Members Colombia and Brazil routinely violate human rights in their own countries, claims Amnesty International.
No 2440 Posted by fw, February 25, 2019
“As Lima Group members Columbia and Brazil foment unrest on Venezuela’s borders, their right-wing regimes routinely violate human rights in their own countries. For The Real News Network, I met in Caracas with Venezuelan human rights activist Antonio Gonzalez Plessman to discuss the human rights situation in the region. According to Mr. Gonzalez Plessman, Western governments and media are magnifying human rights violations in Venezuela while minimizing or ignoring altogether human rights violations by the governments of Lima Group members, including Colombia and Brazil.” —Dimitri Lascaris
Antonio Gonzalez Plessman holds degrees from Venezuelan and Ecuadorian universities, and has been a human rights activist and militant leftist since the 1980s.
Below is my repost of Dimitri Lascaris’ interview with human rights activist Antonio Gonzalez Pressman. The piece includes an embedded video of the 11-minute interview, along with my transcript and added hyperlinks to referenced sources. Alternatively, watch the video on the website of The Real News Network, but without the transcript.
Venezuelan human rights activist Antonio Gonzalez Plessman discusses the human rights situation in Venezuela and other Latin American states.
00:00 – This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News Network. For the past several weeks the government of Justin Trudeau has spearheaded efforts by the Lima Group to topple the government of Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro and replace President Maduro with the little-known president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó. Guaidó has never been elected as Venezuela’s president.
The Lima Group is an ad hoc collection of 12 right-leaning governments from Central and South America plus Canada. In spearheading these efforts, Justin Trudeau and his foreign minister Chrystia Freeland have repeatedly invoked the human rights of Venezuela’s people and have described Nicolás Maduro as a brutal dictator. (See photo of Freeman at the end of this post).
Two key members of the Lima Group are Colombia and Brazil each of which share a border with Venezuela. The president of Colombia is the American-educated Iván Duque Márquez, a former banker. The president of Brazil is Jair Bolsonaro, a retired military officer who has openly praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship.
In evaluating the veracity of Justin Trudeau’s claims the Lima Group is motivated by the human rights of Venezuela’s people, it is instructive to examine the human rights records of the governments of these two key Lima Group members. According to Amnesty International’s most recent country report on Colombia
“There were allegations of deliberate killings by state forces and allegations of excessive use of force by the mobile anti-riot squad ESMAD…” [Page 133]
“One indigenous man, Felipe Castro Basto was reported to have died when ESMAD opened fire on a demonstration by 200 indigenous people. The Association of Community Councils Mira, Nulpe and Mataje (Asominuma) reported that, on 5 October, security forces killed nine peasant farmers by indiscriminately firing at a peaceful demonstration in Tumaco.” [Page 133]
Amnesty also reports that
“Human rights defenders [in Colombia] continued to be the victims of threats and targetted killings. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that at least 105 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia during the [past] year. There was continuing concern over the increase in the number of attacks against defenders…” [page 133]
Amnesty International’s reporting on Brazil reports an equally troubling picture. In its most recent country report on Brazil, Amnesty states:
“Up to 200 different proposals for constitutional amendments, new laws and changes to existing legislation threatened a range of human rights. Among other retrogressive measures, proposals were introduced to reduce the age at which children can be tried as adults to below 18; change or revoke the Disarmament Bill, facilitating licensing and purchasing of firearms; restrict the right to peaceful assembly and to criminalize social protests; impose a full ban on abortion, violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls; change the land demarcation process and requirements for free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples and Afrodescendant communities; and reduce the protection of labour rights and access to social security.” [page 98]
Amnesty also added:
“Human rights defenders, especially those in rural areas, continued to be threatened, attacked and killed. The states of Pará and Maranhão were among those where defenders were at the highest risk. According to the civil society coalition Brazilian Committee for Human Rights Defenders, 62 defenders were killed between January and September, an increase from the previous year. … Budget cuts and lack of political will to prioritize the protection of human rights defenders resulted in the dismantling of the National Programme of Protection, leaving hundreds exposed to a higher risk of attacks.” [page 100]
03:48 — Of course human rights violations by Colombian and Brazilian authorities in no way justify any human rights violations committed by authorities in Venezuela. But human rights violations by states that are members of the Lima Group do raise serious doubts about whether the true agenda of the Lima Group is the protection of the human rights of the Venezuelan people. The question nonetheless remains:
“Is Nicolás Maduro in fact a brutal dictator? Or are the Lima Group’s allegations that his government is committing severe human rights violations exaggerated or unfounded?”
