. The re-election of Lukashenko has triggered countrywide protests ever since.


2. TARGETING OPPOSITION LEADERS

Key opposition figures like Yury Zacharanka and Viktar Hanchar disappeared after Lukashenko assumed power in 1994. According to some reports they were abducted and were probably killed.


The story of elections in Belarus has remained the same over the decades with opposition leaders either being barred from contesting, jailed on false charges, or being forced to leave the country.


The elections of August 2020 were no different with 2 candidates being denied ( Viktar Babaryka, Valery Tsepkalo ) and a 3rd being imprisoned ( Siarhei Tsikhanouski ). Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of Siarhei, then decided to take over her husband’s campaign. She was supported by two other women ( Maria Kolesnikova, and Veronika Tsepkalo ). However, widespread protests erupted across the country after the election results were announced in favor of the incumbent President. In an attempt to try and suppress these protests Kolesnikova was imprisoned while Svetlana and Veronika were forced to flee to neighboring Lithuania and Poland respectively.




3. MEDIA CENSORSHIP
 

Freedom of the press in Belarus is extremely restricted. State-owned channels are under the control of the government.


Foreign media and independent journalists are regularly intimidated for being critical of the government.


Journalists are harassed, detained, and forced to give up their information. Even websites have to be registered with the government or face blockage. The Internet is regularly turned off.


With increasing restrictions to press freedom many are shifting to radio to report the news to the people of Belarus.


 

4. CRACKDOWN ON PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Belarus Police force blocking a protest march in Minsk, September 2020

 

The peaceful gatherings of citizens to protest against strongman Lukashenko has been dealt with very severely with the police detaining hundreds of people.


Several news agencies have also reported the use of water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to try and disperse the swelling crowds.


The police have also started tracing individual protesters and arresting them from their homes.

 

5. CAPTURE OF THE JUDICIARY
 

The President exercises control over the Judiciary. The powers to appoint and transfer judges rest with the government.


The salaries and accommodation of the judges are in the hands of the executive. Thus they constantly find themselves under pressure to deliver verdicts in favor of the government.


Courts have also been found to delay or avoid cases related to electoral fraud or other human rights issues. Thus, justice to citizens is almost non-existent.  



SEE: Venezuelan dictator and the worst human rights violations

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