During the decades prior to the Bolivarian Revolution, human rights crimes were abundant and largely ignored. Thousands of activists, mainly from the left, were disappeared, persecuted, tortured and assassinated by the so-called “democratic” governments that ran the country with US approval before President Chavez came to power in 1998.
Last week, Venezuelan authorities announced their intention to investigate some 1,600 cases of disappearances, executions, and other human rights violations that took place at the hands of the nation’s security forces during the years 1958 – 1998, a period known in the country as the Fourth Republic.
The decision to re-open the cases was made public by the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, during an interview on the private television station Televen last Sunday.
According to Diaz, during the forty years of Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, residents were forced to endure a state policy of torture and repression, which sought to eliminate the influence of communist and leftist organizations in the political arena.
Among the cases to be investigated is that of Fabricio Ojeda, a revolutionary leader from the 1950s who, along with other prominent members of the Communist Party, played a crucial role in overthrowing the military dictatorship of Marcos Jimenez in 1958.
The communist-led uprising which ousted Jimenez ushered in a period nominally referred to in Venezuelan history as that of “representative democracy,” also called the Fourth Republic or Punto Fijismo, based on a political pact signed between centrist parties Democratic Action (AD) and the Christian Democratic party (COPEI).
It was during this time that both COPEI and AD, with the support of Washington, and in stark betrayal of those who struggled to overthrow the Jimenez dictatorship, worked to exclude the communists from the new political establishment.
A witch hunt against progressives and leftist sympathizers began, forcing many activists into hiding or to the mountains to take up arms in a guerrilla war that would last into the 1970s.
Ojeda became a key leader of this guerrilla movement until his capture by the Venezuelan government and his eventual murder in the basement of the state’s intelligence services in 1966.
A similar fate would meet thousands more who ventured to challenge the legitimacy of the Venezuelan political establishment and its anti-communist agenda.
Never Too Late for Justice
But for Clodosbaldo Russian, current Comptroller General and former cellmate to Ojeda, there is still time to bring justice to these cases.
“We’ve been wrong all this time to not investigate and clarify these cases of murder and persecution”, Russian said during an interview with the Correo del Orinoco published on Monday.
With respect to the specific case of Ojeda, the Comptroller believes that those responsible for his murder are still walking the streets and can be called to account for their crime.
“Some of those who participated in the capture and imprisonment of Fabricio have to be alive. These people are identifiable”, he affirmed.
On Sunday, family members of victims were received in the National Assembly where a bill was introduced to seek justice for those who suffered at the hands of the state’s war against communism.
The proposal, called the Law of Remembrance and against Silence was received by the president of the National Assembly and ex-guerrilla, Fernando Soto Rojas, as well as Comptroller Russian.
In receiving the proposals, the president of the National Assembly drew a comparison between the crimes of the past and the political violence that is still being carried out by the extreme right in Venezuela.
“These murderers still exist. In the opposition, there are landowners who have murdered more than 200 small farmers in the central-western area of the country. These crimes against humanity cannot go unpunished”, Rojas exclaimed in reference to the unsolved assassination of farmer leaders participating in the country’s agrarian reform.
Opening investigations into past human rights violations committed by prior governments, many of whose leaders and members form part of the political opposition to President Chavez today, will allow Venezuelans to recover a hidden part of their contemporary history, affirmed Soto Rojas.
Chavez himself referred to the necessity to uncover and remember the past in order to better understand the revolutionary process taking place today. During last month’s march on January 23, the anniversary of the day dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez was overthrown, Chavez invoked Fabricio Ojeda’s memory, speaking together with Ojeda’s grandchildren, who were present at the event.
“The youth of today, those who believe they oppose the revolution, don’t know the past... We must remember how things were before, how the same politicians who today want to retake power are the ones who killed, oppressed, tortured, and silenced our people”, affirmed Chavez.
Although other South American countries, such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, have conducted extensive investigations into rights abuses committed by the Washington-backed dictatorships during the late twentieth century, Venezuela’s history has remained widely unknown.
“They tried to hide the truth from us to keep us ignorant, afraid, and silent”, declared Jose Luis Ojeda, grandson of Fabricio. “But we know what they did and will fight to expose the political crimes of the Fourth Republic... they will never return”, he implored.
Ironically, leaders from the same political parties, AD and Copei, who were responsible for overseeing mass human rights abuses in Venezuela during their rule, today accuse the Chavez government of violating rights. Even alleged international defenders of human rights, such as Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have made multiple accusations against the Chavez administration for alleged civil rights abuses, despite the fact that no such evidence exists to back their claims. These international watchdog groups failed to denounce the mass rights violations that occurred during the Fourth Republic in Venezuela, placing under scrutiny their own political agendas.
“The truth will come out; our memory will be recovered and justice will finally be done”, proclaimed National Assembly President Fernando Soto Rojas.