In Caracas Venezuela I recently explored this question with human rights activist Antonio Gonzalez Plessman. Mr. Gonzalez Plessman holds degrees from Venezuelan and Ecuadorian universities. He has been a human rights activist and militant leftist since the 1980s. A former vice rector of the National Experimental Security University, he took part in the process of police reform initiated in Venezuela in 2006.
Here’s what he had to say to The Real News Network.
04:50 — Antonio Gonzalez Plessman — In Venezuela, just like any other country in the world, human rights are violated. Just like it happens in any other country on planet earth. However, there is a very different standard when it comes to publicity, and spreading the news about human rights violations.
When we talk about US allies and powerful countries like Israel or Saudi Arabia, their human rights violations are minimized. In the case of democracies that try to experiment with anti-hegemonic systems, then human rights violations, which do exist and are real, those are ultra visualized to make it show like those societies are anti-democratic and anti-human rights.
That doesn’t mean that in Venezuela violations of human rights never happen; of course they exist, for a long time now, structural ones. Poverty is a structural violation to human rights. And while the Bolivarian Revolution initially had success fighting it, over the last five years it has increased.
And when poverty rises, so does hunger, homelessness, and lack of education, which are inherent to poverty. Over the last three and a half years, police repression of popular sectors has risen as well, that is true. The fact that it happens in Venezuela does not mean it’s not happening in Colombia, Peru, or many other countries considered strong democracies that respect human rights.
I think it is important not to ignore real human rights violations that happen in Venezuela, but we shouldn’t over-exaggerate it, like it’s exceptional and only happens here. But it does happen in other countries of Latin America.
06:41 – Lascaris – You know, I attended a rally by the opposition on Saturday, and what struck me as someone who has attended many protests in the Western world was the complete absence of riot police and military personnel at this rally even though Juan Guaidó is effectively calling for the military to rebel against the elected president of Venezuela. Is it fair to say in your opinion that, relative to other countries in Latin America – for example Colombia, Brazil under its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, Argentina and so forth – that there’s a relatively healthy level of free speech in this country?
07:22 – Plessman – In Venezuela there is as little freedom of expression as there is in Colombia, where the political elites control the private media. The Colombian people do not really enjoy media that portrays many different voices. That happens in Venezuela too. The state is exerting stronger control over the media. There are spaces for freedom of expression and pluralism in digital media, but as far as large mass media markets, those either belong to the state or have alliances with the state. So, yes, there is less freedom of expression right now in Venezuela.
But to understand this, we need to look into the past. Media companies were the main weapons in the political opposition’s arsenal from 2001 to 2006, when they let their guard down a little bit. Until then they were the opposition’s vanguard. I am not talking about casual actors, but about the owners being part of political conspiracies. And that caused a confrontation against the government which is what created the actual status quo of things, where plurality in the media has been greatly reduced.
08:37 – Lascaris – And you talked about the fact that over the last several years, there’s been an increase in repression. Do you think the increase in the repression when [in] the Maduro government is related to the external threats to the regime, and particularly the calls by Western powers and the United States government for the elected president to be deposed?
08:56 – Plessman – Yes, I think that this government , the government of Nicolás Maduro, was born too weak. It was born after the death of Chavez, who was a charismatic leader, able to keep the cohesion inside the Chavista movement. [It was born] in the context of the fall in oil prices, and that of uncertainty about a political class. The international and the local right took advantage of that moment of weakness to strike the blow they hadn’t been able to in the 15 years before that.
And the response by the government has been to increase clienteles* and police repression in certain targeted popular sectors. And that is what any weak government would do – rule by consent or coercion. So as consent fell in the polls, the government increased the levels of coercion. And yes, in good measure that has been a response to a state of weakness generated from the outside. [*clienteles – plural of clientele, all members of a group]
It has been generated because of a conspiracy by the international and local right. But we must also recognize the mistakes of the Chavista movement’s political elite, which are always related to the international right.
10:15 – Lascaris – I’d like to conclude on a different subject. We’ve been talking about human rights. I also understand you’ve written about efforts at the grassroots level of ordinary citizens through collectives and cooperatives to deal with the economic crisis. Can you tell us about some of those initiatives? How are people at the grassroots organizing to deal with the crisis?
10:33 – Plessman – Look, we bet on popular power, on the concept that only the people can save the people. That implies strengthening popular organizations’ economical capacities and autonomy from the capital sector, as well as from the state. That is our strategic bet, and we believe that from there we have to rebuild the Venezuelan left, and in particular the Chavistas.
[11:00 — END OF TRANSCRIPT]
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