From the Quarantine in Venezuela: “The Government is Using This as a Mechanism of Political Control”

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a number of restrictions on fundamental human rights across the world. Certain measures are necessary in the fight against the virus, but the governments of some countries are abusing the current situation. In Venezuela, health care workers and journalists who speak up about the situation are threatened with detention.

The ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela had the country in crisis mode even before the coronavirus outbreak. With the situation escalating, the government is taking extreme measures to silence those who speak up. Last month, a journalist reporting on the spread of COVID-19 was jailed.

A human rights defender from the Venezuelan state Táchira here describes the current situation in a letter from quarantine:

Greetings from the quarantine in Táchira, Venezuela,

I am a human rights defender in Táchira, a Venezuelan state along the Colombian border. After more than two weeks in quarantine, it is time to tell our story. A story unknown to the rest of the world.

The state of Táchira has always been governed by the opposition, both during Hugo Chavez’s and Nicolás Maduro’s governments. In order to maintain control, Nicolas Maduro created a new authority in the state and placed his close ally Fredy Alirio Bernal Rosales in the position. He is now called the “Protector of Táchira”, and has vast powers.

Since then, the local government in Táchira has lost all economic control over the state to the “Protector”. The “Protector”, and five men that he calls “prosecutors”, govern with terror and have complete power over the prosecutor’s office. They also control the FAES, a special police unit in Venezuela accused of massive human rights violations and killings, who implement all their operations. Táchira has been very seriously affected by the political repression of Nicolas Maduro’s government. FAES initiates false police operations and accuses people of fake crimes and use force and repression to control the state.

Those who speak up are threatened with detention

The “Protector” and his team also control the healthcare system in Táchira. The first two cases of COVID-19 in Táchira were confirmed on 6 April. The arrival of this virus puts us in an emergency situation. Those in charge of managing everything related to COVID-19 are military staff. No one can speak up about the lack of medical supplies or the inadequate availability of information about infected people. Any journalist, political opposition, local authority, or hospital director who describes the situation publicly can be detained. Nurses and doctors from the health workers union were detained and threatened when they denounced the lack of supplies and working conditions during the pandemic.

On 13 March, Nicolas Maduro declared a ‘state of alarm’ due to the COVID-19. Since then, the “Protector of Táchira” has issued a number of decrees that restrict the freedoms of the citizens in Táchira. Before the declaration of a ‘state of alarm’, Táchira had already been without access to fuel for six days. The day after, we were informed that there would be no fuel for anyone other than health workers or food distributors. But in reality, the farmers from the mountains around San Cristobal, the capital of Táchira, report that every time there is a fuel delivery it is all taken by the national guard. Those who protest suffer arbitrary detentions, and even healthcare workers report that they get rejected at the gas stations and cannot buy the fuel they need.

Being in quarantine without kitchen gas or water for days

The restrictions on fuel supplies and the silencing of those who speak up are just some of the illegal decrees that the “Protector of Táchira” has put in place. It is also forbidden to travel between municipalities, and many motorcycles – a popular means of transportation – have been confiscated. The lack of public services, which was already bad before COVID-19, has worsened further. Being in quarantine with several power cuts a day, without internet most of the time, and without kitchen gas and water for days, creates a very serious situation.

Venezuela’s constitution guarantees our fundamental human rights. The rights cannot be repealed by a decree or a resolution. When declaring a ‘state of alarm’ there are established procedures that cannot violate our fundamental rights. This has been totally ignored by the government. The ‘state of alarm’ should be a measure to reduce the suffering of the citizens. But instead the government is using it as a mechanism of political control. If this continues, it will not only lead to the population suffering from COVID-19, it will also increase the number of victims and deaths from other diseases, malnutrition, and social unrest.

We Are Watching.

Authoritarian governments must not use the corona pandemic as an excuse to repress human rights or silence critical voices. We are watching you. We will call out human rights violations and hold you accountable. Keep track of the world with us here.

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