Venezuela’s Chavismo reveals its most repressive face with presidential elections looming

The Maduro government detains activists on charges of terrorism or treason, but ordinary citizens are also arrested under pretexts such as recording businessman Alex Saab while he was on vacation

Tarek William Saab
Attorney General Tarek William Saab at the beginning of the judicial year at the Supreme Court of Justice, in Caracas, Venezuela, on January 31.MIGUEL GUTIERREZ (EFE)

Carlos Salazar Lárez, a Venezuelan engineer and civil activist who a few days ago remotely filmed businessman Alex Saab, an associate of Nicolás Maduro, shopping in Margarita Island, was detained by the authorities before uploading the video to social media. Nothing more has been heard of Salazar Lárez since. His relatives are awaiting a response from the authorities so that he can be brought before the courts. His case is somewhat similar to that of Víctor Venegas, an educational leader who organized protests demanding better salaries in the city of Barinas, who was imprisoned on terrorism charges. Also to that of John Álvarez, an anthropology student, detained by the political police, who complained of torture during interrogation. Or those of the six trade unionists who held protests in the healthcare workers’ sector demanding better pay, and were sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of treason, all of whom were later released, along with Álvarez, as part of the revolving door of the Barbados agreements with the opposition. Then there is the case of Nelson Piñero, a judicialized political activist, accused of violating the Venezuelan Law against Hatred on social media.

In addition to all these cases, there is the imprisonment in El Helicoide prison of Rocío San Miguel, a highly respected activist in Venezuela, and an expert in military affairs. Her arrest has exposed the most repressive face of Chavismo at a crucial moment for the electoral calendar process. San Miguel was detained at Maiquetia airport at 5.00 a.m., when she was about to embark on a trip to Miami, accompanied by her daughter Miranda, who was also detained. The authorities alleged that her name appeared in the interrogation of officers detained in an operation to thwart an alleged coup plot intended to assassinate Nicolás Maduro.

On January 22, the attorney general’s office announced the arrest of 32 people, “civilians and military,” on accusations of plotting to overthrow or assassinate the president. The arrest warrants were issued for people such as the journalist Sabastiana Barráez, specialized in military information, and the lawyer and human rights defender Tamara Sujú, both in exile.

The Attorney General of the Chavista regime, Tarek William Saab, announced that the preliminary hearing was finally held against the six citizens allegedly involved in the supposed assassination plot, which included San Miguel and his family members. This operation was denounced by the Chavistas two weeks ago, shortly after the signing of the Barbados agreements and the release of businessman Alex Saab.

“In the hearing, the attorneys of the attorney general’s office requested a sentence of imprisonment against Rocío San Miguel for allegedly committing the crimes of treason, conspiracy, criminal association and terrorism,” said Saab in a statement. The attorney general’s office also requested the preventive imprisonment of retired military officer Alejandro Gonzales De Canales, San Miguel’s ex-partner, on charges of “allegedly committing the crimes of revealing political and military secrets regarding the nation’s security, obstructing the administration of justice and association.”

Saab said that the attorney general’s office had asked the courts for “precautionary measures, consisting of periodic presentation in court” of the other four detainees, relatives of San Miguel, including her daughter and two of her brothers, all of whom, according to San Miguel’s defense, were forcefully disappeared, their whereabouts remaining unknown for a period of 72 hours.

“Forecast in Venezuela: from brown to dark,” remarked in a poignant tweet the historian, writer and academic Elías Pinto Iturrieta, an influential voice in the country, when analyzing the current political climate. The prosecution of San Miguel’s brothers and relatives has spread fear in the national social body, and the prevention, if not imitation, of many social figures in the democratic camp. As it loses popularity, the Venezuelan government has eventually come to believe it is hostile for any civic procedure to reach power on the part of its adversaries.

The political success of the opposition’s primary election held on October 22 was not only disregarded, but one of its organizers, Roberto Abdul, from Súmate, was also brought to court. A few days ago, in the town of Charallave, about half an hour from Caracas, squadrons of Chavista militants once again attacked supporters of María Corina Machado, seriously injuring six of them. These actions are supported by the Furia Bolivariana (Bolivarian rage) slogan that reflects the highest state of emergency under Nicolás Maduro, invoked when the presence in power is under threat. In addition, the revolutionary Chavista state has undertaken to explore hostile judicial provisions, such as the prosecution of relatives of political adversaries.

Meanwhile, Foro Cívico, a civil and political rights NGO, also declared “its repudiation of the forced disappearance and arbitrary detention of Rocío San Miguel, a benchmark in the field of human rights defense in Venezuela.” Denouncing “a fierce campaign from abroad against the justice system and the Venezuelan state,” and stressing that the investigation of San Miguel has been conducted “within the corresponding legal time limits and in strict compliance with the respect for human rights and constitutional guarantees.” The attorney general’s office stated that “those parties that seek to endorse the crimes and attacks against the Venezuelan people and nation have been and will be defeated once again by the peaceful and democratic convictions of the country’s majority.”

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