By Joe Emersberger – Sep 27, 2020
On September 15, UN investigators published a 411 page report about the human rights situation in Venezuela. They were not granted access to Venezuela but conducted hundreds of interviews with opponents of the Maduro government. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Arreaza assailed the report for being done “remotely”. It was done separately from the office of Michele Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, as Mision Verdad explained in a critique of the report.
Remember that Bachelet, though she has said that sanctions should be “eased or suspended” during the pandemic, has failed to demand that they all be permanently lifted.  Since 2017 (when Trump dramatically escalated them) sanctions have caused tens of thousands of deaths. He has constantly intensified them since 2017. In 2019, the US banned Venezuela’s oil exports, then imposed a ban on all dealings with Maduro’s government. It has also targeted Venezuela’s trade with other countries. This year it has openly sought to block Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela – in fact it recently seized fuel shipments.
But apparently the US wants UN reports that are totally supportive of its barbarism.
Needless to say, the work of Alfred De Zayas, a UN special rapporteur who visited Venezuela, has been ignored. He came to the wrong conclusions as far as the western propaganda apparatus was concerned. In 2018, he said Venezuela should take the US government before the International Criminal Court over its sabotage of the Venezuelan economy. Any decent and informed person should be saying that by now.
The possibility of holding the world’s most powerful state accountable is a separate matter. This month the US sanctioned an International Criminal Court prosecutor and her aide in retaliation for an investigation into war crimes perpetrated by the US in Afghanistan. Within an Empire, as within any dictatorship, there is one set of rules for the powerful and another set of rules for everybody else.
Exacerbating the US threat to Venezuela’s people
The latest UN report was clearly aimed at providing human rights cover for – and distraction from – ongoing US crimes against Venezuela. In fact, on September 23, Juan Guaidó, whom the US and its allies proclaimed Venezuela’s president in 2019, called on the UN to ”evaluate” applying the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that is beloved by liberal imperialists. That’s a barely concealed call for a foreign invasion of his country.
US economic sanctions on Venezuela were mentioned in passing a few times in the UN report, but their humanitarian impact was never addressed. In one instance [point 138] the investigators brought them up to dispute Maduro’s constitutional right to invoke emergency laws: “states of economic emergency were declared as of January 2016, over a year before the United States imposed the first financial sanction on Venezuela”.
That’s totally disingenuous. Obama imposed damaging economic sanctions on Venezuela’s government in 2015 formally declaring that Venezuela posed an “extraordinary threat” to the national security of the US. Trump has used exactly the same pretext to intensify the Obama era sanctions. The pretext is a wildly cynical reversal of the truth.
When the US, which has displaced tens of millions of people through its wars of aggression since 2001, labels any government an “extraordinary threat”, it’s the targeted government and its civilian population that is placed in grave danger. Moreover, the US threat to Venezuela dates back to 2002, when a US-backed coup briefly deposed the government of Hugo Chavez and installed a dictatorship under a businessman named Pedro Carnoma. That was the first of six major US-backed efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government. The others took place December 2002 – February 2003, April 2013, February-April, 2014, April-July, 2017, and the current, very prolonged, effort by the US to install Guaidó since January of 2019.
The report’s scope was strategically limited to “to investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” in Venezuela since 2014 [point 1 of the report]. But to be coherent in its attack on Maduro’s government – to back up the report’s constitutional arguments, its claims about the judiciary, and its depiction of Leopoldo Lopez as a victim of oppression and torture – the report was forced to mention events during the entire Chavista era (since Hugo Chavez first took office in 1999). 
In doing so, the investigators showed how completely dishonest they were with “open source” material which they claimed to have made “full use” of in the report [point 10]. Their distortions badly undermine the report since it relies heavily on confidential testimony and sources [as Points 9 and 14 explain]. If investigators lie about a historical record that can easily be checked, nobody should trust them to assess confidential information.
