United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s report about Venezuela is the most devastating account of state-sponsored mass killings in the region since the days of South America’s rightist military dictatorships in the 1970s.
So why are so many self-proclaimed human-rights champions remaining silent about it?
The U.N. report says that in Venezuela there were at least 6,856 suspicious deaths of members of the opposition during government security operations in the 17-month period ending in May 2019. Many of them were likely extrajudicial executions, the report says.
That figure is more than twice the number of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, from 1973 to 1990, in Chile. It is also comparable to the number of state-directed killings during a similar period of time during Argentina’s “dirty war” from 1976 to 1983.
Yet, where’s the public indignation by the self-proclaimed human-rights defenders who have rightly denounced Argentina and Chile’s rightist military juntas’ atrocities of the 1970s? Where are their denunciations of Nicolás Maduro’s documented cases of mass murders, torture and illegal arrests of peaceful oppositionists?
To be more precise:
- Where is Mexico? Mexican governments openly condemned South America’s military regimes’ abuses in the 1970s and even broke diplomatic relations with Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1974. So why is Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador now refusing to strongly condemn Maduro’s mass killings, instead proclaiming himself to be “neutral” on Venezuela?
- Where is Argentina’s presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez and his vice presidential candidate — and the power behind the throne — former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner? Why have we not heard a categorical condemnation of Maduro’s death squads from either?
Fernandez de Kirchner built much of her political career denouncing Argentina’s 1970s rightist dictatorship, although she is not known to have been actively in the opposition at the time. During her presidency she maintained close ties with Maduro, and she currently is in Cuba, visiting her daughter there.
- Where are Uruguayan President Tabaré Vásquez and his predecessor José Mujica? Both belong to a left-of-center coalition that claims to stand for human rights but have yet to unequivocally condemn Maduro’s state-sponsored terrorism.
- Where are Brazil’s former presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva? Both have long criticized Brazil’s past military regimes’ human-rights abuses — as they should — but are now conspicuously silent about Maduro’s crimes.
- Where are Sen. Bernie Sanders, a U.S. presidential hopeful, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat? I have yet to hear them speak out about the U.N. report. In case they don’t know this, Bachelet is not a right winger, but a longtime member of Chile’s Socialist Party whose father was tortured by the Pinochet dictatorship.
According to the Bachelet report, the Maduro regime has officially admitted to 6,856 killings that it classified as allegedly resulting from “resistance to authority” between January 2018, and May 2019. The U.N. report says the real figure may be higher and mentions a Venezuelan Violence Observatory study citing 9,647 killings of opposition activists over the same period.
Most often, Maduro’s paramilitary forces arrived in unmarked cars in victims’ homes, killed them and then manipulated the crime scene. “They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation,” the report said.
By some standards, Venezuela’s human-rights abuses are the most dramatic in Latin America’s recent history, because the Maduro regime is not fighting against an armed insurgency or terrorist groups, which is often the pretext that dictatorships use to kill peaceful political opponents.
Of course, Maduro apologists will claim that critics of Venezuela’s dictatorship are biased against leftist governments. But that’s not the case: Most respected international human-rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have equally denounced abuses by leftist and rightist dictatorships, as have many of us in the media.
Here’s the message that López Obrador, Fernandez de Kirchner and other political figures in the region should hear: If you fail to categorically denounce the Maduro regime’s mass killings, you have zero moral authority to even pronounce the words “human rights.” In the aftermath of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights’ report, you have no excuse for remaining silent on Venezuela.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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