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Two studies, two victims, countless challenges

The first two victims of the regime in 2024. Left: Catholic priest Josiah Asa K’Okal. Right: professor and trade unionist Víctor Venegas

On January 7, 2024, the first installment of a series of reports prepared by the digital portals Crónica Uno and Efecto Cocuyo was published, where they collect the expectations of the population regarding the presidential elections that must be held in Venezuela this year. The article, with information from 15 states in the country, confirms the findings of the report published in mid-2023 by AlertaVenezuela; both works coincide in warning about the impact of the intimidation and control activities of irregular armed groups on the political rights of the Venezuelan population.

Criminal mega gangs, pseudo unions, armed colectivos and irregular groups from Colombia use different methods with the same goal: to force voters to vote in favor of candidates from the government party and dissuade them from voting for opposition candidates. The consequences for those who resist can range from threats and beatings to death.

The report refers to actions in large cities and even in the capital, a few meters from the government palace, as well as in remote towns with little access to the media. This is the case of Barrancas del Orinoco, in the south of Monagas state, where the presence of an armed group “influenced the victories of Chavismo in the last 10 years,” according to residents of the area.

On January 2, precisely on the highway that connects the city of Tucupita with Barrancas del Orinoco, the lifeless body of Catholic priest Josiah Asa K’Okal, who had been missing since January 1, was found. The authorities immediately assured that it was a suicide, without having performed the legal autopsy. Father Josiah was a renowned defender of indigenous peoples in the Delta Amacuro state, where he denounced the actions of groups of traffickers of members of the Warao indigenous people. Although the priest’s body was found hanging from a tree, both religious organizations and indigenous communities reject the official version of suicide.

Another report was published by HumVenezuela on January 8. This is the fourth measurement of the scale and severity of the Complex Humanitarian Emergency in Venezuela for the period from March 2022 to November 2023. Again, and in contrast to the official propaganda about a supposed improvement in the country’s situation, the data from HumVenezuela indicate that in said period the number of people with critical needs increased by 1.1 million and the number of people with severe needs increased by 1.6 million. Meanwhile, the total number of people in need reached 20.1 million people. Consequently, until November 2023, the percentage of people with the intention of emigrating increased from 8.0% to 13.4%.

These new and alarming figures occur in a context where hope for an institutional response to the emergency is diluted. More than a year after the signing of the social agreement that would supposedly release more than 3 billion dollars to address some humanitarian needs, there is still no certain information about said fund. Furthermore, in the first days of January, the discussion of the Draft Law on Supervision, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental Organizations and Related Organizations (anti-NGO law) was reactivated through a questionable “popular consultation”, since the project is not even officially published on the National Assembly website.

The approval of this bill would mean the end of independent civil society in Venezuela, which would nullify the limited possibilities of response to the complex humanitarian emergency. In the midst of this emergency, the government announced a bonus that does not mean a salary increase and that would bring the income (not salary) of workers to US$100 per month, while pensioners and retirees will receive $25 and $70 per month respectively.

Given this scenario, it is not surprising that teaching staff began January with demonstrations in protest against the constant deterioration of their income. The government’s immediate response to the claims of the teachers has been repression. While we were finishing this analysis, police officers violently entered the headquarters of the National Federation of Unions and Colleges of Education Workers of Venezuela (FENATEV) in the state of Barinas and took its president, Professor Víctor Venegas, into custody. Two hours after his arrest, the general prosecutor imposed by the constituent assembly released a statement in which he stated that Venegas would be linked to the “development of activities against the peace of the Republic” and to be part of “a nucleus that intended to convert to the state of Barinas, the epicenter of violent actions.”

More needs and less civic space. This is how 2024 begins in Venezuela, which is why we reiterate our call to the international community to demand electoral guarantees that include the cessation of coercion by armed groups in the exercise of the population’s right to political participation, respect for civic space and attention of the urgent humanitarian needs of the population, with the understanding that adequate electoral conditions are not limited to technical aspects but must encompass an enabling environment for the democratic space.