Fahoum ’18: What has become of #SOSVenezuela?

Last year the world watched as Venezuela’s socialist government seemed to teeter in March as a result of the student-led anti-government protests. The government sent in tanks to quell the unrest while government supporters provoked street violence and protesters set fires to the streets of Caracas. Student demonstrations, which sparked violent reactions from pro-government gangs, began in February 2014 as a means to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro’s government. However, these efforts did not result in the fall of Maduro, but instead resulted in several months of unrest.

A year after the demonstrations started the world is no longer interested in the happenings of Venezuela. The global indifference in this case is unacceptable; turmoil is present and has affected the Venezuelan economy and security, leading to an economic crisis and an increase in violence and crime.

Many people who took part in the demonstrations are still held up in jail on a false basis of accusation and are being held against human rights laws. One of those prisoners is Leopoldo Lopez, the charismatic leader of the opposition who turned himself in after marching with his supporters and giving a great farewell. This decision was made by Lopez himself after being charged with offenses such as arson and incitement during the demonstrations. Lopez’s release was expected to be fast due to the nature of the situation he was charged in. However, he was jailed for 12 months in a military prison while his trial is often delayed in spite of the United Nations’ human rights chief’s order of release.

According to Amnesty International, more than 3,000 people were detained during the protests, 400 of which were adolescence. Most of the detainees have been released since, but the government is still detaining any protestors or anti-government suspects for charges as small as posting a message on Twitter. Human Rights Watch described the unjust and dreadful setting in which these detainees are held; they are usually physically abused and having false evidence planted against them by the security forces, while judges and prosecutors turn away from facing such accusations. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has reported multiple cases of torture in detention cells. The torture facing detainees includes burnings, using electric shocks and beatings. Despite the “official” physical abuse that takes place in prison, detainees face everyday violence conducted by criminals and gang members that were imprisoned before the demonstrations began. Due to the deteriorating infrastructure, very weak security, corruption and poorly trained guards, armed gangs have the ability to control prisons.

These shocking facts are only a small part of the ongoing government-led violence. It is now more difficult than ever to protest; the smallest form of anti-government protest would get one detained in no time and that leads to the increasing fear and mistrust in Venezuela. But in spite of the overwhelming censorship and violent measures taken, the use of lethal weapons by the police is now legal, showing the fear that is hidden behind the high walls and many security guards of Maduro’s government.