The Human Rights Foundation said Wednesday that it strongly condemns the ongoing crackdown on elected public officials in Venezuela. Following the arbitrary detention and prosecution of opposition leader Leopoldo López in February, opposition mayors Daniel Ceballos and Vicenzo Scarano were removed from office and sentenced to prison, while opposition assemblywoman Maria Corina Machado was dismissed from the National Assembly, the foundation noted.
The Venezuelan regime, which has been using police, military, and paramilitary forces to repress massive student protests, is cracking down on these three officials with charges of incitement and other vague, politically-motivated allegations related to the protests, it added.
“The 49.12 percent of Venezuelans who voted against Maduro in the last presidential election are now effectively disenfranchised because the government rules by decree, deprives their elected representatives of any meaningful participation in the country’s legislative body and local governments, and stigmatizes opposition leaders as fascists, nazis, and terrorists for standing against the authoritarian status quo,” said Garry Kasparov, foundation chairman.
“Not only is half of the country prevented from participating in their own political institutions, but their voices have been silenced following the shutdown of all independent TV networks in the country. Meanwhile, the long list of individuals who have been killed, detained, and tortured continues to grow. Judges are arresting innocent people to keep their jobs, armed paramilitary colectivos are murdering protestors under presidential orders broadcast on mandatory national television, and authorities like the attorney general and the ombudswoman are bending over backward to defend the government against documented accusations of torture,” said Kasparov.
March 13, Maduro threatened Venezuela’s mayors, saying that they would face serious consequences if they did not clear the barricades set up by protestors on roads in their municipalities. March 19, the mayor of the municipality of San Diego in Carabobo state, Enzo Scarano, who was elected in December with 75.24 percent of the vote, was removed from office and sentenced to 10 months and 15 days in jail for allegedly committing the crime of libel (desacato) for disobeying a ruling by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice that instructed him to “prevent the placing of obstacles on public roads that block, hinder, or alter the free passage of people and vehicles,” said the foundation.
March 25, Mayor Daniel Ceballos, who won 67.67 percent of the vote in the municipal elections Dec. 8, was removed from office and sentenced to 12 months in prison for the same crime, the foundation added. Ceballos is also facing charges of civil rebellion and unlawful assembly. Ceballos was the mayor of San Cristobal in the state of Táchira, a municipality at the epicenter of the protests.
Maria Corina Machado, who was brutally beaten by members of the ruling party during a session of congress last year, was dismissed by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice from her post at the National Assembly. The dismissal came days after the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, stated that Machado was no longer a member of the assembly. Cabello also accused her of treason after Machado was granted time by Panamá at the Organizaton of American States to speak about the Venezuelan crisis. Cabello previously accused Mr. Machado of being an “accomplice, an instigator of murder in this country,” and stated: “Here in Venezuela she will be tried as a murderer, she will be tried as a terrorist, she will be tried for crimes against humanity, for conspiracy, she will be tried for destabilizing this country,” the foundation said.
“The kangaroo courts that summarily convicted Ceballos, Scarano, and Machado are just part of the mounting proof that Venezuela ceased to be a democracy long ago. Maduro has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and for months has legislated via the same decretos ley that Pinochet and Videla used in the seventies,” said Kasparov.
“All democratic countries in the world should emulate the European Parliament and be firm in expressing solidarity with the Venezuelan people and emphatically condemning the dictatorial measures of the regime. The world must denounce the regime’s ongoing crackdown on the legitimate representatives of 49.12 percent of Venezuelans who refuse to stand idly by as they are dragged toward a Stalinist dictatorship like the one that has ruled Cuba for the past 55 years,” said Kasparov.