Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

A story which ran in the local papers this past week speaks eloquently to the realities which have been elaborately highlighted in the report released earlier this month by the United Nations Human Rights chief, the former Chilean president.

This story is about the release from prison of a 25-year-old clarinettist, Karen Palacios, who was jailed for six weeks for the crime of criticising the government. She had also been dropped as a member of the country’s National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ms Palacios was visited one night by two men dressed in black. She did not know them. She was told she had been needed for an interview with a victims unit at the presidential palace. They took her away in a luxury SUV. But instead of going to the presidential palace, the men drove her to what was described in the article as one of Venezuela’s most notorious military prisons. She was said to have been placed alongside some of the government’s top opponents. She was accused of violating a hate law, said to be highly contentious.

She had posted a message on social media, expressing frustrating that the government had dropped her from the orchestra because she had signed a petition calling for Maduro’s recall as president. That was on May 26. She spent the next 45 days among some of Venezuela’s most hardened female criminals, the AP story said. She was released one month after a judge ordered her immediate release when the matter came to court.

She told friends and relatives on the day of her release, when they called to offer her the job, why didn’t they tell her that one of the requirements was to think the same as them. Her experience is what helped form the conclusions drawn in the Human Rights report compiled by Ms Bachelet, based on her visit to Venezuela in late June. It was said to have signalled the Maduro government’s growing use of arbitrary detentions to intimidate opponents—real or imagined, and to stifle free expression.

The report says that over the last decade, and especially since 2016, the government in Venezuela and its institutions had implemented a strategy of neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people who were critical of its performance. It said a series of laws, policies and practices had been developed which restricted the democratic space, dismantled institutional checks and balances and allowed patterns of grave violations.

It reported on how state institutions had been steadily militarised, how civil and military forces were accused of engaging in arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of persons critical of the government, as well as their relatives; of the sexual and gender-based violence of persons in detention, and during visits, and the excessive use of force during demonstrations.

Pro-government forces, known as the colectivos, have been accused of contributing to the deteriorating situation by exercising social control, and helping repress demonstrations. The UN Human rights team says it has documented 66 deaths during protests across Venezuela between January and May this year alone, 52 of which were attributable to government security forces of to the colectivos. And these are government figures, with the report saying that other sources suggest could be higher.

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At the end of May, this report said, 793 persons remained in arbitrary detention. This number included 58 women, and that 22 deputies of the National Assembly had been stripped of their parliamentary immunities. It said also that the majority of the victims of human rights violations had not had proper access to justice and remedies.

On the critical issue of freedom of expression, this report said the space for free and independent media has shrunk through the banning and closure of media outlets, and the detention of independent journalists. It said this. “Over the past years, the government has attempted to impose a communicational hegemony by enforcing its own version of events and creating an environment that curtails independent media.”

One of the questions for us here is the extent to which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago accepts this as reality, and in the circumstances, how is it disposed to treat with those Venezuelan nationals who turn up here, fleeing from this kind of human rights tyranny.

The people of Trinidad and Tobago remain in the dark over exactly what information the Government is using, to base its own position regarding the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

The report said also that, if this situation does not improve, the unprecedented outflow of Venezuelans, migrants and refugees, will continue, and the living conditions of those who remain will worsen.

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