Venezuelan Government Responds to “Hypocritical” Hunger Strike

The Venezuelan government has released a statement with a detailed chronology of the case of Franklin Brito, the hunger striker who died a few days ago, after opposition and international media implied the government was responsible for Brito’s death. The Venezuelan government argued the opposition encouraged Brito’s death for their own political gains.

Franklin Brito (Telesur)

Merida, September 3rd, 2010 ( – The Venezuelan government has released a statement with a detailed chronology of the case of Franklin Brito, the hunger striker who died a few days ago, after opposition and international media implied the government was responsible for Brito’s death. The Venezuelan government argued the opposition encouraged Brito’s death for their own political gains.

Franklin Brito died on Monday after a year of successive hunger strikes. According to RadioMundial he died of a respiratory failure, and Earle Siso, director of the Caracas Military Hospital where Brito died, elaborated that Brito had died from “accentuated protein malnutrition, immunological deterioration, and irreversible changes”.

Siso also emphasised that medical professionals “always attended to Brito” in the hospital which is “perhaps the best in the country”.

Brito, according to opposition press, was protesting the supposed expropriation of his land without compensation, though the government said no land was expropriated and rather it was a dispute over the border of land allocated to him by the government in 1999.

Brito and the opposition said the government was violating Brito’s private property rights, but the National Lands Institute (INTI) which was responsible for demarcating the land said it acted according to the law.

Since Brito’s death, the opposition and press have portrayed Brito as a resistance hero, a champion for the cause of the opposition, and a victim of the government.

Government response

Yesterday the government released its official position regarding Brito’s death. In the statement, after expressing its condolences to Brito’s family, the government outlined its version of the facts.

The government said Brito’s land was never expropriated by the state, nor invaded by other organisations.

Rather, according to the government, Brito received 290 hectares of productive land from the government, in Bolivar state. In March 2003 Brito denounced that his land overlapped with neighbouring land. Both lots of land were assigned by INTI. In November 2003 INTI responded to the denunciation and verified the borders and determined that there was no land overlap.

In 2005, INTI ratified Brito’s private property, certified his registration, and verified again that there was no land overlap. In 2006 Brito went to court with a constitutional appeal, but it was found to be inadmissible. In December of that year a judicial inspection confirmed again that there was no overlap. Then in March 2007 the Supreme Court also said there was no overlap.

In August 2009, INTI, “for humanitarian reasons, revoked the land grants awarded to the neighbouring land to Mr. Brito, and carried out a new revision of the land, to the detriment of the neighbours who occupied it before him,” the statement said.

“The citizen Franklin Brito had, in compliance with the law, all the support of the agricultural institutions of the government to carry out his productive activity, in the form of the granting of credits, machinery, land cleanup, among others,” the statement continued.

However, Brito went on hunger strike to add pressure to “a demand that had no basis in reality”.

“In January 2010, after medical verification of the serious state of health of citizen Franklin Brito in front of the local head office of the OAS [Organisation of American States], where he had been abandoned by opposition leaders after their spectacle during December 2009… the Attorney General’s office requested, before a judge, his admittance to hospital to save his life, as the state is obligated to do under the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s Constitution”.

At first Brito was looked after by the Red Cross in a private clinic, then later by the national government in a military hospital in Caracas, under the supervision of the Venezuelan Red Cross, “the only organisation to accompany the Venezuelan state in guaranteeing” Brito’s life, according to the statement.

The government’s statement quoted Venezuelan Red Cross General Secretary Hernan Bongioanni, “From a medical point of view, the practice of the doctors in the Military Hospital… had one aim, to safeguard the physical integrity and health of Mr Franklin Brito.”

“However the deterioration of health was irreversible and resulted in the fatal outcome,” said the statement.

“Regrettably we could not respond to a violation of rights that did not exist. Now, we are obliged to reject the hypocrisy of the media mob, the electoral opposition, of the authorities of the Catholic Church, who encouraged the extreme decision of Mr Brito with the only aim of achieving a death for their dirty banners.”

“None of them, who today hypocritically cried in front of the television cameras… did anything to save his life,” the statement concluded.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega talked to press, stating that the Attorney General’s office, represented by lawyers, had visited Brito 79 times to check on his health. She said the lawyers also tried to encourage him to start eating.

The Ombudsman’s Office also released a 15 page statement documenting how Brito’s rights had been legally protected, as well meetings that occurred, phone calls that were made, monetary offers made by the government to Brito to resolve the “conflict”, actions taken by the Ombudsman’s Office, visits made, medical reports and Brito’s medical state, as well as conclusions about the case.

Opposition using Brito’s death

According to state owned RadioMundial towards the end of his hunger strike,the national executive requested a protection order for Brito under the belief that opposition sectors were interested in Brito’s death.

Then today Ortega announced that she had received an accusation on Wednesday that Brito’s death had been encouraged. She said under Venezuelan law, anyone “who induces an individual to commit suicide or helps a person towards that end, will be punished, if the suicide is carried out, with a prison sentence of seven to ten years.”

As a result of the accusation Ortega is requesting an investigation.

National opposition media and mainstream international press have tried to imply that Brito’s death was ultimately the government’s fault.

Venezuelan national paper El Universal headlined with,“Franklin Brito died without a response from the government” and ran another article in English headlining with “Venezuelan government held responsible for death of hunger striker”. In that article El Universal reported that lawyers warned the case would “bring about legal and political consequences for the state”.

El Universal said NGO Foro por la Vida, which groups so-called human rights organisations, has lodged a complaint, saying the Venezuelan government was “arrogant” and “lacked sensibility”.

Venezuelan paper referred to the “sacrifice of Brito” and his “resisting” to “defend his rights” and west Venezuelan paper El Tiempo referred to Brito’s “moral victory”.

Outside Venezuela, the Miami Herald connected Brito’s death with Cuban hunger striker Orlando Zapata who also died recently and said the Venezuelan opposition “hoped Brito’s death would resonate as this nation braces for parliamentary elections Sept. 26 that could break the ruling party’s stranglehold.”

Then the Herald quoted Jose Antonio Colina, director of Veppex, a group for Venezuela “political exiles” in Miami, saying “Brito’s death has to be considered state-sponsored murder”.

The BBC reported that, “Brito’s emaciated body became a symbol of anti-government feeling” and referred to him as an “anti-Chavez hunger striker”. This is despite the fact that Brito’s demands were with INTI, not the president. The BBC article also reported that Brito’s family had called for the Venezuelan people to “continue their struggle for freedom”.

The opposition has employed a multi-faceted campaign against the government for many years now, which includes claiming that the government is against private property, scaring the population into thinking they could lose their houses, the issue of crime and violence, and the daily use of emotional pictures in the media, such as the recent photo by El Nacional of corpses in a morgue.