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Dialogue between Venezuelan Government and Opposition Student-led Hunger Strikers Brings Protest to an End

Mérida, February 23rd 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – 23 days into a hunger strike led by students of the Venezuelan opposition, on Monday Venezuela’s Minister for Justice and Internal Affairs Tareck El Aissami presented the protestors with a proposal they considered “sufficient” to end the strike.

Speaking to El Universal on Tuesday, opposition attorney Tamara Sujú outlined the principal agreement reached between protest spokespersons and Minister El Aissami.

According to Sujú, all of the 27 prisoners on the protestors list of so-called “political prisoners,” who have completed at least half of their prison term, will have psycho-social analyses conducted by prison authorities to determine if they can be granted a “conditional” release.

Seven of the prisoners are expected to be released in the coming days, including opposition deputy to the National Assembly Biagio Pilieri – convicted of corruption for misuse of public funds during his 2000-2004 term as mayor in the state of Yaracuy.

In addition to possible prisoner releases, the government has agreed to establish working groups between the prisoners’ legal council, concerned family members, and representatives of the government’s Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs. The commissions will review each supposed “violation of human rights” as well as requests for medical attention, possible changes in detention centers, and the legal situation of other prisoners.

Organized by the opposition’s Active Youth, Venezuela United (JAVU), the initial demands of the hunger strikers included the immediate release of all 27 Venezuelan prisoners they deemed “political” as well as an on-the-ground inspection of Venezuela’s human rights “situation” by Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, and members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The protest’s headquarters were set-up outside of OAS offices in downtown Caracas.

The OAS’s Insulza on Tuesday said that, "it is good news that they ended the hunger strike and I am glad to learn that there is dialogue. And if such dialogue put an end to the protest, I am even happier."

According to Lorent Saleh, JAVU’s National Coordinator, along with the government “responding to all of our [JAVU’s] demands,” the fact that their protest provoked a debate about Venezuela at the OAS is another of the group’s achievements.

Though protestors were unable to secure a visit to Venezuela by OAS Secretary General Insulza, they celebrated recent debates in the regional organization that they said their protest achieved.

After speaking via telephone with opposition student spokespersons last week, Insulza told reporters that he was "prepared to go [to Venezuela],” though he regretted that he “cannot go to Venezuela if the Venezuelan government does not authorize it; neither I nor the Commission of Human Rights.” 

In the same statement, Insulza added that it would be unacceptable for him to “force the will of a [OAS] member country.”

After a meeting of the OAS last Friday in which Insulza and the Canadian delegation brought the hunger strike up for debate at the organization’s Permanent Council, Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton denounced Insulza’s positioning as a “grave precedent for the organization.”

“We are not talking about a conflict here, but a situation which is being handled within our country via democratic channels,” Chaderton affirmed.

“A hunger strike is a political action that takes place every so often in all countries, but the only strike that concerns the Secretary [Insulza] is the one held in Venezuela,” he said.

“This hemispheric organization [the OAS] is not a tribunal against its member nations. There are rules and norms, but Insulza is not the president of America, nor is he a ‘Statue of Liberty’ or a lighthouse that illuminates the democratic processes underway in the continent,” he affirmed.

Insulza said Chaderton had lost his sense of “prudence and discretion.”

As reported by the Washington Post last week, Latin American members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America (ALBA) used their voice within the OAS to call on Secretary General Insulza to, “stop his attacks on the Venezuelan government.”

The ALBA nations affirmed that recent statements by Insulza regarding Venezuela might bring about, “a dangerous return to the times when the OAS was an instrument of interventionism and colonialism.”

Late last week, the U.S. State Department urged “the Venezuelan government to agree to a visit by the OAS as a means to promote dialogue and understanding.”

In response, Venezuela’s foreign minister Nicolás Maduro stated that his country rejects “the arrogance of the government of the United States.”

“We have our own mechanisms of a democracy to deal with this [the hunger strike] and any other issue. We completely reject that the United States government comes and interfere in this affair," said Maduro.

In mid-January, Insulza was at the center of a national debate in Venezuela after he received a delegation of opposition leaders from Venezuela’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in his Washington D.C. offices. The visit came just days after Insulza declared that a recently passed enabling law in Venezuela “violates the letter and spirit of the Inter-American Democratic Charta.”

In response to those statements, the Venezuelan government called Insulza’s conduct “shameful” and said that it constituted a “new, abusive, and opportunist act of interference that discredits the General Secretary of the OAS even more.”

In November, 2010, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez affirmed that Insulza had “distorted” the words of Major General Henry Rangel, of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, to imply that the army was “threatening insubordination”. In 2007, Insulza also criticized the Venezuelan government’s decision to not renew television channel RCTV’s broadcasting license.

In early 2010, Venezuela and other ALBA nations helped establish the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), considered by many to be a precursor to what Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has called an “OAS without the United States or Canada”. 

Published on Feb 23rd 2011 at 11.37pm