By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The embattled Venezuela regime of Nicolas Maduro received another diplomatic black eye Monday, as the Organization of American States (OAS) criticized it for the death in custody of a political prisoner Sunday.
“We condemn flagrant human rights violation by the regime in #Venezuela causing the death of Councilman Andres Garcia,” OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro tweeted Monday morning, hours after news of the death of Carlos Andres Garcia, a city councilman in Apure state who had been imprisoned for nine months, was made public.
The tragedy strikes as Maduro’s government and the opposition are enmeshed in exploratory talks that could lead to a new round of negotiations which the opposition hope results in Maduro leaving office sooner than expected, while the government tries to obtain recognition for its fraudulent Constituent Assembly.
Garcia’s demise comes just days after the U.N. said there was indication that “crimes against humanity” had been committed by the Maduro administration in trying to quell violent street protests earlier this year.
Alleging involvement in human-rights violations, the U.S. has sanctioned 39 Venezuelan officials, former officials, private citizens, military and police officers, including head of state Nicolas Maduro himself, his Vice President Tarek El Aissami and Supreme Court head justice Maikel Moreno.
Garcia had been denied medical attention and his jailers had ignored a warrant to free him on medical grounds, issued by a judge two days before the inmate’s death, his political party, First Justice (PJ) said. “The order (to free him) was not carried out by law enforcement,” PJ said over the weekend in a public statement.
Since the 2014 protests, the number of political prisoners in Venezuela has risen from almost zero to near 600, according to “Foro Penal”, a local NGO that provides free legal services.
During the latest cycle of anti-Maduro protests -- which lasted roughly from early April of this year until the fraudulent Constituent Assembly was seated in early August -- some 124 demonstrators and security forces were killed, according to the UN, while local NGOs place the tally at 163.
Garcia was arrested in December 2016, near a protest against Maduro. Police said at the time an unexplained amount of money had been found in the councilman’s house in a post-arrest raid, but Garcia denied the cash was his saying cops had “planted” it.
It must be noted that, while having cash in Venezuela is not a crime, the accusation is often repeated: several opposition leaders and militants, before and after Garcia’s case, have been detained, arrested and imprisoned on the same charge, most lately Lilian Tintori, the opposition leader and wife of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez who met with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year in the Oval Office.