venezuela human rights regime change

How Venezuela’s US-backed opposition distorts ‘human rights’ to push regime change

Venezuelan lawyer Lucrecia Hernández, director of the NGO Sures, discusses how US-funded opposition groups have politicized and weaponized “human rights” discourse against the Maduro government.

By Ajit Singh


LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: There is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. What we have here is an attack against our currency, an attack against our people, only in order to change the government of this country through undemocratic means.

AJIT SINGH: It’s Ajit Singh with The Grayzone. I’m here in Caracas, Venezuela to speak Lucrecia Hernández. She is a human rights lawyer with 25 years of experience, and director of the organization Sures, which was founded in 2014. Thank you for meeting with me Lucrecia.

Can you talk about the origins of Sures and why this organization formed?

LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: After 1999, when President Chávez assumed office, many organizations which had been working on human rights defending vulnerable people decided to adopt a political position rather than a position of defending human rights. They formed political parties masquerading as human rights organizations. So from that point we experienced a falling out with our colleagues who had assumed a political position.

I think one of the main differences of our organization has to do with the perspective on human rights we adopt. We think that human rights are not only violated by governments. All the international and institutional systems have been created so that the only level considered, the only actor considered capable of violating human rights, are governments.

We think that nowadays there are other actors able to violate human rights. In the configuration of the international world system we have actors who are much more powerful than states, or at least some states, such as transnational companies, which are actors which violate human rights on a large scale. So we take this critical, counter-hegemonic position on human rights, where we consider other actors as capable of violating human rights.

We also believe that even some individual persons are able to violate human rights as it has happened in our country, where we have experienced intense moments of political violence. Where those promoting that political violence have been neither the state nor collective actors but natural persons who can be singled out. So in this new perspective, it is not only the state that is an actor who violates human rights but there are also other actors.

This is one of the differences. Another one stems from funding. Our organization does not receive funding from governments nor from international organizations, which are in turn funded by the US State Department or other governments which have adopted a strong opposition to the Venezuelan national government.

Many Venezuelan organizations that until the 1990s defended human rights now are being funded by transnational companies which brand themselves as so-called NGOs. And obviously you must be held accountable to those who fund you, so it’s very difficult to be neutral and impartial if the ones who fund you are opposing the Venezuelan government of President Maduro.

AJIT SINGH: We often hear about a humanitarian crisis, political tensions, and polarization in Venezuela. Can you talk about the situation in the country today?

LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: From 2014 onwards, when President Chávez died we think that moment was crucial for Venezuela because since that moment, besides the death of President Chávez, it was a turning point that marked an increase in political violence in the country. Since 2013 until now, there have been several so-called “guarimbas” which are events of political violence promoted by the opposition in 2013, 2014 and 2017.

We have tried to research and systematize all of those events from a critical point of view, trying to understand what was happening. We started a research line on political violence. We produced some reports which are available in different languages on our website, on the topic of demonstrations, and on how these demonstrations have been promoted by the political opposition.

And in contrast with the discourse that some have tried to push forward, that the police was repressing students, most of the people dying in these demonstrations were not students, and most of them weren’t even part of the demonstration but collateral damages caused by those demonstrations. People who suffered attacks against their personal integrity or their right to life.

Most of the people who died were not demonstrators nor students, or people who sided with the opposition. We have been able to show this with interviews and with our research.

And as I mentioned before, most of these have been promoted by individual persons, by political actors from the opposition. So that’s why we say it’s important to have a critical view on the issue of human rights and actors that might violate them.

We have also been trying to make it visible that the U.S. government and its allies, from 2014 onwards have been imposing unilateral coercive measures known as “sanctions” against the Venezuelan government, that have had a direct impact on the Venezuelan people.

Here it is important to differentiate the discourse that they have tried to impose on an international level on the topic of these sanctions against Venezuela. Because public opinion or the “international community”, as they call themselves, have stated that sanctions have been imposed on business people or high-level civil servants linked to the government and that they do not impact human rights.

