Resisting Authoritarianism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Dissident Movement with Gonzalo Himiob Santome

Gonzalo Himiob Santome, a Venezuelan lawyer, rights activist, and writer, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Good morning to you all. It is really a privilege for me to be here at the summit. Not only because it gives us, the Venezuelans, the chance to tell the world the truth about the political persecution and intolerance to the dissidents in our country. But also because it gives me the opportunity to share with you some of the stories of living and breathing people, people like you and me, that are now suffering grave violations of their most essential human rights in Venezuela.

I have just a few minutes and I have a presentation to be made so I want to be perfectly clear about this. The right to life, the right to liberty, the right to personal security, the right to be free from arbitrary detention or incarceration, from illegal criminal prosecution or conviction, the right to be born free and to be treated as equals in dignity, and even the right to be recognized as a person, not as an instrument of the power for the intimidation of others because of political beliefs or even religious beliefs, are being intentionally violated in Venezuela since 1998 by the Venezuelan government officials, the Venezuelan Criminal Courts and police and military forces. With the only purpose of maintaining Hugo Chavez in power as long as possible by disarticulating and intimidating any democratic opposition in Venezuela. I have several examples of this here. 

There are hundreds of criminal investigations right now of course, and are still pending, against people that have expressed their dissent against the Venezuelan government. More than 19,000 Oil Workers were fired after the 2002 national strike in Venezuela, were denied their severance payments, and were included in blacklists so no other oil company or other related to the government companies [] inside and outside Venezuela would hire them. Also, people that vote against Chavez, against Hugo Chavez, in any referendum or election, are included in lists that are later used to deny their right to work for the government for example. and even visas or identification documents, such as passports and IDs. These are the people from the workers. This is a group of lawyers and victims, I am there, that came to the Hague in 2004 to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court against Chavez and some of the people of their government. This woman right here is Monica Fernandez who was the director and president of the NGO human rights Venezuelan Penal Forum. All of the people there in the petroleum industry who were the old workers and the merchant sailors, Monica Fernandez and we, the lawyers and the victims we represented, are now formally labeled by Hugo Chavez and his governments as traitors to the country. Just because we came to the International Criminal Court and to the internal American System of human rights to file petitions against Venezuelan officials and against the Venezuelan government, Hugo Chavez himself has requested to the Supreme Court the opening of a criminal investigation against not only us, the lawyers, but also against the victims we represent; the victims of violations of human rights. That was on July 31st of 2003. 

There are also a lot of cases that demonstrate the government’s intolerance, including not only free journalists, lawyers and activists of human rights, but also dissident officers, military officers, and even former public officials and ministers. Such as retired General Francisco Uson, who was convicted to more than five years in prison for alleged offenses to the military forces just for expressing to the public, for telling the public, on TV his technical opinion about the possible causes of the death of two burnt soldiers in a military headquarters in Venezuela. He was a former minister of Chavez, Minister of Financial Affairs. He passed through the opposition files on April 11, 2002, when he saw from power what was going on in Venezuela, what was really going on in Venezuela. Just because of that, Chavez ordered the criminal investigation against him and he is now serving parole, thank God. Right now, five years and six months in prison. 

There is also the case of General in Chief Raúl Baduel, which is a very special case because this guy was and is a compadre of Hugo Chavez Frias, and until recently, he was his Minister of Defense. Just after Baduel publicly questioned the legitimacy of the Constitutional Amendment proposed by Hugo Chavez for February 2009. The criminal investigation for alleged corruption charges was issued against him and he is now imprisoned waiting for trial. 

The other case is that guy over there in the corner of the picture is the case of Otto Hebower. He was sentenced as he is now in prison to almost 13 years in prison just because he obeyed on April 11, 2002, the order to bring the, at that moment, the post president, Hugo Chavez Frias, from Caracas to the island of La Orchila near Caracas. He refused to give to the military prosecutors false statements about the alleged plans for killing Chavez. The general that gave him the order was convicted only to three years in prison just because he complied with the Public Ministry.

