Mérida, 27th February 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government and opposition have differed over how to investigate the violence committed during the country’s on-going opposition protests and street barricades. The two sides also disagree on whom is responsible for promoting and perpetrating the violence.
While President Nicolas Maduro has proposed a national “Truth Commission” to investigate the events, the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition is preparing its own report for the attention of “international organisations”.
Three weeks of violence
According to press reports and updates from Venezuelan authorities, sixteen people have now died in direct connection with the violent events. Protests began several weeks ago after hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called for supporters to take to the streets and force the “exit” of President Maduro.
Six of the deaths occurred on the street blockades erected by radical opposition supporters, four of which were caused by motorists crashing into the barricades, and two of which involved government supporters being shot dead while they attempted to clear barricades from the road.
While investigations are still underway, four of the deaths appear to implicate the actions of state security forces, including two deaths which occurred during clashes on 12 February in Caracas.
In the other six cases, the deaths appear to have been accidents in some way provoked by violent clashes, or killings with conflicting reports or limited information as to who the perpetrator may be. In two of these cases, some private press outlets have claimed that pro-government motorbike riders were involved.
Meanwhile, there have been at least three reported cases of deaths occurring when barricaders refused to allow someone in an emergency medical situation to pass through the roadblock to reach hospital.
President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday that the street barricades had caused thirty deaths, either due to people not being able to reach hospital in time or because of the effect the smoke from the barricades’ burning rubbish and tires had on people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. On Wednesday, the president further said that a total of “over fifty” had been killed as a result of the barricades.
Authorities calculate that the cost of damages caused by attacks to public infrastructure is at least US $1.6 million.
The Attorney General’s office reports that fifty five people are being held for their presumed involvement in “serious acts” of violence, including homicide. Eleven of those arrested belong to different security bodies, eight of which are members of the SEBIN (intelligence service), who were arrested in connection with two deaths caused during violent clashes on 12 February in Caracas.
Additionally, three National Guard officers are under arrest in Carabobo state for allegedly beating several youths after a protest.
The Attorney General’s office stated in its press release that it “ratifies its unrestricted commitment to the respect for, and guarantee of, the human rights of all Venezuelans,” and said that public lawyers had “guaranteed the due process and other constitutional rights of all people held in custody”.
Truth commission proposed
In response to the violence, President Nicolas Maduro has advocated that the National Assembly form a “Truth Commission” to investigate all the acts of violence in recent weeks. The commission would also investigate the alleged actions of “extremist right-wing groups” and the hard-line sector of the opposition in perpetrating or promoting acts of violence.
“[It will be] a Truth Commission that investigates all of the violence, the denouncements of this state coup underway, and the national and international lies, to debunk the monsters that have been created to justify foreign intervention in Venezuela,” Maduro said to Telesur on Sunday.
The president suggested that representatives of the Catholic Church, prominent journalists, members of civil society, and both government and opposition figures could be members of the commission.
Since Maduro made the proposal, both pro-government and opposition parliamentarians have been debating the commission’s formation.
A deputy of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Pedro Carreño, said this week that the commission should represent the correlation of forces in the National Assembly, and contain five PSUV assembly deputies and three opposition deputies. At least one opposition deputy, Stalin Gonzalez, has argued that the commission should be a 50/50 balance between the government and the opposition.
Once created, a secretary, advisers and a support team could be appointed to the commission, deputy Carreño said on Tuesday.
President Maduro has also invited all sectors in the country, including the opposition, to sign an agreement in order to “renounce violence…as a method of doing politics”. The head of state has warned both the opposition and chavistas not to engage in violent acts.
The opposition’s investigation
The opposition’s MUD coalition, in conjunction with some NGOs, is preparing its own report on the recent violence. Conservative newspaper El Universal said on Sunday that the report’s aim will be to “accuse the national government of crimes against humanity to international organisations”.
The MUD and collaborating organisations say that according to their investigations and testimonies collected, there exist cases of mistreatment and “torture” of arrested protesters whilst under custody, as well as cases of excessive use of force at the time of arrest.
Elenis Rodriguez, the president of the Foundation for Citizen Rights and Equity, said to press on Sunday that the organisations are collecting testimonies on the student deaths and where offences have presumably been committed by members of state security forces. “In all these cases the direct responsibility belongs to the government that Nicolas Maduro presides, and therefore it should be accused of crimes against humanity,” she argued.
The lawyer did not mention plans to investigate any of the recent acts of violence not presumed by the opposition to be connected with either government supporters or state security forces, and did not mention plans to bring the report before any national judicial authorities before going to “international organisations”.
The Venezuelan government has strongly rejected claims that it engages in “repression” and “violations” of human rights.
“In Venezuela human rights are not violated, there isn’t torture, and if an official is discovered [committing such acts], we investigate that official and hand them over to public prosecutors. Human rights are respected here,” declared President Maduro to media last week.
During the founding meeting of the national “Peace Conference” last night in Miraflores Palace, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz also underlined that security bodies, including the armed forces, must “act correctly” and that any offences “will be punished and sanctioned according to the constitution and the law”.
Ortega also requested that any cases of offences committed by security forces be reported to the Attorney General’s office for investigation.
However the top public attorney also warned that for “peace” to be constructed, violent groups would have to cease their attacks on government property and wider society. “These [violent] attitudes need to be laid to rest,” she said.