Maduro Cranks Up Pressure on Venezuelan Human Rights Groups
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela targeted a local humanitarian organization in another attempt to crack down on civil society groups that the government accuses of conspiring against the administration.
Security officials acting on a judge’s warrant swarmed the Caracas headquarters of human rights organization Convite, the organization said in a tweet. Some of the group’s equipment was seized and its director, Luis Francisco Cabezas, was taken to a local police station where he was detained for two hours, the group wrote on social media this afternoon.
“We are not the problem. We are part of the solution in the face of so much suffering,” the group tweeted. “Enough with the hostility and persecution.”
Convite, a group formed in 2006 that focuses on vulnerable segments of the population such as women, children and the elderly, is the third local, non-governmental organization raided by security officials since last month and part of a growing pattern of intimidation by Nicolas Maduro’s government toward human rights groups.
The newly-elected National Assembly intends to sanction a law to curtail the activities of organizations that receive U.S. funding, alleging they are conspiring against the government, ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello said.
In the meantime, Maduro has halted a deal that would allow the United Nations World Food Programme from bringing food and nutrition experts into the country. The government insists on controlling food distribution and aid through its state-run system, including through the participation of militia.
The WFP requires neutral, non-political distribution, which makes the militia’s participation potentially problematic. The need for food aid networks is great. WFP research conducted in Venezuela found that more than 2 million people were severely food-insecure, and another 7 million people moderately so, meaning that nearly a third of the population is suffering from some form of food insecurity.
In late November, the offices of two Venezuelan food-aid groups, Alimenta la Solidaridad and Mi Convive, were searched by security officials and their bank accounts frozen by the government. Cabello said that the “criminal opposition” has given money to several NGOs, including the two targeted.
The warrant used Tuesday to raid Convite’s offices sought to investigate the group for terrorism-related crimes, said Rafael Uzcategui, the general coordinator of another human rights NGO, Provea. Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab didn’t respond to a request for comment. Officials at the Information Ministry didn’t immediately reply to requests.
“With the new National Assembly controlled by the government, a process to promote regressive laws on human rights will start and these will be used to justify the persecution against the independent civil society, including human rights defenders,” Uzcategui said in a voice message.
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