Since 2007, at least 500 formally recognized investigations against the student movement in Venezuela have been opened. I have the honor to represent most of them. Most of these criminal investigations are still pending right now. For example Nixon Moreno, a prominent student leader from Area State University, was falsely accused of criminal charges. He requested, he applied for asylum at the Vatican Embassy in Venezuela, the representation of the Vatican government state in Venezuela. The asylum was formally granted to Moreno. But the Venezuelan government to this day has refused and has disrespected the international laws of asylum by not giving him safe passage to the Vatican state. He has been forced to flee from the embassy of the Vatican and now his destiny is yet undefined. 

The criminal justice system – and I am about to conclude – in Venezuela is continuously used by the government as a tool of intolerance and to persecute people that are identified as political opposition. Three short examples. The cases of the recently elected Mayor of Maracaibo Manuel Rosales, now facing criminal charges. The recently elected metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledesma, who has been receiving death threats, “Death to Ledesma” as it says in the picture down below, since he assumed his charge as Mayor of Caracas. And the recently elected Governor of Miranda Henrique Capiles and former Mayor of Chacao Leopoldo Lopez, who is a very popular leader of the opposition in Venezuela, hold the record of 25 criminal investigations open against them, all pending and all still in course. What are the crimes? They are all very popular opposition leaders in Venezuela. Recently the second case, the criminal justice in Venezuela, had police commissioners Henry Vivas, Lazaro Ferero, Ivan Simonovis, along with seven police officers, unjustly sentenced by a criminal court without any incriminating evidence against them on April 3rd 2009 for the alleged death of two of the 19 people killed during the riots that took place in Caracas on April 11th, 2002. None of the other 17 deaths have now a process or a formal investigation. These police officers were convicted just because they served under the command of a very prominent opposition leader. Against all logic, against all the provisions of the rule of the law, the only persons that are now convicted for these facts in which you can see government supporters shooting at the opposition march and shooting at the police forces, are these guys. None of the pro-government – my time is finished I will conclude – none of these officers from the government has been indicted or convicted for none other crimes. 

The last case is the very case of the very successful businessman Eligio Cedeño, who has spent two years in prison for his trial. Suspended with no term, with no period of time to be reopened just because he was suspected of being a supporter of the leaders of the opposition. 

Not even the Jewish community in Venezuela or the major synagogue in Caracas are respected. Recently the temple was robbed and several damages by alleged common criminals that however did not hesitate to paint anti-Semitic messages in those sacred walls. The same messages by the way are often used by President Chavez himself against the state of Israel. Taken, by the way, from the late Norberto Ceresole. You can check this guy on the internet. One of his initial advisors, well known for his militant anti-Semitism and for his radical denial of the Holocaust. These are some of the cases. These are some of the cases we have in Venezuela. It is not the government abuses but the oblivion and silence of the International Community about these facts are the worst enemies we are facing in Venezuela right now today. 

All of these grave acts of intolerance, all of these violations of human rights, [] will remain unpunished, if the free and democratic nations of the world in exchange for cheap oil or easy profits, trade human dignity for silence. I respectfully urge you and all of the members of the International Community to just listen to us. I urge you to confront these facts, to challenge them, if you will. And to see, to really see, what’s truly happening in Venezuela. I ask you, respectfully ask you, to help us fight intolerance against the political dissident movements in Venezuela. I ask you to act against silence, against oblivion, against indifference. What is the purpose of the achievement of an international criminal justice system, articulated to prevent the most grave damages conceivable to human rights, if nation leaders weren’t respecting it at will. Ask yourself that question. Did you know for example that Hugo Chavez two weeks ago invited al-Bashir to Venezuela as a friend? Did you know, for example, that the politics of Venezuela, of the Government of Venezuela, regarding the Inter-American court of Human Rights is to systematically deny the result of the cases in which Venezuela has been convicted and declared responsible for violations of human rights? What do you do? What will be your choice? We have clearly decided to confront his abuse. We expect you to do the same thing. Thank you very much.

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