Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Rejects Opposition Hunger Strike Demands for OAS Intervention

Wednesday Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro criticized opposition student demands that international organizations intervene in Venezuela’s “internal affairs” and repeated his calls for dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition.

By Juan Reardon - Venezuelanalysis.com

cancilleroea440.jpg

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (right) and Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami hold a press conference following their meeting with hungerstriking students.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (right) and Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami hold a press conference following their meeting with hungerstriking students.
Short URL

Mérida, February 17th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Wednesday Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro criticized opposition student demands that international organizations intervene in Venezuela’s “internal affairs” and repeated his calls for dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition. Maduro’s comments came on the 17th day of a student-led hunger strike demanding the release of two dozen prisoners and a “monitoring” of Venezuela by Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza as well as members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

“The Venezuelan Right criticizes the supposed lack of separation of powers in Venezuela but at the same time they ask us for the impossible,” said Maduro on Wednesday as he began a meeting with his Colombian counterpart, Maria Ángela Holguín.

“They [the hunger strikers] want the government to order the release of a murderer,” he said in reference to Active Youth, Venezuela United, or JAVU’s list of 27 “political” prisoners they want released in order to end their protest.

JAVU’s list of “political” prisoners includes, among other people, José Sanchez “Mazuco,” the former security chief of Venezuela’s Zulia state sentenced to 19 years in prison after he was convicted of assisting in the political assassination of Claudio Enrique Macías Briceño, a military intelligence office investigating possible misconduct by regional authorities before being detained, beaten and found hanged in a prison cell. 

“They [the opposition] should forget about us releasing people who have killed and are convicted of the crimes they’ve committed,” affirmed Maduro.

Opposition groups in Venezuela also claim that former Caracas 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, are "political prisoners."

With respect to demands for an “inspection” of Venezuela’s human rights record by the OAS’s Insulza, Maduro affirmed that Venezuela, “can not allow an international organization to come and resolve what is an internal issue.”

“We must resolve our own affairs ourselves,” he continued. “The demands of this group of the opposition’s youth should be resolved via an internal dialogue,” insisted Maduro.

According to the Venezuelan government, JAVU is the recipient of substantial funds from U.S. government affiliated organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), with the aim of interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs.

The Venezuelan opposition denies these allegations, affirming that JAVU is a youth organization founded in protest to the non-renewal of private television channel RCTV’s broadcasting concession in May 2007.

Repeated Calls for Intervention

Similar to opposition deputies’ requests at the start of their legislative term for OAS intervention, the opposition’s student hunger strike has from the outset sought international attention by setting up their protest at the doorstep of OAS offices in Caracas and making repeated calls for an Insulza visit.

Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper reported that while protestors on Thursday lacked the 250 people necessary to form a human chain around the OAS and European Union’s offices in downtown Caracas, the group’s coordinator Lorent Saleh presented a letter to the press calling on the international community to “support the youth and students who are going to make the real revolution in Venezuela” in contrast to the Bolivarian Revolution lead by president Hugo Chávez.   

Insulza on Wednesday told El Nuevo Herald that it would be “unacceptable to the OAS council or the council of any other international organism that the secretary general force his will on a member state” in reference to JAVU’s demand that Insulza insist on visiting Venezuela.  

In a statement released this week, Insulza wrote, “The doors of the OAS will always be open for dialogue with you, as with any group of citizens of the Americas that wishes to express its concerns and demands…But that can only happen with full respect for the sovereignty of countries and the powers of their governments. The decisions to accept and assume the issues proposed correspond to the national authorities, within the framework of the Rule of Law and respect for Human rights.”

Insulza also called on hunger strikers to “find other peaceful ways to express their discontent without putting their physical health at risk.”

In January Insulza made conflicting remarks regarding an Enabling Law passed late last year by Venezuela’s outgoing national assembly, first stating his concern that the law “violates” the OAS charter but later retracting his statements in an effort to be consistent with OAS policies that only member states can bring charges against other member states.

“Political” Prisoners

Jose Sanchez “Mazuco”, Biagio Pilieri, and Maria Lourdes Afiuni are three of the people on JAVU’s list of prisoners they want released. All three were elected to Venezuela’s national assembly during last year’s parliamentary elections as part of opposition efforts to denounce the existence of “political prisoners” in Venezuela.

“Mazuco,” as was noted above, was arrested and charged in 2007 for his involvement in the killing of Briceño, a member of Zulia’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM). At the time, Mazuco was Secretary of Security for opposition Zulia governor and presidential candidate Manuel Rosales. Rosales later fled to Peru to avoid corruption charges.

Biajio Pileiri, a former mayor from the state of Yaracuy (2000 – 2004), was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2010 for misuse of public funds and for soliciting bribes from private contractors. He is currently under house arrest.

Earlier this month, Pileiri chained himself to a fence at his home so as to avoid being transferred to Caracas to stand trial.

Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni was arrested in 2009 on conspiracy charges after she ordered the conditional release of businessman Eligio Cedeño who was in detention on charges of evading currency controls. Afiuni argued that her decision to release Cedeño was consistent with a Venezuelan law that stipulates a person can not be held for more than two years without being formally convicted.

Upon releasing him from prison, Afiuni personally drove Cedeño to his residence and was accused by Chávez and others of accepting bribes to assist in the release.

Some observers have questioned whether Afiuni and Cedeño could be considered political prisoners, since neither of them were campaigning against or criticizing the government before or at the time of their arrest.