Thursday, May 29, 2014

Venezuelan “Political Prisoner” on Hunger Strike

A Venezuelan ex-police chief whose imprisonment has been denounced by the country's opposition commenced a hunger strike this week.

“Every day in this military prison has turned into an anxious roller coaster ride because I don't know if tonight, or early in the morning, as happened before, I'll end up in the emergency room,” said Iván Simonovis in a letter released on Tuesday via his attorneys. 

The 53-year-old claimed that he has “become tired” of the slow pace of his appeal within the Venezuelan justice system and, hence, decided to take up a hunger strike in order to obtain a conditional release.

“All the legal and political efforts to receive a response to the demands (for an appeal) I made ten months ago have been exhausted… I'm tired of acting in accordance to the law, yet no one listens to me,” said Simonovis in his message.

The former commander of the Caracas Metropolitan Police was sentenced in 2009 to thirty year in prison for aggravated murder related to the deaths of four demonstrators in an unsuccessful 2002 coup against then-President Hugo Chávez. Lawyers for Simonovis claimed that he has suffered from nineteen different ailments like osteoporosis and severe dehydration; thus, he should be released on humanitarian grounds.

“What options does Simonovis have?” exclaimed attorney José Luis Tamayo who added that his client is well aware that he could end up like Franklin Brito, a farmer who died in 2010 following a five-month hunger strike against the Chávez regime.

Simonovis is seen by the Venezuelan opposition as a “political prisoner” unfairly targeted by an authoritarian government and is being kept under unfair conditions despite suffering from scores of ailments.  His imprisonment was one of the main topics in failed negotiations between the opposition and government aimed at ending three months of deep political unrest.

“What we have seen is an institutional fumbling of the Simonovis case and…there is a total absence of a decision that would grant him a humanitarian release in order to be with his family,” said opposition legislator Ricardo Sánchez.

Two other ex-commanders sentenced to prison along with Simonovis, Lázaro Forero y Henry Vivas, were released by the government in 2011 after being diagnosed with cancer.  Chávez’ successor, president Nicolás Maduro, mentioned last year that freeing Simonovis would be like promoting “impunity.”  He continued this hardline approach in comments made during a televised program on Wednesday night:
"Justice is what is needed here," remarked Venezuelan President Nicola's Maduro after hearing a statement from Yesenia Fuentes, a citizen who claimed that Ivan Simonovis, former police chief, could not be granted compassionate release as he was just suffering from osteoporosis, a treatable disease.

Fuentes, a relative of one of the victims of the 2002 coup, has once again rejected a petition for compassionate release for Simonovis, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"If there is no justice, there will be no room for peace," commented Fuentes in the president's talk show, "En contacto con Maduro" (In contact with Maduro). "We, the relatives, reject the amnesty filed by the opposition in favor of Iván Simonovis," Fuentes added.
Simonovis’ hunger strike will likely aggravate political tensions that have grown since anti-government street protests have been held almost daily in Venezuela’s main cities.  Tensions may worsen over allegations made Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez accusing opposition leader Maria Corina Machado and U.S. ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker of plotting to promote unrest against Maduro.

Speaking of U.S.-Venezuela relations, the U.S. Congress continued to move forward with proposals that would impose sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses.  The White House has been reluctant to back any sanctions though last week Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that sanctions might be inevitable.

Maduro noted yesterday that any sanctions would be “illegitimate” and he “won’t recognize it”, which is a viewpoint shared by the Venezuelan and Russian foreign ministers in a joint statement issued today.

Video Source – Noticiero Venevision via YouTube

Online Sources – Bloomberg; El Universal; El Nacional; Public Radio International; Voz de America; BBC News; NTN24; ABC News

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