War Resisters' International (WRI) is concerned for the safety of its members and of their fellow human rights defenders in Venezuela.
On 13 May the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, publicly shared details of the travel arrangements of WRI member Rafael Uzcátegui from the Venezuelan Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (Program for Education and Action on Human Rights - PROVEA), as well as those of Carlos Correa from Espacio Público (Public Space). The information was shared in Diosdado Cabello’s weekly television show “Con el Mazo Dando”. On this programme the work of human rights defenders is regularly questioned and details of their whereabouts are shared. The president of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, has described NGO workers who criticise the government as 'bandits', and called for the production of a documentary to be broadcast on television exposing the 'truth' about the work of human rights organisations.
Among other details, on “Con el Mazo Dando” Diosdado Cabello announced that Rafael Uzcátegui and Carlos Correa were travelling to Chile to meet the former coordinator of PROVEA. This information had only been shared in private online communications, so there is cause to believe these communications are being monitored by the authorities.
Sharing such information puts Rafael, Carlos, and their friends and colleagues at risk. It arms militant government sympathizers with the information they would need to intimidate or attack them.
Government officials targeting individual civilians in this way is a cowardly tactic. It is an objectionable use of power – the provocateurs have information and a means of spreading it quickly, whilst at the same time being able to wash their hands of any repercussions, because they did not directly order any assailants to act. In fact, the blame for any harm that comes to Rafael, Carlos and others that “Con el Mazo Dando” puts at risk should be lain directly at their door.
WRI has a long track record of speaking out against all forms of violence and injustice by different states, and acting in solidarity with nonviolent activists all over the world.
WRI know PROVEA to be an organisation consistently and thoroughly investigating abuses of power. We have collaborated over some years and PROVEA hosted a WRI delegation in 2013. Over time, we have noted with sadness growing suspicion and intimidation towards human rights groups, as well as the increasing militarisation of Venezuela.
This incident is the latest in a line of attempts to smear and frighten human rights groups, including PROVEA.
In 2013, WRI released a statement in support of PROVEA following a verbal attack against them by the then minister for Communication and Information Ernesto Villegas. Earlier this year, Rafael Uzcátegui and Carlos Correa were part of a group of twelve human rights defenders that were harassed and intimidated at the airport in Caracas on their return from participating in hearings of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Days earlier, details of their return flight have been shared on “Con el Mazo Dando”.
The campaign to delegitimise organisations independent of government in Venezuela must stop. Personal attacks and breaches of privacy violate human rights, are undemocratic and unjust.
Those who expose human rights abuses – whoever perpetrates them - are crucial for transparent and just communities. Nonviolent societies are built on the back of freedom of speech and active grassroots bodies who remind those in power that they derive their authority from the consent of the people. PROVEA and Espacio Público should be given space to carry out their work, and government and other civic bodies should engage with the results of their investigations.
We urge those in sympathy with this statement to use Amnesty International's Urgent Action alert to write to the Vice President, Sr. Jorge Arreaza, Attorney General of the Republic Dra. Luisa Ortega Díaz and Ombudsman Tarek William Saab. Find it here in English, here in Spanish and here in German.
You can also send messages of solidarity to Rafael Uzcátegui and Carlos Correa, through the WRI office. Send them care of email@example.com
War Resisters' International Executive Committee