Mérida, 20th October (Venezuelanalysis.com). This past Tuesday, the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) passed the Law against Forgetting, which mandates the investigation and remembering of politically-motivated state repression during the period of the Fourth Republic (1958-1998).
The law, formally called the Law to Sanction Crimes, Disappearances, Torture, and Violations of Human Rights for Political Reasons in the Period 1958-1998, was passed by the socialist majority in the AN. The legislation will establish a Truth and Justice Commission in order to identify and sanction the perpetrators of human rights violations, as well to discover the identity and number of victims who were tortured and killed during the Fourth Republic.
“This law will guarantee that the honour and dignity of the victims are vindicated…morally, socially, and politically,” declared José Javier Morales of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), upon introducing the assembly session.
The law also promotes rescuing the historical memory of the crimes and provides “moral and legal” reparation for families and friends of the victims.
Although the exact number of victims is still not known, it is thought over 4000 people were murdered and around 1000 ‘disappeared’ during this long period of repression against the Venezuelan left and popular movements.
Andrés Méndez (PSUV) added that the law it not aimed at attacking the right, but seeks “the moral sanction of certain acts that developed in a period below the face of a false democracy, that cannot repeat themselves, irrespective of who is in government”.
The Right to the Truth
The Truth and Justice Commission will seek to uncover the truth around, and perpetrators of, acts of state terror during the 4th Republic. Furthermore, the Commission will attempt to discover the whereabouts and identity of victim’s remains.
Article 13 of the legislation empowers the Commission to access classified documents including those from the old intelligence service DISIP as part of the investigation.
The Commission will be made up of 8 representatives from relevant state institutions, and 9 members of the Relatives and Friends of Victims Front. After three years it will produce a report which will serve to “clarify the truth” of state terrorism during the 4th Republic.
Marelis Pérez, deputy of the Latin American Parliament, explained the importance of the measures, which will “address the historic debt of impunity with hundreds of human beings. It is the inalienable right to the truth that our people have, to know of those great violations of human rights”.
The new legislation further provides for the rescue of collective historical memory of human rights abuses under the 4th Republic. These include incorporating this stage of Venezuela’s history into education and promoting the making of documentaries on the subject.
María del Mar de Lovera, widow of murdered communist leader Alberto Lovera, opined that acts of state repression in this period “have to be fully known, because it is part of history”, emphasising that the Venezuelan youth must be made aware of “what happened in this country” during the 1960s – 1990s period.
“They were people that said they were democrats, [but] there was never a real democracy. They tortured and killed my husband,” she said of the government at the time of her husbands’ assassination.
Alberto Lovera, a university lecturer and leader of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), was arrested on 17th October 1965 by officers of the DISIP. He was found dead 10 days later with signs of torture before being killed. The AN session paid tribute to his memory as the new law was passed, which was also held in the presence of relatives and friends of victims.
The Law against Forgetting was put to the AN for a first reading on 21 June this year. It then passed through a process of popular consultation in 22 territorial states in the country, with support and input from organisations of relatives and friends of those murdered and ‘disappeared’.
The period of the Fourth Republic in Venezuela is known as the era of “Puntofijismo”, in reference to the power-sharing pact between Copei (“Christian Democrat” party) and AD (“Democratic Action” party), signed in 1958 in Punto Fijo. This power-sharing arrangement, which effectively excluded political participation outside of these two main parties, lasted until the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998.
In 1962, the government of Rómulo Betancourt (AD) outlawed the PCV and other organisations of the Venezuelan left, driving them underground and initiating a 40-year period of repression.
Although the Fourth Republic existed as a formal electoral democracy and was lauded by international observers for its ‘exceptionalism’ as compared to the wave of Latin American military dictatorships in the 1960s to 1980s, this image masked a campaign of state violence against its opponents.
Some of the most infamous massacres that took place during this era include the Cantaura (1982), Yumare (1986), Amparo (1988) and Caracazo (February 1989) atrocities.
The right wing “Democratic Unity” (MUD) opposition bloc voted against the law in the AN, arguing that it promotes “hate and division” amongst the Venezuelan population.
Speaking on behalf of the MUD, Alebardo Díaz (Copei) argued that those proposing the law “are bringing into question 40 years of democracy. It is an act of revolutionary narcissism. It is a law generating hate.”
However, socialist legislator Cilia Flores suggested that the real reason the MUD oppose the law is because “they are the representatives of those sectors that refuse to punish the crimes and violations of that era.”
In June this year, the opposition were also accused of trying to throw a “cloak of immunity” over the crimes of that period by PSUV deputy Iris Valera.
For his part, Oscar Fuguera, AN deputy of the PCV, declared that the cynicism of the right wing parties would never hide the truth of the assassinations and disappearances perpetrated by the governments of the Fourth Republic era.
“(This law) is not about hate, but about closing that chapter of Venezuelan history” said Fernando Soto Rojas, president of the National Assembly.