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Four months of political asphyxiation

Photo AFP
Photo AFP

As we have warned in several analyzes since the beginning of 2024, this year opened with strong repression, which has mainly affected those who, from different platforms, advocate for the free exercise of political rights within the framework of the electoral event to be held. But it is one thing to record these events as they happen, and quite another to see them in perspective, to capture their implications in the current situation.

The quarterly report of Civilis Human Rights recorded 136 events where civil society rights and standards of civic space environments were violated between January and March 2024, experiencing an increase of 43% compared to the first quarter of 2023. The organization states that the rights most affected were the right to participation, freedom of association and expression. In addition, 42% of the events affected political organizations, while in that same period in 2023 the effects on political organizations were 16.9%.

For its part, Espacio Público registered at least 68 cases that include 135 violations of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela between January and April 2024, which means an increase of 22% with respect to the total number of cases and 25% with relation to the number of reports of violations received in the same period of 2023.

Arbitrary arrests have been more frequent as a mechanism to silence those who have exercised their right to freedom of expression and opinion, such that Espacio Público registered 18 arrests during the first four months of 2024, which represents an increase of 260% in relation to the arrests documented in the same period of 2023. The victims were private citizens (14); NGO members (2); journalist (1) and public worker (1).

It should be noted that many arrests during this period were accompanied by short-term disappearances that, according to UN experts, especially affected the main opposition political party and military. The experts warned that “As the country prepares for the presidential elections in July 2024, these forced disappearances could have a deterrent effect and hinder the population’s right to vote freely.”

Another sector that was seriously affected is that of human rights defenders. The Center for Defenders and Justice (CDJ) documented 418 new events that affect the right to defend rights during the first quarter of 2024, which represents an increase of 85% in relation to the same period in 2023, evidencing a deepening of the closure of civic space, in the pre-electoral context, as warned by the CDJ.

Despite the restrictions, social protest has continued in the first quarter of 2024, although with a decrease of 56% compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), highlighting the increase of peaceful demonstrations to demand the right to political participation. The OVCS highlights that the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in different states of the country were the focus of the protests, demanding fair conditions for the different stages of the electoral process.

In this restrictive context, the expulsion of the team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) took place, whose return to Venezuela remains uncertain, despite the public announcement made by Maduro.

Thus, the calls of presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Gustavo Petro should be welcomed, to the extent that they contribute to a climate that clears the barriers to a possible transition. However, their proposal for a plebiscite may not be viable if it is tied to a consultation that must go through the CNE to be incorporated into the electoral event on July 28. Furthermore, at this point, it is in any case impossible to classify as competitive an election in which 25% of voters were prevented from registering.

The international community must keep in mind that the electoral event has already begun. The observation, in person or not, cannot focus only on what happens on July 28, but must account for these events as part of a comprehensive record that reflects the non-competitive nature of the process.