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
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
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
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
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.