María Alejandra Aristeguieta, Ambassador-designate in Switzerland of Venezuela interim President Juan Guaido, addresses the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On her father’s arrest:
“I normally work along with this Summit and I bring people and testimonies of victims to this hall nonetheless as we have had a lot of victims and now it was my family’s turn. On the 2nd of February at 3:00 in the morning a group of 11 heavily armed men and women jumped over the wall of the house where my father lives in Caracas and they tried to break down the doors.”
“My father woke up and he alerted my cousin with whom he lives and told him what was happening – and my father is 85.”
On the importance of activists working together:
“In this globalized world, if we can join forces, if we can work together, then we can use the strength of social networks and solidarity as leverage.”
“Our only real power is to join our voices, to speak the truth in many different places at the same time.”
“We are companions in misfortune and we all can work together to join our voices for a cause.”
I am the coordinator for the Initiative for Venezuela. I am Maria Aristeguieta, and my initiative works with UN Watch, and we have Venezuelan volunteers who live in Switzerland. We’re fighting for democracy, freedom, and for human rights. I’m going to be presenting some of the people who’ve been working tirelessly for democracy in Venezuela today.
We have Irwin Cotler here who is the Minister of Justice and a parliamentarian in Canada and he is an academic today and he is a very respected voice in human rights. He was recently appointed by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States to be part of this special group to study evidence collected to determine whether crimes against humanity have been committed by the Maduro regime.
We have Antonio Ledezma who was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2017. He’s one of the most famous political figures in Venezuela. He was elected twice the mayor of Caracas, he was a governor, a parliamentarian, a youth leader and founder of the political party Alianza Bravo Pueblo. In 2015 he became one of the most well known political prisoners of Venezuela, indefatigably fighting against the dictatorship, and in November he was able to denounce the abuses of the humanitarian crisis that Venezuela is struggling from and in November last year he made a spectacular escape from prison.
We have Luis Almagro, the Secretary of the the Organization of American States, who spoke this morning.
Now this section of the conference will be divided into two parts. In the first part we will be hearing individual testimonies and then we’ll have a short debate on the current situation and how they see the current situation and the future but before I give the floor to Mr. Cotler I wanted to take a few moments to share with you my personal account of a situation that has occurred because I have also been a victim as many of you here today.
I normally work along with this Summit and I bring people and testimonies of victims to this hall nonetheless as we have had a lot of victims and now it was my family’s turn. On the 2nd of February at 3:00 in the morning a group of 11 heavily armed men and women jumped over the wall of the house where my father lives in Caracas and they tried to break down the doors. My father woke up and he alerted my cousin with whom he lives and told him what was happening – and my father is 85. He’s a lawyer, he’s a historian, and he’s been active in politics ever since his youth. He’s a well-known historical figure in Venezuela and he played an important role ever since the Junta Patriotica at the beginning of Venezuelan democracy in 58’. He has been an ambassador, a minister, a deputy governor, acting governor, and director of the Venezuelan electoral council and today he is an inspiration for many generations of young people thanks to his tireless fight for human rights. In addition to all of this, he’s a tweeter and he posts a very harsh messages against the dictatorship to almost 200,000 followers and Twitter and they respond. The officials of the Bolivarian intelligence service, the political police, came to get him and without a warrant they took him away and we didn’t know about his whereabouts for hours. We never knew where they had arrested him, he had no access to his lawyers, he couldn’t see his family, and he was forcibly disappeared for about 12 hours. Despite the fact that my father is a public figure who was known to be against the government he was subjected to arbitrary detention and we didn’t think this would happen because of advanced age. If the truth be told we weren’t prepared.
But those of us who have worked in diplomacy and in strategic communication know that the most effective public recourse we have is to alert the public and denounce abuses through the media and social networks. Another recourse we have is to speak out personally and to strive to dissuade or engage decision-makers. Both strategies are effective when many join in working together with dedication. And so once we heard about it, the family and other people, we developed a plan of work because a strategy is effective when everybody joins in and the reaction of the citizens, politicians, and members of civil society was not long in coming. Here we come to two main points. Both supporters and opponents of Maduro condemned this outrageous arrest of an old man for the crime of tweeting and appealed to the public officials calling for his release. All the sectors were mobilized without hesitation, the young people, old people, politicians, radical politicians, my colleagues in the Initiative for Venezuela and many organizations around the world from near and far. People recall the keyboard warriors and members of the resistance and people who have social campaigns and create and maintain visibility of the issue. They all threw themselves in wholeheartedly to defend the right for people to express themselves and to maintain democratic ideals. We all rallied round.
My almost 85 year old father was accused of trying to incite hatred. This was a law that was invented by the regime to muzzle dissidents bringing a present sentences of up to 20 years, something that obviously a man of his age does not have before him. According to the accusation he had organized a general strike in 58’ and this had led to the overthrow of another dictatorship and therefore my father no matter how old he was was dangerous. The prosecutor in the case requested the charges be dropped and the judge ruled the case be dismissed. So this was a success story but for the time being, since it could happen again.
This was a success thanks to the well organized and staunchly supported mobilization of the public as soon as the incident occurred and so that’s the lesson I want to share with you. That in this globalized world, if we can join forces, if we can work together, then we can use the strength of social networks and solidarity as leverage. And here we see our only real power is to join our voices, to speak the truth in many different places at the same time. As activists, as civil rights defenders and its victims we need each other. We are companions in misfortune and we all can work together to join our voices for a cause. A few weeks ago it was my cause, it was a cause of Venezuela. but expressed through my father. Tomorrow it could be a problem that occurs for somebody else and we all have to be there to bring our support so before I wind up, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank especially on my name, on behalf of my family, the many people who are here today in this room. I’d like to thank you for your solidarity and your engagement and who have helped bring my father out of prison.