What we have tried to show in our reports is that since the first sanction, imposed in 2014 by the US government, was imposed on the Venezuelan national oil company (PDVSA) — the main oil company of the Venezuelan government which produces more than 90 percent of the currency that the country needs — so the main company in the country suffers a sanction from a law by the U.S. Congress and it restricts the buying and selling of Venezuelan oil.

In this same law in 2014, which is when we begin analyzing measures, the Venezuelan Central Bank also suffers a sanction, the institution which controls monetary policy in Venezuela. And the sanctions also target any company or institution which attempts to have trading relationships with the Venezuelan government or with Venezuelan companies.

So it is established that any interaction with Venezuela from anyone supporting Venezuela, showing solidarity or even just trading with Venezuela will be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

From that point onwards, there is an escalation in sanctions against the Venezuelan government, we have calculated that from 2014 to March 22, 2019, there have been 39 unilateral coercive measures — 26 of them just by the US government, two by the Obama administration and 24 by the Trump administration.

And it is important to highlight that these measures have been linked with pronouncements or measures that the Venezuelan government has tried to implement in order to alleviate the crisis that the country is suffering.

For example, after the acts of political violence that the country experienced in 2014, the government, under President Nicolás Maduro, decides to initiate a National Constituent Assembly. And when the National Constituent Assembly is established, peace returns to the country and political violence ceases, right after that the US government imposes coercive measures, followed by the Canadian, British and Swiss governments.

Yet another measure imposed by the US government was right after the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro, who won the elections in a democratic fashion and was elected by more than 64 percent of votes. The US government again imposed coercive measures.

When the Venezuelan government attempted to apply a measure such as the creation of crypto-currency, the petro, or announced that it was going to increase its sale of gold, coercive measures were imposed. This means coercive measures are directly linked to attempts by the Venezuelan government to alleviate the situation of crisis that we are living, the complex situation we are living in.

Or when it attempts to re-establish peace in the country. For example, there have been coercive measures when the opposition abandons dialogues or negotiations. So we see how these measures have been increasing the situation of polarization in the country and the violation of human rights against the country.

We know that Venezuela imports almost 40 percent of the medicines it requires from countries that have been imposing coercive measures, 36 percent of medicines are imported from the US. From Switzerland, 10 percent. From Italy and France and Spain medicines are also imported, and those are the countries which have imposed coercive measures. So we see how those coercive measures have had an impact on human rights.

Another clear example of an impact on human rights has been with the Venezuelan national oil company (PDVSA) and its subsidiary Citgo, which is based in the US and which from 2016 has suffered a policy of restriction of its profits.

In 2016, its accounts were seized, in 2017, the whole company was seized and, in 2019, the US government has directly stolen one of the most important Venezuelan companies and through a middleman funneled money from Citgo to Juan Guaidó to fund the opposition.

So we see how these measures have been having an impact on human rights.

AJIT SINGH: In the West, we are often told that the Venezuelan government and President Maduro are committing extensive human rights abuses, and that President Maduro is actually a dictator. This has, in fact, been used as the justification for a lot of the coercive measures and calls for regime change that have been advanced by the US and their allies. Can you comment on that situation?

LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: I think it is important to differentiate between what is a human rights violation and what is a systematic violation of human rights. All countries violate human rights, and all governments in all countries in the world violate human rights because it is impossible for a government to be perfect. And no democracy is perfect, but what we always must differentiate is what constitutes a policy of systematically violating human rights against vulnerable groups, from a human rights abuse.

For example, our organization has urged the Venezuelan government in cases of police abuses. We have made several recommendations from 2016, when there was an important police reform and there was a process of police training. And we have seen results from that, even though there is still work to do. But we can say that that supposes a specific violation of human rights that in turn caused a policy reform and defense of human rights.

