‘Ill treat­ment, even tor­ture’

U.N. says Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment has been us­ing ex­ces­sive force against op­po­si­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Mery Mo­gol­lon and Chris Kraul Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Mo­gol­lon and Kraul re­ported from Caracas and Bogota, Colom­bia, re­spec­tively.

CARACAS, Venezuela — United Na­tions hu­man rights of­fi­cials Tues­day held Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for the use of ex­ces­sive force on op­po­si­tion de­mon­stra­tors in clashes that since March have claimed 132 lives.

U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights Zeid Raad Hus­sein said in a state­ment that the vi­o­lence has fol­lowed an ev­i­dent pat­tern and that se­cu­rity forces and pro-gov­ern­ment groups were re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of more than 70 pro­test­ers.

“Sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple have been ar­bi­trar­ily de­tained, many re­port­edly sub­jected to ill treat­ment and even tor­ture, while sev­eral hun­dred have been brought be­fore mil­i­tary rather than civil­ian courts,” Hus­sein said. “And these pat­terns show no signs of abat­ing.

“The re­spon­si­bil­ity for the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions we are record­ing lies at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Of the 5,051 peo­ple de­tained be­tween April 1 and the end of July, more than 1,000 re­main in cus­tody, the or­ga­ni­za­tion said. U.N. of­fi­cials con­ducted in­ter­views with 135 wit­nesses and vic­tims of street vi­o­lence, but did so from Panama and Switzer­land be­cause Venezue­lan of­fi­cials de­nied them en­try into the coun­try, Hus­sein said.

Se­cu­rity forces ap­peared re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of at least 46 pro­test­ers, and pro-gov­ern­ment groups re­ferred to as “armed colec­tivos” were re­spon­si­ble for 27, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. hu­man rights team’s anal­y­sis. Who caused the other deaths re­mained un­clear.

The state­ment came as Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment dis­qual­i­fied can­di­dates of the main dis­si­dent par­ties from run­ning in seven gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions this year, without ex­pla­na­tion.

In ad­di­tion, the na­tion’s Supreme Court is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for Ra­mon Mucha­cho, mayor of the Cha­cao bor­ough of Caracas, and sen­tenced him to 15 months in prison for not fol­low­ing an order to re­move street bar­ri­cades in the dis­trict. Mucha­cho is among sev­eral may­ors dis­qual­i­fied from of­fice and sen­tenced to prison since protests be­gan.

On Mon­day night, the Maduro-con­trolled Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil said mem­bers of par­ties mak­ing up the Demo­cratic Unity coali­tion were for­bid­den to run for gov­er­nor in seven of the na­tion’s 23 states: Zu­lia, Apure, Mon­a­gas, Bo­li­var, Tru­jillo, Aragua and Carabobo. The dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions were the results of “de­ci­sions taken” in the re­spec­tive states, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said.

Elec­tions were sup­posed to have been held last year, but Maduro post­poned them un­til this De­cem­ber. Crit­ics have said the deeply un­pop­u­lar pres­i­dent, whose ap­proval rat­ings have plunged to about 20%, de­layed the elec­tions to avoid losses in those cru­cial states.

The protests that have en­gulfed Venezuela since late March have been tied to dis­con­tent over food short­ages, vi­o­lent crime, a cratered econ­omy marked by triple-digit in­fla­tion and Maduro’s au­to­cratic gov­ern­ing style.

The most re­cent out­rage in the eyes of the op­po­si­tion was the new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly, which called its first ses­sion Satur­day and fired Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz, the most prom­i­nent critic of Maduro within the gov­ern­ment.

On Tues­day, the as­sem­bly de­clared it­self su­pe­rior to all other branches of gov­ern­ment.

Maduro main­tains that a new char­ter is nec­es­sary to bring order to Venezuela, though crit­ics say its pur­pose is to side­line the demo­crat­i­cally elected Na­tional As­sem­bly and per­pet­u­ate a failed so­cial­ist eco­nomic model.

Au­thor­i­ties Tues­day blocked mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly from en­ter­ing the Fed­eral Leg­isla­tive Palace. The space in­stead has been taken over by the 545 del­e­gates of the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly.

Maduro finds him­self in­creas­ingly iso­lated in the re­gion, with the heads of sev­eral Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, in­clud­ing Colom­bia, Mex­ico and Peru, de­nounc­ing the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly as anti-demo­cratic. Last week­end, Venezuela was sus­pended from mem­ber­ship in the Mer­co­sur trad­ing block.

For­eign min­is­ters of 17 Latin Amer­i­can na­tions are meet­ing in Lima, Peru, to dis­cuss a re­sponse to what’s hap­pen­ing in Venezuela. Peru’s for­eign min­is­ter, Ri­cardo Luna, said last week that his coun­try may sever diplo­matic ties with Venezuela to protest the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly.

Venezue­lan De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez said in an ad­dress to the na­tion Mon­day that armed forces were still look­ing for the “ter­ror­ists” who par­tic­i­pated in Sun­day’s at­tack on a fort in the western city of Va­len­cia. Seven of the at­tack­ers were ar­rested and two were killed in the as­sault, in which sus­pects fled with 100 ri­fles taken from the fort’s ar­mory.

Among those still at large Tues­day was the at­tack­ers’ ap­par­ent leader, who iden­ti­fied him­self in a video re­leased be­fore the in­ci­dent as na­tional guard Capt. Juan Caguar­i­pano. Lopez de­scribed Caguar­i­pano as a de­serter, spon­sored by ex­iles in Mi­ami, who par­tic­i­pated in the at­tempted 2002 coup against then-Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez. There were no signs of at­tacks spread­ing to other mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions, Lopez added.

A video made public Tues­day showed a uni­formed of­fi­cer who iden­ti­fied him­self as na­tional guard Capt. Javier Ni­eto Quin­tero stat­ing his sup­port of the week­end at­tack at the fort.

He added that Caguar­i­pano is “a man of honor, of loy­alty, of com­mit­ment to the coun­try with no po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.”

Pho­to­graphs by Juan Bar­reto AFP/Getty Im­ages

PO­LICE ar­rest a pro­tester in Caracas, Venezuela, last month. The U.N. high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights said se­cu­rity forces and pro-gov­ern­ment groups were re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of more than 70 pro­test­ers.

A MEM­BER of the na­tional guard pur­sues pro­test­ers in Caracas last month. Venezuela is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing food short­ages, vi­o­lent crime and triple-digit inf la­tion.

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