Venezuela is in turmoil as another weekend of violence has seen four people die and hundreds injured. The violent protests took place at the Venezuelan border with Colombia, when opposition activists gathered at the Simón Bolívar bridge that connects the two countries, to urge authorities to allow humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela.
Last month a UN Security Council meeting held on 26 January, expressed serious concern as it confirmed that all 30 million of Venezuela’s population are affected by shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies, deterioration of health and education services, as well as basic infrastructure such as water and electricity.
Human rights violations
This is not the first instance of Maduro’s blatant human rights abuses in recent times. Since coming to power in 2014 Maduro has clamped down excessively on the nation’s freedoms. International human rights NGO Amnesty International have conducted a crisis mission in the country and reported that,
“Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has imposed a ‘repulsive strategy of social control’ against his people.”
Maduro’s policy of repression has seen protestors faced with excessive force at the hands of government security forces, as well as the arbitrary detention and prosecution of hundreds of people. Maduro has used these as a way of repressing the people of Venezuela and attempting to stop them from wanting to protest, as well as a form of collective punishment for participating in protests. Reports also suggest that minors have also been detained with 137 children and adolescents detained throughout the country in just ten days, from January 21 to 31.
Freedom of speech and press freedoms have also come under severe attack. The Committee for the Protection for Journalists (CPJ) has issued a warning after a number of journalists have been arbitrarily detained for reporting the crisis. In January 2019, CPJ said that the main risks to journalists are the potential for physical harm while covering protests, as well as detention or prosecution at the hands of state security forces and authorities.
Both local and foreign journalists have been detained and in late January, Venezuelan authorities detained and deported multiple reporting teams, including two Chilean journalists and two French TV reporters, accusing them of lacking proper accreditation. Three reporters with Spanish news agency EFE were also detained on January 30 and held overnight.
However, most recently the blocking of aid at the border seems to be a step in a new and shocking direction in terms of rights violations. International humanitarian law prohibits states or non-state actors from blocking humanitarian assistance.
In August 2018 a BBC report stated that 7% of the population of Venezuela were fleeing for their lives as a result of the economic and political crisis, however UN figures suggest more than 10% of the population have now fled the country.
The UN has warned of a migration crisis due to the immense shortage of food and grave economic concerns for Venezuelans. A UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) report of November 2018 estimated that the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide has now reached a shocking total of 3 million. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean host an estimated 2.4 million of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, with Columbia hosting the highest number, a total of over 1 million. Eduardo Stein, UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela said,
“Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have largely maintained a commendable open-door policy to refugees and migrants from Venezuela; however, their reception capacity is severely strained, requiring a more robust and immediate response from the international community if this generosity and solidarity are to continue,”
The international community responds
The international community have responded by supporting Juan Guaidó, leader of the opposition, in his self-declared claim to presidency. Earlier this month the UK and the EU declared their support for and issued Maduro an ultimatum. His refusal to acknowledge the ultimatum led to the recognition of Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. In total so far, the US and around 20 other countries have recognised Guaidó as defacto president. However, Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba have defended Maduro, rejecting outside interference as orchestrated by Trump.
In response to the protests this weekend opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared the fight would continue and said, “we must keep all our options open for the liberation of our homeland.”