When Hugo Chavez was going around the country asking people to rebel against the Government, which later turned into his successful campaign for the Presidency, he would always talk about the “Caracazo” that tragic event in 1989, when riots which began with a fuel price increase turned into a carnage when the military was brought in too late to stop the riots. More than 200 people died those terrible days. Chavze repeatedly talked about those events, recalling Simon Bolivars phrase “Damn the soldier that aims at his own people” and citing and praising the work of COFAVIC and its leader Liliana Ortega.
For years after the Caracazo, only Liliana Ortega worried day after day about it. She single handedly and painstakingly brought the case against the Government to international Courts. COFAVIC, which stands for “Committee for the defense of the victims of the Caracazo” became the country’s most reputable human rights organization and extended its reach to human rights violations in Venezuela.
Today, Chavez is no longer praising either Liliana Ortega or COFAVIC. Nor is he reminding people of what Bolivar said about pointing their guns at their own people. In fact, Chavez has done nothing but attack COFAVIC, since it got involved in the investigation of the deaths of April 2002. Most recently, Chavez accused COFAVIC of receiving money from abroad, being a traitor to their country.
When I think of living Venezuelans I admire, I think curiously, of two people, Oscar D’Leon, “El Diablo de la Salsa”, because of his hard work and the universality of his music and fame and Liliana Ortega, because for 15 years she has pioneered the defense of human rights in Venezuela with passion and single-mindedness and has not allowed anything or anyone to distract her from her purpose or stand in her way. In fact, many times during the last fifteen years, she has been proposed for Government positions and has refused to even be considered for them, so that she can devote her time to her work. Additionally, she has always been against the use of praise for her work for political purposes.
Ms. Ortega’s most important victory took place about one year ago; when the Human Rights Commission of the OAS ruled that the Venezuelan Government had to indemnify the relatives of the victims for their abuses. Only in the last two months did the Government finally do it after ignoring it for almost a year.
I say this as a preamble to COFAVIC’s presentation yesterday of their preliminary report on human rights violations between Feb 27th. and March 5th.
The report is a wholesale condemnation of the Government’s actions during those days. First of all said Ms. Ortega, there is a pattern that Government security agencies and the military are following in the detentions they perform as well as the tortures. Ortega said that they were not isolated cases, since they had been able to corroborate the complaints filed by those affected that police and the military used the same techniques everywhere, throwing tear gas canisters in closed spaces, spraying water to make it itch, hitting detainees with helmets and shields, simulating firing squads and threatening relatives if they denounce what happened.
Ortega reminded authorities that torture crimes do not prescribe and it is a crime by the individual that commits it as well as by the officers that do nothing to correct or find those responsible for the aggression.
To COFAVIC it is truly alarming that high Government officials congratulate and back the behavior of National Guardsmen and other forces that participated in the repression those days.
COFAVIC also charged that the investigative police is not offering any assurances of impartiality or transparency in its investigations, since the Director of that body already issued his opinions which are clearly partial against the victims attempting to make them the criminals.
For COFAVIC, they can not understand how the Minister of the Interior and Justice calls for the victims to show up and denounce the abuses when he already denied that any had taken place. For them, the Government’s strategy is to make the accusations seem banal to hide the truth. No relative is going to show up and make an accusation after he is being called the criminal like it has been happening.
Turning the victims into criminals is a clear pattern established by the Government and the military in the last few days. Today, the General in charge of the Lagunillas fort, where people were raped, tortured and murdered, said that the woman raped was a prostitute, that the torture and death was caused by “mafias” these individuals were involved with.
In an episode reminiscent of totalitarian Governments elsewhere, the military simply disappeared the temporary fort in Lagunillas where rape, torture and death of the Zambrano family took place. In this way, there will be no way to find the evidence and the soldiers involved will be dispersed through other units.