Venezuela’s OAS Rep: Opposition Human Rights Claims a Smear Campaign

Venezuelan opposition groups seek to use human rights issues to discredit the government of President Hugo Chávez before the international community, according to Germán Saltrón, Venezuela’s human rights representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Germán Saltrón, Venezuela's human rights representative to the OAS (VTV)

Caracas, October 20th 2009 ( – Venezuelan opposition groups seek to use human rights issues to discredit the government of President Hugo Chávez before the international community, according to Germán Saltrón, Venezuela’s human rights representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“On the issue of human rights, Venezuela has nothing to hide; only a week’s stay here would convince anyone that there is complete adherence to the Constitution. This is a campaign orchestrated by the media and aimed at discrediting President Chávez,” said Saltrón.

In recent weeks, opposition political parties and right-wing student groups have held a number of protests demanding that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an institution of the OAS, visit the country to investigate allegations of “political persecution.”

In late September, around 150 opposition students held a 6-day hunger strike over the arrest and detention of private university student Julio Rivas in relation to a violent protest on August 22nd. Rivas, who has since been released, faces charges of instigating criminal acts, resisting authority, inciting civil rebellion, and “generic” use of firearms during the protest.

Opposition groups claim that there are currently 39 “political prisoners” in Venezuela, including Raul Jose Diaz Peña, who was convicted of involvement in two bomb attacks against the headquarters of the General Consulate of Colombia and the Spanish Embassy on February 25th 2003.

Diaz Peña, who was arrested in February 2005, initially confessed to the charges. In October of the same year his attorneys submitted a petition to the IACHR alleging he was forced to sign a confession, that the warrant for his arrest had expired, and therefore he had been detained illegally, and that he was not read his rights.

Opposition groups also consider Caracas Prefect Ricardo Blanco, who is charged with incitement to crime and seriously injuring a police officer in relation to an incident on August 22nd in which a Metropolitan police officer, Jhonatan Bermúdez, was severely beaten by a group of opposition protestors, to be a political prisoner.

Also on the list of alleged “political prisoners” are former metropolitan police officers Iván Simonovis, Henry Vivas, and Lázaro Forero and six others, convicted of homicide for shooting demonstrators during the April 2002 military coup which briefly ousted Chavez from power.

The Venezuelan government regards the cases as common criminal cases.

Asked about alleged political prisoners in Venezuela, Saltrón said, “There are none. We believe that a political prisoner is anyone who is under custody, without a trial, and who remains apprehended without recourse to the courts and without being sentenced. In Venezuela, there are no cases with those characteristics.”

José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the OAS, said recently that any visit by the IACHR to investigate opposition claims would be possible only if agreed to by the Venezuelan government.

However, the Venezuelan government has said it will not accept a visit by the IACHR as long as Santiago Cantón remains the executive secretary of the body, due to his failure to condemn the April 2002 coup.

In 2004, the Venezuelan government submitted a formal request to the IACHR calling for Cantón’s disqualification from participation in all matters related to human rights in Venezuela due to his “manifest and reiterated partiality… against the state, the government and the Venezuelan people.”

Referring to the issue, Saltrón said recently, “For not acknowledging that in 2002 there was a coup in Venezuela, for recognizing the de facto government of Pedro Carmona Estanga… we will not allow the entry of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Venezuela as opposition sectors have requested.”

Saúl Ortega, the vice president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, told reporters last week that “for Venezuela, this is a matter of principles, since this man [Cantón] and the Organization of American States endorsed Pedro Carmona’s dictatorship, following the coup d’etat in 2002. Therefore, the government believes that as long as Cantón and his henchmen who support dictatorships remain in office, they [the IACHR] will not come to the country.” 

However, Saltrón said Venezuela would be willing to cooperate with multilateral organizations over human rights in the country if the IACHR apologizes to the Venezuelan government for its actions during the events of April 2002.

Coinciding with the opposition campaign inside Venezuela, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is an opposition leader, undertook an international tour with stopovers in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and France over the past week.

During his tour, Ledezma criticized Venezuela’s alleged interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and called for the international community to investigate alleged human rights violations in Venezuela.

National Assembly Legislator Juan Carlos Dugarte criticized Ledezma’s tour as part of a “disinformation campaign” against the Venezuelan government.