NEW YORK – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on both incumbent and opposition leaders in Venezuela to resolve the current post-electoral political crisis peacefully and through dialogue.
HRF also condemns the physical assault on opposition congressmen Julio Borges and William Davila at the National Assembly, as well as statements made by president-elect Nicolás Maduro, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, and the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Luisa Estella Morales, in which they held opposition leaders, including Henrique Capriles, responsible for acts of vandalism and political violence that occurred on the night of Monday, April 15.
“Even though both the incumbents and the opposition share a mutual responsibility to reach a peaceful resolution to this crisis, this responsibility falls heavier on the shoulders of Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, and the leadership of the PSUV, considering that they control all government institutions – from the police and the armed forces, to the National Assembly, the Office of the Attorney General, the Supreme Court, and the Electoral Council itself,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF.
“However, instead of taking steps toward the peaceful resolution of a legitimate demand by Venezuela’s citizens, the PSUV approved of the attacks against opposition deputies at the National Assembly, and it seems to have set in motion the entire judicial apparatus to repress the legitimate demands of the opposition for a recount,” he added.
During a public speech on April 14, Maduro – who the government-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) declared the winner of the presidential election with a 1.83% margin of the votes – at first welcomed the recount of 100% of the votes to allay any concerns regarding the transparency of the process. The following day, the president of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, avoided the subject and proclaimed Maduro president-elect.
In response, opposition candidate Capriles called Maduro “illegitimate;” called for a nationwide cacerolazo
protest for Monday night; and denounced more than 1000 electoral irregularities that he announced would be formally presented to the CNE in Caracas. According to the Organic Electoral Law, review of these alleged irregularities could lead to the annulment or the re-casting of votes in hundreds of electoral centers around the country, potentially altering the final result of an election that ended with the victory of the incumbent by only 272,000 votes out of almost 15 million valid ballots. Capriles also called for peaceful demonstrations on April 16 outside of all the CNE’s offices around the country, as well as a march from his campaign headquarters to the CNE’s central office to present the irregularities to the council.
In the wake of acts of vandalism and political violence that erupted in several Venezuelan states on Monday night – in which seven individuals were killed and 61 were wounded, according to the Office of the Attorney General – Maduro claimed that the leaders of the opposition were responsible for the violen
ce and announced that he would use a “heavy hand” in the face of “fascism” and “coup-plotters.” Maduro also declared that the opposition march planned for April 17, was banned. Capriles denied any responsibility of the leaders of the opposition coalition (Mesa de la Unidad) for the acts of violence and asked that “the full weight of the law” be applied to individuals who committed any acts of vandalism or violence. Capriles publicly pleaded with his supporters to leave the streets to avoid being caught in violence that was being perpetrated by “government infiltrators;” for the same reason, Capriles suspended the march planned for April 17. On Wednesday, Maduro announced that the CNE had already audited 54% of the votes and that his government would accept any decision made by the electoral body with regard to the opposition’s petition.
“It’s not enough for the government and the opposition to endlessly repeat the word ‘peace’ – it is imperative that both sides refrain from making inflammatory remarks and instead reach out to one another through dialogue to come to a peaceful resolution of this crisis,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF.
“We believe that an audit and a recount of 100% percent of the votes is a legitimate demand of the opposition candidate, given his exceptionally narrow margin of defeat and numerous electoral maneuvers made by the incumbent that made this electoral process as unfair as all previous elections under the late President Hugo Chávez. It is the duty of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the ruling party – the PSUV – to promote an honest and peaceful dialogue regarding the technical possibilities of a vote recount that could bring peace and harmony to the Venezuelan people,” he concluded.
On April 15, Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, made the following announcement via Twitter: “Capriles, you fascist, I’ll personally make sure that you pay for all the damage you are inflicting on our nation and our people.” The following day, Maduro took control of all television and radio broadcasts and addressed Capriles stating, “You will face justice sooner than later.” That same day, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that since “the people did not favor” Capriles as a candidate, he then decided to “attack the Venezuelan people.”
On April 17, the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Luisa Estella Morales, prejudged that, by “allegedly instigating for a manual recount” of the votes, the leaders of the opposition were “without a doubt” inciting people to “begin an endless fight on the streets,” and that as a result “it is necessary to determine responsibilities in a real incident: one where Venezuelans were physically harmed, hurt, and other Venezuelans have died.”
On Monday, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, expressed his support for “the announcement by the representatives of the government and the opposition on the need to conduct an audit and a full recount of the vote.” On Tuesday, Insulza reiterated a “fervent call for dialogue, an essential mechanism to ensure the governability of any country, in a framework of harmony and with full respect for pluralism.”
“HRF welcomes the declarations made by Secretary General Insulza in favor of a plural dialogue in Venezuela, and urges him to conduct all the diplomatic initiatives at his disposal to promote this dialogue under the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” said Halvorssen.