Shocking lies of omission
Consider the report’s discussion of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez whose name appears 71 times in the report. Points 374 to 406 are entirely focused on him and begin as follows:
Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza is a Venezuelan economist and politician. In 2000, he co-founded the political party Primero Justicia with Henrique Capriles and Julio Borges. He was elected mayor of Chacao municipality in Caracas in July 2000. He is the National Coordinator of another political party, Voluntad Popular, which he founded in 2009.
He has been accused in 23 different criminal cases since 2001, 20 of which were closed by the Office of the Public Prosecutor before reaching the trial stage.844 He has also been subject to administrative decisions, including disqualification from holding public office from 2008 until 2014 on allegations of nepotism and misappropriation of funds, which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled on 1 September 2011 to be in violation of a number of articles of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.845 The ruling had not been implemented by Venezuela at the time of writing.
Lopez (along with Henrique Capriles) led the “arrest” of a Chavez government minister (Ramón Rodríguez Chacín) while the Carmona dictatorship was briefly in power in April of 2002. Lopez told local media that the arrest was “well done” (the minister was beaten as he was dragged through a crowd) and that “President Carmona” has been “updated”. Lopez also appeared on a local talk show in which two other coup perpetrators boasted about their role in it and thanked the private media for its help in ousting Chavez. By 2014, Lopez had not gone to jail for any of it – as the points 374 and 375 from the report make clear while hiding incredibly important facts.
Lopez (above), April 2002, outside the house of a Chavista Minsiter (Ramón Rodríguez Chacín) leading his arrest on behalf of the Carmona dictatorship
Lopez (above) on local TV, April 2002, bragging about leading the “arrest” of a Chavista Minister. He would say “President Carmona” has been updated
Images above of Lopez leading the “arrest” of minister during 2002 coup, and speaking to media about it taken from YOUTUBE
The US government, according to its own investigation, admitted that it provided “training, institution building, and other support” for people involved in the coup (and also comically argued that it was no big deal). The US-dominated IMF immediately stepped forward to offer Carmona’s dictatorship loans. And the Bush government parroted Carmona’s lies about the coup as did the New York Times editorial board. In a rare example of honesty from wetsern media, a former Washington Post foreign editor succinctly explained (in this video) that the US was “involved in the coup”.
The 2002 coup followed the strategy that Lopez and other opposition leaders would use again in 2013, 2014 and 2017. First, claim “peaceful protests” were being violently repressed. Second, leverage US support (and the western media and big NGO support that inevitably comes with it) to encourage mutiny within the ranks of the government, especially the security forces. (The current coup attempt, like the “oil strike” of 2002/3, is a bit different strategically since it relies more directly on economic sabotage.)
The April 2002 coup that Lopez proudly participated in led to 79 violent deaths: 68 Chavez government supporters (chavistas), 7 opposition, 5 bystanders. Most of the deaths (about 60) took place while the Carmona dictatorship was in power. The report said nothing about the 2002 coup.
In other words, the report ignored that for nearly two decades Venezuela’s government has been saddled with an openly insurrectionist opposition leadership that is backed by a superpower. Any constitutional or legal objection to the actions of Venezuela government that ignores its obligation to protect Venezuela’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (see article 1 of the constitution) is completely dishonest. 
In December of 2007, Lopez and other opposition leaders benefited from a wide ranging amnesty Chavez granted to those who already participated in two incredibly destructive attempts to overthrow him (with full US support).
In April 2013, again with full US support, Henrique Capriles refused to accept the results of the first presidential election won by Maduro. The protests Capriles called for led to the deaths of at least 8 Maduro supporters. Months later, on December 8 of 2013, Lopez said in an interview that Capriles would “be president right now” if he had kept his supporters on the streets ” like many of us advised him to do”. As in 2002, Lopez’s strategy was obviously to keep calling for protests, deny responsibility for killings perpetrated by his side, and be ready to welcome any armed rebellion by the security forces.
Playing dumb about the first three US-backed coup attempts Lopez was part of, the UN report said the following about Lopez’s involvement in the fourth:
Leopoldo López promoted the large anti-Government demonstrations that took place on 12 February 2014 in Caracas and was publicly associated with them. He spoke at the beginning of the event in Caracas, accusing the Government of corruption and alleged ties with drug trafficking, while also calling for nonviolence.846 At around 1.30 p.m., Mr. López left the demonstration and called upon demonstrators, unsuccessfully, to do the same.
