Chavista congressman hurls homophobic slurs at Venezuelan opposition leader

Nicolás Maduro, holding a LGBT flag
Nicolás Maduro, holding a LGBT flagEFE

"Answer, you homosexual. Accept the challenge, you faggot," said the congressman of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Pedro Carreño to former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles during a session at the National Assembly on Tuesday. Carreño's crude speech brushed up against a topic that has obsessed the government and its supporters: the private life of the opposition leader. On various occasions government officials have asked why the governor of the the province of Miranda has never married.

Carreño's statement was the unfortunate detour from an agreement between the government and its allies that aimed, in principle, to condemn "corrupt practices" in Capriles' party, Primero Justicia, at the leadership level. Chavistas presented evidence that allegedly showed that Óscar López, chief of staff of the governor's office in Miranda, whom they called the financial czar of the opposition, had squandered 190,000 dollars in "bacchanals." They showed two photographs of him. In one picture he was dressed in women's clothes. In another he was hugging a man.

In Venezuela many people bear in mind the shaky rights the law offers the gay and transexual community. After looking at the advances made on issues related to sexual orientation in Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, and in some US states, it becomes clear that the Bolivarian revolution has not even considered the possibility of holding a vote in Parliament on marriage between persons of the same sex or on the recognition of the identity of transexuals. Carreño's tone made many citizens wonder whether the absence of such legislation is an indication of the narrow worldview that Chavismo has shown in its almost 15 years in power.

Given the negative impact Carreño's words could have on public opinion and the fact that in the past he has argued that the former consultant of Alberto Fujimori Vladimiro Montesinos had been murdered and that cable television was in fact a mechanism used to spy on citizens - the government took various steps to play down his homophobic remarks. "I have never been nor will I ever be homophobic," Maduro said on Wednesday afternoon while standing next to a man draped in a rainbow flag, and other gays and lesbians. "The revolution has advocated for respect for every human being." Yet in the next line, Maduro planted more seeds of doubt about the sexual orientation of Capriles and his associate López. "The office of a governor has been used to prostitute young people," he declared. Public Defender Gabriela Ramírez also spoke on Carreño's behalf in an offer of apology.

In 2011 Venezuela approved a constitutional law against racial discrimination. One of its proponents, the transexual lawyer Tamara Adrián, member of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, said that the proposal aimed to set a precedent to prevent and penalize all types of discrimination, but that in the end it was limited to race. She said the text voted on in Parliament was different from the one published in the state-owned newspaper. Based on her experience Adrián qualifies the governing party as "homophobic and trans-phobic by action and omission."

Adrián, who may be the icon of transexuals in Venezuela, wanted to be accepted as a woman. But the State has not acknowledged her request. She is still Tomás Adrián before the law despite the fact that she changed her sex in a 2002 operation in Thailand. The government has prohibited changes in names and the recognition of gay marriages from other countries. Venezuela has a "typical case of state-sponsored homophobia," where official authority is used against certain persons "because of their sexual preference, whether real or imagined," writes Agence France Presse.

The opposition has taken advantage of the widespread dismay among organizations tasked with safeguarding the rights of minority groups to cry out against a new wave of persecution. The independent group, Venezuela Diversa, for example, said it was concerned by Carreño's remarks. From the organization's point of view, his statements incite violence against others, make use of threatening and hateful terms based on ideological and political associations, sexual orientation and gender identity and are presented to the public as logical conclusions. The national coordinator for Primero Justicia, Julio Borges, said that he would travel to Portugal to denounce what he considers an assault against dissidents.

Meanwhile Capriles prefers to focus on the unlawful payment charges hurled at his entourage and the threat of imprisonment from PSUV Number two, Parliament President Diosdado Cabello. Capriles sent out a warning in colorful language: "Let's see if they have the balls, because I'm ready! The people already know what they have to do."

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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