Human Rights Watch (HRW) today called on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to eliminate controversial “state of exception” measures enacted amidst increased political tension and economic uncertainty in the South American country.
“Until recently, the Maduro administration has been able to jail opponents and trample the rights of ordinary citizens without fearing any response from the other branches of government,” said HRW Americas managing director Daniel Wilkinson in a statement from the group.
“But now that the opposition controls Venezuela’s National Assembly, the president has given himself the power to deprive this body of its authority to sanction government officials,” he added.
Under the sixty-day “State of Exception and Economic Emergency” that went into effect on Monday, power to the opposition-led legislature is curbed by directly allowing Maduro to spend funds and enter into contracts. The new law permits the government to employ the military and police to ensure “the correct distribution” of goods, and permits the Foreign Ministry to suspend agreements by Venezuelan individuals and groups accused of purportedly attempting to "destabilize" the Maduro regime.
Maduro earlier today defended the “state of exception” that he enacted against perceived domestic and foreign threats against Venezuela, and threatened with expanding it beyond the sixty-day period.
“The National Assembly wants to remove me and tie my hands, you know why? If they had my hands tied and I could declare a state of emergency then we wouldn’t have been able to make any decisions,” he added.
HRW hasn’t been the only international human rights group decrying Maduro’s emergency decrees. Amnesty International (AI) Venezuela Director Marcos Gómez worries that the measures will be used to stifle any dissident voices against the government.
“The catalogue of abuses against human rights within the context of security operations during states of exception in the past have set an alarming precedent,” declared Gómez on May 16th. The shutting down of part of Venezuela’s border with Colombia last year led to a series of abuses including deportations, arbitrary detentions, and displacement of Colombian nationals, according to Gómez.
Outbreaks of political violence have occurred since the introduction of the emergency measures last week by Maduro including police in Caracas using tear gas to turn back marchers in at least two separate protests. The economy in recession, high inflation, and food shortages has irked former backers of the president such as Migdalia Lopez. While on a long line outside a supermarket, Lopez said there was growing discontent against the government though that has not corresponded to increased support for the opposition:
"Here in Guarenas there were revolutionary supporters. But now the people no longer want revolution -- what they want is food," she said.
"The people are going hungry. We are tired of lining up, of killing ourselves for just a carton of eggs or some bread," she said…
Seventy percent of Venezuelans want a change of government, according to a poll by the firm Datanalisis.
Lopez is among them, but she doesn't want to see current opposition figures take over, remembering some of them as greedy and arrogant when they held the reins before Chavez's rule.
Lopez isn’t the only former ally of the Maduro regime turned critic. Ex-Uruguayan President José Mujica called Maduro “crazy…as mad as a goat” referring to the acrimonious spat between the Venezuelan leader and Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro.
"It's best that others step in to govern — but not those squalid bastards, not them either," she said.
YouTube Source – AFP (“Public outrage over sweeping new emergency powers decreed this week by President Nicolas Maduro was expected to spill onto the streets of Venezuela Wednesday, with planned nationwide protests marking a new low point in his unpopular rule.”)
Online Sources (English) – The Guardian, GlobalPost, Business Standard, Human Rights Watch, euronews, Bloomberg
Online Sources (Spanish) – El Heraldo