Published in partnership with MintPress News.
CARACAS, Venezuela — As Venezuela continues to combat various forms of interference within its borders, the European Union has unveiled its nominees for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The prize, which was established in 1988, is awarded to individuals or groups dedicated to improving human rights. This year’s nominees include National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and Mesa de la Humanidad Democrática, the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition coalition group formed in 2008 to unify the opposition to the government of then-President Hugo Chávez.
Yet the Venezuelan opposition has been involved in inciting violent acts. These have included attacks on journalists, threats, destruction of property and the environment, attacks on Cuban doctors working in Venezuela, and aggressive behavior against civilians cleaning up the streets after protests.
The destabilization efforts culminated in a thwarted coup attempt on Feb. 12, 2015. According to TeleSur, Maduro said in a televised address that members of the opposition involved in the coup were being paid in U.S. dollars, and backup plans to offer safe passage to the U.S. were also in place to protect the coup plotters.
On Sept. 11, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison for leading last year’s anti-government protests. Lopez was also found guilty of incitement and association in relation to violence and crimes.
Luis de Grandes Pascual, representative of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), justified the nomination by alleging human rights abuses committed under President Nicolas Maduro’s administration, stating:
“While the government (in Venezuela) was democratically elected, at the moment it is exercising a totalitarian control on the population. This collective group is part of the democratic opposition in Venezuela; they are struggling and fighting to exercise their rights.”
The United States passed the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act” last December, showing its own support for the opposition. The bill targets Venezuelan government officials with sanctions, encourages cooperation “with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) to ensure the peaceful resolution of the situation in Venezuela and the cessation of violence against antigovernment protestors,” and calls for the development of democratic political processes, even though a democratic framework already exists in the country.
Leaked audio reveals opposition reaching out to the IMF
The EU’s portrayal of the Venezuelan opposition as needing support and protection contradicts information leaked recently that exposes the opposition’s links with international organizations. A phone conversation leaked on Oct. 14 revealed that the opposition is in secret talks with the International Monetary Fund. In the call, Venezuelan businessman Lorenzo Mendoza and former politician Ricardo Hausmann discuss the possibility of approaching the IMF for intervening Venezuela through financial support for the opposition. This tactic previously featured in the short-lived coup against Chávez in 2002.
Both in 2002 and in the recent attempts to oust Maduro, U.S. policy is to fund the opposition and also approve the funding of the opposition by international bodies such as the IMF, while trying to portray events as a popular uprising, as opposed to a coup.
Mendoza is said to control key supplies of the Venezuelan economy, including the production of food staples and basic consumer goods, and government supporters allege his involvement in the economic destabilization of the country.
Writing for Venezuela Analysis on Oct. 19, Rachael Boothroyd Rojas reported that Venezuelans widely reject the involvement of the IMF in their country, as it is perceived to have contributed to economic instability throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. In February, the Venezuelan opposition released their manifesto, “Call for a National Transition Agreement,” which called for “the input of international financial organizations.”
Balancing refugees and human rights
In 2012, a year after European nations participated in the destruction of Libya, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU “for the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
Likewise, the EU’s nomination of the Venezuelan opposition for the Sakharov Prize indicates a trend common to other internationally-awarded prizes — the selective interpretation of democracy and imperialist agenda that contributes to misinformation. Despite ongoing efforts at destabilization, President Maduro has continued to pursue an internationalist policy that has given rise to alternative solidarity. During the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) summit held in Caracas in August, Maduro proposed that the bloc should invest in health, education and infrastructure in Africa, to provide an alternative to the destruction wrought by NATO and the policies of intervention accepted and practiced by the U.S. and EU.
While the EU harangued over refugee quotas — even after previously exhibiting support for rebels in Libya and Syria, which contributed to violence and the number of refugees fleeing both countries today — Maduro announced that Venezuela will take in 20,000 Syrian refugees.
The announcement that Venezuela will take in the same number of Syrian refugees as the United Kingdom, came as the Maduro administration was being accused of violating the human rights of Colombians seeking asylum. Paramilitary infiltration through the border with Colombia threatened to play into local instability that is being funded by the U.S. and the Venezuelan oligarchy.
It also came as Venezuela seeks to prevent the possibility of a situation similar to what unfolded in Chile in the 1970s, when Western forces — particularly, the U.S. — intervened to fund and encourage the right-wing opposition toward overthrowing the democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and replacing him with a brutal dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
However, President of the Association of Colombians Juan Carlos Tanus, who has resided in Venezuela for many years, debunked the hysteria fuelled by the Colombian government and disseminated by the media. In an interview with TeleSur, translated to English and published at Venezuela Solidarity, Tanus insisted that measures taken by Venezuela to secure its borders are an attempt at safeguarding human rights. He told TeleSur:
“Venezuela is constitutionally obliged to guarantee the security of its citizens in the frontier corridor and it has a border of more than 2,200 km with Colombia. Venezuela has the right to exercise these measures to guarantee tranquillity and to defend human rights. Our rights are guaranteed in Venezuela.”
Tanus explained that the current operations on the border between Venezuela and Colombia are necessary to prevent the pilfering and smuggling of basic resources, as well as to prevent kidnappings and oil theft. He also stated that the Colombian government’s lack of currency control on the border could be described “as a war by sectors of the oligarchy, against Venezuela, to take control or economic management of the frontier.”
Gearing up for elections
As the country gears up for parliamentary elections in December, Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales re-entered Venezuela for the first time since being granted political asylum in Peru in 1999. Rosales had been named as one of the individuals funding paramilitary groups in Colombia, according to a paramilitary fighter arrested by Venezuelan security forces, and was arrested upon termination of his self-imposed exile.
Rosales’ arrest may provide another card through which to allege human rights violations committed by the Maduro administration and may help to galvanize the opposition and its goals by focusing on “political prisoners,” despite his absconding from Venezuela during the Chávez administration amid accusations of “illicit enrichment.”
And, indeed, with elections approaching, destabilization efforts are already underway, according to Luis Motta Domínguez. During a press conference on Oct. 19, he reported “13 attacks” on the country’s electricity grid starting from Oct. 13.
“The electrical system in the 18 days of October has received 13 attacks, 13 acts of sabotage, which also destabilizes the system,” Motta Domínguez said. “They are intended to disturb and disrupt the elections on December 6.”
Noting that all of the “attacks” occurred in border states, he added: “It is no accident.”