Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro Tightens His Grip

Venezuela’s tyrant, Nicolás Maduro, has a habit of surpassing his own repressive feats every now and then. The latest wave of repression gives a stunning indication of how far he is prepared to go to hold on to power in the face of massive rejection.

At the end of January, Maduro’s government gave the military the authority to shoot protesters. A few days later, he threw in jail the owners of supermarket chains and pharmacies whom he accused of creating an artificial scarcity for conspiratorial reasons. Then he ordered his thugs to beat up Leopoldo López, the iconic opposition figure incarcerated at the Ramo Verde military prison, before placing him in solitary confinement. On February 19, he sent intelligence agents to kidnap Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a leading critic, from his office.

A couple of days later it was made public that Ledezma was joining López at Ramo Verde on sedition charges. A few days later the National Assembly moved to expel Julio Borges, an opposition figure from the Justice First party who is a close associate of López, from Parliament with the clear intention of depriving him of legal immunity so he too could be charged with sedition. On February 24, Kluivert Roa, a fourteen-year old kid who was taking part in spontaneous demonstrations in the city of San Cristóbal, was shot by security forces acting under the authority to use lethal force.

Maduro responded to the angry reaction of Venezuela’s people with a touch of self-awareness: I will keep the repression even if they call me a tyrant, he said.

Venezuela’s allies—Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua—expressed their support and denounced a conspiracy against Maduro’s democracy. The rest of Latin America, with the exception of Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, who timidly asked Caracas to consider freeing Lopez and giving Ledezma a fair trial, called for a “dialogue.” This is the code word they commonly use to pressure the opposition to stop stirring trouble whenever an election is rigged, an opponent is thrown in jail, a demonstrator is killed, a newspaper or TV station is shut down, or a business person is accused of trying to topple the authorities. They have not said whether they think this dialogue should take place at Ramo Verde, soon to be the only place where one will be able to get hold of an opposition figure, and whether the topic of discussion should be nanotechnology or the mystery of existence.

Maduro has violated every international treaty even remotely related to democratic governance, human rights, and the rule of law—from the charter of the Organization of American States (preamble and article 1) to the American Convention on Human Rights (articles 1, 3 ,8,18 and 19) to the Inter-American Democratic Charter (the whole document) to the Santiago Declaration issued by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. They all contain provisions outlining specific consequences if a member country defies the rules and violates its articles. But the regional organizations charged with upholding these various instruments of international law have given the Venezuelan thug a free pass. The entire body of international law binding Latin America to certain standards of civilization has been reduced to ashes by the Venezuelan dictatorship and the region’s cowardly complicity.

I do not recall Latin America’s diplomacy stooping lower than this since the return of democracy in the 1980s.

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