Human Rights Breached by Continued Protest Violence, Venezuelan Ombudswoman Says

Ongoing protests in Venezuela are undermining human rights, according to Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez, who believes media inaccuracy contributes to the prolongation of these infringements. Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. senator Marco Rubio presented Congress with a mistaken photo while petitioning for sanctions against Venezuela.

By Z.C. Dutka
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Empty beds at major hospital in Mérida, where militant protest blockades have not allowed for free transit of patients. (Correo del Orinoco)
Empty beds at major hospital in Mérida, where militant protest blockades have not allowed for free transit of patients. (Correo del Orinoco)

Santa Elena de Uairén, March 31st, 2014. (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Ongoing protests in Venezuela are undermining human rights, according to Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez, who believes media inaccuracy contributes to the prolongation of these infringements. Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. senator Marco Rubio presented Congress with a mistaken photo while petitioning for sanctions against Venezuela.

Venezuelan Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramirez indicated yesterday morning that recent protest violence and street barricades have infringed upon citizens’ rights across the country.

“When state laws are disregarded, public routes are obstructed, distribution of food and medicine on one side of the country is impeded- the state must act, because to not do so would be negligence,” she said.

Some regions are more inconvenienced than others. In the Andean city of Mérida, street barricades set up by protestors in mid February have blocked off hospital access and public transport routes since that time. Last week, three public officials were shot, two killed, while transiting the area or attempting to remove these barricades. A large hospital that regularly serviced 360 emergency patients per day reported a 78 percent drop in patients since the barricades blocked off access to their facilities.

Ramírez also noted the public human rights defender’s determination to protect citizens from irregular military activity and abuse of power during the ongoing conflict. She cited 757 interventions executed on behalf of citizens since the start of the protests on February 12th, within jails, health centers, and in neighborhoods.

Ramírez said the judicial branches are “working hard to clear up each case with the greatest possible speed.”

She also cited that there existed three reports of torture under custody, for which 17 public order officials have been detained for investigation.

“We still have the scar of the Caracazo,” Ramirez said. “We are not interested in protecting any officials who detach from our accomplishments of the 1999 constitution, such as the safeguard of protest without the use of firearms.”

The Caracazo of February 1989 started as widespread protests against a sharp increase in bus fares and ended in between 300 – 3000 civilian deaths at the hands of the military and the riot police. Constitutional rights were suspended, and while counts of the dead vary, the victims were buried in mass graves.

Ramírez reiterated that no institutional violence has been tolerated since the reforms led by late president Hugo Chavez.

On March 23rd the general commander of the Bolivarian National Guard made clear during a press conference that it is henceforth prohibited to detain any journalist, reporter, or civilian filming current events in Caracas and throughout the nation.

Ramírez stated her observation that international corporate media has done a poor job of representing the situation, oftentimes using unclear photos to form a negative public opinion.

Last week in Washington, Florida senator Marco Rubio made a passionate speech before U.S. Congress, petitioning for sanctions against the Venezuelan government. He presented a short series of photos meant to show the excessive use of force used by the military against protestors during recent unrest. One of the photos allegedly depicted military snipers shooting into a crowd of protestors from the top of a building. He said the photo was taken by protestors themselves.

In reality, the photo was taken by AFP photographer Juan Barreto in 2013, and shows military guards standing watch over the presidential palace, Miraflores.

He went on to refer to the 36 casualties as victims of military abuse, when in fact six of the 36 people who died were National Guard themselves, and the majority appear to have died as a result of the militant opposition’s street barricades.

Rubio criticized President Obama’s lack of force towards the Venezuelan government in recent months, while admitting that vice-president Joe Biden has been more vocal in that regard.

“It is shameful that the leadership of our government has not done more to address this.” Rubio said. “If the United States of America will not be a forceful voice, what nation on earth will? They [the protestors] look to us. Our own model of freedom and our republic inspires people. We say we stand for these principles- we need to defend them when they are threatened, especially in our own backyard.”

He called upon the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions, not only on high-up Venezuelan officials, but ideally upon all those who support the elected government of Nicolas Maduro. “If you support this, he said, waving his hand at the photos behind him, “this government should sanction you.”