Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Venezuela: Three-week hunger strike ends

Organizers of a three-week hunger strike in Venezuela announced yesterday that they would end their protest.

Lorent Saleh, one of the leaders of the strike, told the press that protesters and the government reached a compromise that would permit medical attention to some of the strikers as well as “the creation of a roundtable with authorities to discuss other demands.”
"Today we are completing 23 days since we started a promise we made to fight for liberty and democracy, and for those who find themselves behind bars for thinking differently than this regime," Saleh said according to CNN.

Nine university students camped out in front of the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in Caracas started the protest on January 31st. Since then nearly 80 supporters would join them in similar protests throughout Venezuela including the embassies of Chile, Mexico and Peru.

The primary demand of the strike leaders was to call attention to alleged human rights abuses in Venezuela. They urged OAS head Jose Miguel Insulza to visit Venezuela though the pact at the end of the strike pledged that the OAS would discuss protester grievances.

The agreement came one day after Saleh and three other strikers fainted and required immediate medical attention. The protesters were reportedly only ingesting a water and saline solution during their strike.

The hunger strike led to a minor diplomatic rift in the already weak relations between the U.S. and Venezuela. Last Thursday the U.S. State Department pushed Venezuelan authorities to allow a visit from Insluza. That request earned a strong rebuke from Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro who blamed “the U.S. government and Venezuelan ultra-right groups, based in Miami, of trying to create destabilization.”

Perhaps the most famous recent case of a hunger strike in Venezuela was that of farmer Franklin Brito who passed away last year. The use of hunger strikes as a form of protest (especially against the government) has become more common in Venezuela according to BBC Mundo:
31 different hunger strikes have taken place since the beginning of this year. “In 2009 there were five and last year there was more than 100. There is a high probability that this year will break that mark based on estimates from January and February,” said human rights investigator Marco Antonio Ponce.
Image- AFP via BBC Mundo
Online Sources- MSNBC, Global Voices Online, Reuters, El Universal, CNN, BBC Mundo

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