Three more people were killed in the Venezuela violence as protestors continued to take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro.
Argenis Hernandez, 26, was shot in the abdomen as he was demonstrating near a barricade in the central city of Valencia and died early on Saturday in a nearby hospital, according to local media reports.
Bus driver Wilfredo Rey, 31, died on Friday night after being shot in the head during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen in the western city of San Cristobal, according to local residents. Rey had not been involved in the protests, they said.
Forty-year-old Jesus Labrador was hit by a bullet on Saturday in the Andean city of Merida during a shootout between armed protesters burning tires and hooded gunmen on motorcycles, according to a resident of the area.
The clash between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is continuing. Upscale neighborhoods are barricading themselves in and blocking off public roadways and clashes are breaking out as Maduro's troops and supporters are trying to remove them and getting shot at by snipers. Demonstrators are protesting high prices and shortages of goods.
The problem is that opposition leader Leonardo Lopez refuses to dialogue with the government. While we don't know that he is the brains behind the violence as the government alleges, we do know that he is totally happy to see the violence continue given this refusal and given his remarks read by his wife that peace would happen when Maduro resigns. This refusal to even dialogue means that he supports perpetual warfare. It is not like Syria, whose leader has used chemical weapons on his own people. The government has always offered to talk with the opposition and has already done so on past occasions.
Gabriela Ramirez, human rights ombudsman for the Venezuelan government, alleges various human rights abuses by Lopez's supporters and other protestors recently.
The day before the HRW report was released, the brother of a socialist party (PSUV) deputy, Arturo Alexis Martinez was shot dead by a sniper. He was trying to clear an opposition barricade in Lara state when he was killed. On 24 February, motorbike taxi worker Antonio Jose Valbuena was shot by a masked individual in Maracaibo while clearing another opposition barricade. The alleged assailant reportedly demanded Valbuena desist from the attempt to clear the barricade. Since then assailants have shot at least two more civilians trying to clear opposition barricades.
Three national guard soldiers have also been shot dead during clashes with the opposition, including Giovanni Pantoja in Carabobo on 28 February, Acner Isaac Lopez Leon on 6 March in Caracas, Ramzor Bracho in Carabobo on 12 March and Jose Guillen Araque on 17 March.If true, that means that opposition protestors are disrupting economic life for the very people they purport to represent. Blocking streets in this nature denies people the opportunity to work for a living or makes it much more inconvenient.
Human Rights Watch focuses on the treatment of Lopez by the government. They note that the government's judiciary is highly politicized, which means that Lopez will have a hard time getting a fair trial.
The Venezuelan government finds it relatively easy to use the judiciary as a political tool since, in 2004, former President Hugo Chavez and his supporters in the National Assembly carried out a political takeover of the Supreme Court of Justice, purging several of its members and appointing supporters to the highest tribunal. Since then, the judiciary has largely ceased to function as an independent branch of government. Through the Judicial Commission of the Supreme Court, which has the power to appoint and remove provisional and temporary lower court judges (who are now the majority of judges in the country), his politicization of the justice system has extended to the entire judiciary.Judges have been arrested simply for ruling against the government.
For example, in 2009, judicial authorities arbitrarily arrested Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni for complying with a United Nations’ recommendation and granting the conditional release of an opponent of the Chavez administration. Afiuni, a judge with security of tenure, spent a year in prison, two years under house arrest, and remains subject to criminal prosecution for crimes she did not commit. Before the Afiuni case, judges feared losing their jobs if they made decisions contrary to the interests of the government. Now they also fear being thrown in jail.And Lopez will likely not be released anytime soon.
It is highly unlikely that López will be released any time soon. Legally, he may be preventively detained for up to 45 days, when the prosecutor should charge him, archive the case until further evidence is obtained, or determine there is no evidence to move forward with the prosecution. But in practice these deadlines are rarely respected in Venezuela.Even the Nurmberg defendants got a fair trial and effective legal representation when they were charged with crimes against humanity. The government is alleging that Lopez and the US government are behind the violence. We know that the US government has been undermining Venezuela for years. But the Maduro government needs to document Lopez's and the US government's role in this violence and make it public. The more evidence that they have to back these allegations, the less credibility that Lopez and his supporters will have.