Nobody who is honest and familiar with Lopez’s track record can pretend he wasn’t leading another coup attempt. Lopez “calling for non-violence” is no more credible than Pedro Carmona saying his dictatorship was actually a restoration of democracy.
The section on Lopez makes much of what former prosecutor, Franklin Nieves, and former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, now say about Lopez’s case. Both fled Venezuela. Ortega went from hiring a lawyer in 2015 to fight US sanctions against her in court, to fully cooperating with US efforts to overthrow Maduro. In 2018, she suggested she might run for president one day. A key objective of US sanctions and threats is to produce these kinds of self-serving defections.
That said, the prosecution’s case against Lopez was put together in a very peculiar way that may indeed explain “pressures” on the prosecutors to do better. Was there willful incompetence? In their zeal to get in the good books of the US government, the statements now made by Ortega and Nieves suggest that there was. That’s what government supporters have alleged for several years about public prosecutors as hundreds of peasant activists (supporters of the government!) have been murdered with impunity. Deliberate incompetence and lethargy (i.e. corruption) by prosecutors may even have played a role in convincing Chavez that it would be wise to grant people like Lopez amnesty in 2007.
The UN report also concluded, based on allegations by Lopez’s family members, that his treatment in prison “may amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” [point 406].
In May of 2017, responding to rumors spread by Marco Rubio and others that Lopez had been hospitalized, a video was released from the jail where Lopez was held. It led some of his supporters to brag about Lopez’s physique, and to his wife claiming the video had been “edited”.
A month later, Lopez (looking as fit as he did the month earlier) released another video from jail encouraging further protests against Maduro’s “despotic” government. Weeks later, Lopez was moved into house arrest based on “health issues”. Shortly afterwards, Lopez made another video urging the military not to fulfill its duty to defend voting stations during the election of a Constituent Assembly. The UN report [point 396] describes Lopez escaping from house arrest on April 30, 2019 so he could stand next to Guaidó outside a military base for a few hours claiming a revolt was imminent – and no doubt believing he would soon be rounding up Chavistas like he did in April of 2002. But it wasn’t to be. The effort was an undeniable flop within hours, and landed Lopez in the Spanish Embassy where he now resides but without officially having asylum.
We can of course compare Lopez’s plight with Julian Assange, who has (unlike Lopez) indisputably been tortured in a collaborative effort by the US and few allies who presume to not only lecture, but collectively punish all Venezuelans citing “human rights“.
Image and headline above taken from BBC
Assange was not involved with foreign-backed coups against the US, which is not even his government but proclaims itself entitled to punish him. Assange merely engaged in journalism that the Empire did not like.
As already noted, Emperors demand that a special set of rules (if any) apply to themselves and their minions. We can safely count these UN investigators, as well as Lopez, among its minions.
 Recall that the “targeted sanctions” Obama imposed hurt the entire economy – and opened the door for much worse sanctions. The demand should be that all sanctions be permanently lifted (i.e. cancelling the executive order calling Venezuela an “extraordinary threat”) and that US officials be held legally accountable for the harm they inflicted – as Alfred De Zayas has stated.
 Aside from the section on the Lopez case, points 115 – 165 offer a number of standard opposition complaints about the Chavista era before 2014. Point 115 claims that division of powers has been “progressively eroded since the  Constitution has been in place“. Point 149 criticizes laws passed in 2000 and 2004 that impacted the judiciary. Point 156 objects that competitive examinations for judges “.have not been carried out for over 16 years”. The case of judge Afiuni, arrested in 2009, was cited several times.
 I am referring here to various complaints the report makes about actions that restricted the power of the opposition controlled national assembly or allegedly assaulted “judicial independence”. The Venezuelan government does not deny that security forces have perpetrated grave crimes. A discussion of that topic will follow in Part 2.
Featured image: A group of protesters took to the stage during the Lima Group press conference in Ottawa with a banner rejecting intervention in Venezuela (Lars Hagberg / AFP)