And we have to differentiate it from a policy of systematic violation of human rights, which happens in many countries in the world, where there are persecutions against social groups, Indigenous peoples, agricultural workers, and that, we think, does not happen in Venezuela. We have specific human rights violations, but not systematic human rights violations.

We believe that the fundamental problem in Venezuela, the economic crisis we are living in, stems from the coercive measures that have been imposed by foreign governments, specifically the US government and its allies, and all the impact that has had on the economy and the economic development of the country.

We think that the areas most affected by this are health and the right to development. In health, because many banks, private companies, pharmaceutical companies are refusing to trade with Venezuela, so many times the Venezuelan government has had to pay for the imports of medicines.

For example, what has happened with many Colombian labs, to which money has been paid for anti-malaria treatments, that has money has been withheld and no medicines have been sent. Or insulin doses which were paid for last year but not sent to the country due to the financial, economic, and commercial blockade imposed on Venezuela.

The accounts that the Venezuelan government had in banks were closed, and that has had an impact on the imports on medicines. Even though alternatives are being explored with other countries and the UN system is supporting us, things have been difficult since new strategies and mechanisms had to be developed to import medicines.

We also believe that an important problem that has happened has to do with the feeding of Venezuelan people, even though our organization believes that the impact has been not so much on food as in health. This is because we mostly import food products which are not necessary for our feeding.

For instance, wheat, most of it is imported from Canada, but it has to do with diet habits of Venezuelan people, since Venezuelan people could abstain from eating bread and would still be fed. But it’s difficult to break from that, as the absence of bread might cause the feeling of a shortage of food. But we never traditionally produced wheat.

What we are doing is trying to modify dietary habits since 88 percent of the food Venezuelan people need to live are produced in Venezuela. The biggest impact of these measures has not been on food but on health and on the country’s currency since there have been restrictions against the main company producing currency.

AJIT SINGH: From the perspective of your organization, do you feel that there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela today? And what do you feel needs to happen in Venezuela to move forward from this impasse?

LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: There is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. What we have here is an attack against our currency, an attack against our people, only in order to change the government of this country through undemocratic means.

There is a discourse from the international community about a humanitarian crisis in order to justify an intervention in the country, violating our national sovereignty and the principle of self-determination of peoples. And violating the entire system of public and private international law.

We are currently experiencing an economic crisis, but this crisis has been caused single-handedly by the measures and sanctions imposed by the U.S. government and its allies against the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan people. That is the crisis we can observe and denounce right now.

Besides, internationally, humanitarian crises are regulated in the UN system, there are rules to establish how humanitarian aid should be managed. First, the government must apply for humanitarian aid, and the Venezuelan government hasn’t done so.

Humanitarian aid must be impartial, and totally separated from state policies — that is, it must be independent. And we see that, currently, the ones trying to push the humanitarian aid have a clear political aim which is to change the democratic government of the country.

So we can’t really talk of a humanitarian crisis but rather of an intervention that is being planned against this country.

AJIT SINGH: Thank you so much for your time, Lucrecia. Are there any final words that you wish to impart to our audience?

LUCRECIA HERNÁNDEZ: Many thanks to you for this interview, Grayzone.

I think it is very important that the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) take a stand against the economic, trading and financial blockade imposed on our country, that is causing serious violations of human rights, as they have in support of Cuba.

I also think that international solidarity, the solidarity of peoples and organizations, is very important. And denouncing all instances of this blockade that the Venezuelan people are suffering.

The Venezuelan people are a peaceful people, who have supported other people, who have expressed solidarity and given shelter to refugees and neighbors in different times of the political life of our country and which wishes to live with the government it chooses.

We, the Venezuelan people have chosen the way of democracy and peace and we want that way to be respected, we don’t want an intervention in our country. We want to come out of this situation in a democratic fashion, just like last year where we held elections and the people decided who was to rule the country.

So we appreciate the positions of different peoples and organizations which have taken a stand in support of peace and of human rights for the Venezuelan people.