Glaring camera lights and shaking microphones waved in front of Lorent Saleh, as three Venezuelan flags were raised at his back. Outside the gated house of ex-president Óscar Arias Sánchez, he spoke to reporters about the violent student protests in Caracas that led to three deaths Wednesday.
Saleh is head of Operación Libertad, a group of young activists protesting the Nicolas Maduro-led government ad seeking improved liberties regarding both food and physical security. He arrived with a group of Venezuelan supporters and transplants to meet with Arias, the 1987 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The 25-year-old human rights advocate decried the Maduro regime as remaining neglectful to its people and their well-being. He cited a staggering 25,000 murders that happened last year. He said he came to Costa Rica to seek vocal support from the country that has been appointed this year’s head of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which was born in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and promises to maintain essential rights and peace.
“Today we are confident that the violation of human rights can call attention to the international community,” Saleh said. “Today it’s been demonstrated that in Venezuela there is no democracy.”
He referred to the three young men who were killed by police as his friends and said the government is wrongly trying to blame the revolutionaries as being violent when they have only staged peaceable marches. “The protests will not stop,” he said. “The protests will continue, but in peace.”
Arias soon opened his doors and allowed Saleh and his large following of supporters and press to enter.
As the crowd circled around them, Saleh presented his case to Arias and said that the rights of Venezuelan students and youth were being compromised by repressive Venezuela authorities.
After a long discussion, Arias read from a written statement. As he looked into the television cameras he said that he agreed human rights violations were occurring in Venezuela.
He said Maduro’s government cannot call itself a democracy while it violently attacks and persecutes any opposition.
“I am aware that in making these statements I’m exposed to all sorts of criticism from the Venezuelan government,” Arias said. “They will accuse me of involving myself in internal affairs, of disrespecting their sovereignty and almost certainly of being a lackey of the empire.”
Arias’ speech quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., and adamantly opposed Maduro’s bullying. The 73-year-old ended his declaration by saying, “I have lived long enough to know that there is nothing worse than the fear to speak the truth.”
When his words ended, a loud applause and Venezuelan-themed chants broke the momentary silence. Many said thank you to Arias and to the country before they took personal photos with him.
Saleh appeared to know he would have Arias’ vote of confidence. On his way into Arias’ front doors, Saleh took a picture of the crowd behind him, then turned to his advisor and whispered, “See, Venezuela is not alone.”
By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff