Venezuela: Crushing the opposition with death squads
The United Nations has laid out in grim detail exactly how Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro has clung to power, said Américo Martín in Tal Cual (Venezuela). Maduro initially welcomed the investigation by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet because he thought she was an ally—as the leftist president of Chile from 2014 to 2018, Bachelet was one of the few world leaders who refrained from criticizing Maduro. But her report is damning. Bachelet describes how members of Maduro’s security forces have subjected detained members of the opposition to “electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags, waterboarding, beatings, sexual violence, water and food deprivation,” and other forms of torture. The Special Action Forces—which are officially tasked with combating drugs and crime but are known as “death squads” by ordinary Venezuelans—killed 5,287 people last year and another 1,569 by mid-May this year. The casualties mostly occurred during raids following anti-Maduro protests, said Fermín Mármol García in France’s Aleteia.org. Evidence suggests that many of these killings were “extrajudicial executions perpetrated by the security forces.”
It’s not just the human rights abuses, hideous as they are, said Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star (Canada). Bachelet also details Venezuela’s descent into dire poverty under Maduro. Basic services like water and electricity have collapsed, thanks to “misallocation of resources, corruption, and lack of maintenance.” Food is so scarce that the government uses ration cards “as a means of social control, rewarding its political supporters and punishing its enemies.” The press has been all but shut down and the judiciary co-opted. When the last free elections, held in late 2015, gave the opposition control of the National Assembly, Maduro stripped the legislature of authority and created his own Constituent Assembly to replace it. At least 4 million desperate people have fled the country.
Despite all these horrors, opposition leader Juan Guaidó is actually negotiating with Maduro, said El Tiempo (Colombia) in an editorial. Recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the National Assembly and scores of Western countries, Guaidó can’t take power while the army remains loyal to Maduro. So this week, his representatives met with Maduro’s in Barbados to “establish an exit negotiation for the dictatorship,” as Guaidó puts it. Some of his supporters oppose the talks, fearing they’ll allow Maduro to play for time. But Guaidó has one more card up his sleeve: The National Assembly is now seeking Venezuela’s reincorporation into the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. That regional defense pact might provide “a legal framework for a possible foreign intervention.” Even while he talks up a peaceful transfer of power, Guaidó has “opened the doors to a drastic mechanism that would force Maduro out.” Guaidó may have lost the momentum he had last spring, when the U.S. cheered his failed uprising, but he has not given up. ■