May 17, 2017
Canadians cannot continue to be apathetic from action to ongoing international crisis. Venezuelans currently face both human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis of severe shortages of food and medicine. This humanitarian crisis is not a result of drought but rather of governmental control and mismanagement. Hyperinflation is expected to be 1,600 per cent in 2017 (source). Half of Venezualan children do not get three meals a day and more than a million students have dropped out of school because of hunger. Hospitals are unable to treat curable diseases and both infant and material mortality. But this is just part of the reality.
While 80 per cent of Venezuelans say they want a new government, President Nicolas Maduro’s government has responded by refusing to schedule any elections and has led two-self coups to invalidate the National Assembly. With such reliance on the military as a tool for repression, since April 4, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the street to peacefully advocate for change – shooting crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets , and arresting more than 1,900 including 180 government officials including Democratic opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and leaving over 37 dead including a 14 year old.
Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez and mother Antonieta Lopez met directly with Canada’s Members of Parliament on May 16th, including with now former Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Tom Mulcair leader of the New Democratic Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself. Hosted by Canada’s human rights and genocide prevention champion Honourable Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Emeritus Professor of Law (McGill University), former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and revered long-time Member of Parliament, these women ask for Canada to help Venezuelan efforts in the streets must indeed be amplified by international allies’ efforts.
Including an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics, her demands are clear:
1) the unconditional release of all political prisoners;
2) the holding of general elections;
3) the opening of a United Nations-run humanitarian aid for food and medicine;
4) and full restoration of the rights of governance for our National Assembly, which has stripped its powers by Mr. Maduro’s Supreme Court
In an op-ed published by Globe and Mail, Lilian Titori, expresses: “With the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuala should be prosperous. But today, more than 80 percent of Venezuelan households live in poverty. The paradox weighs heavy on me. While we used to be the richest country in Latin America, poor governance has led to the implosion of our economy – a collapse mirrored by the demise of our democracy. Political mismanagement and corruption have bankrupted our country and killed democratic institutions.”
Is it not our duty as Canadian parliamentarians to take these human rights abuses seriously in actions of genocide prevention? Yesterday Members of Parliament including Michelle Rempel All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Prevention of Genocide and other Crimes Against Humanity (GPG) member Michael Levitt spoke in Question Period on the seriousness of the situation in Venezuela. As the late British MP Joe Cox, May 2016 regarding “Europe human Rights, and Keeping People Safe At Home and Abroad”: “We now have decades and decades of experience showing that early intervention to prevent human rights abuses and mass atrocity works. Does the Foreign Secretary feel that his Department, and indeed the whole government, would benefit from a mass atrocity prevention lens being focused on all policies so that we intervene early and fast to prevent escalation?”. As reminded in a May 2017 Policy Brief from the Global Centre for the Responsibly to Protect, the political strategy of using parliament to provide early warning, provoke action or expose issues that might be otherwise conveniently ignored by governments, is central to the strategic approach adopted by many parliamentarians. There are many national level advocacy networks for mass atrocity prevention the Canadian government for support as the Policy Brief lists including the GPG.
Furthermore, we cannot let Canada’s already invested efforts for Venezualans, This includes our work to move the Organization of American States (OAS) towards invoking its Inter-American Democratic Charter in Venezuela. If we are not strategic, the Maduro regime will go through with his intended withdrawal from the OAS. As explained by Ms. Tintori from the ground, her lawyers, and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro the Canadian government can begin with spearheading international UN humanitarian aid in conducting an immediate development strategy for aid distribution and an independent needs assessment in Venezuela. In a Parliament meeting, Tintori and her lawyers also explained Canada’s role in the Venezuela crisis by working with OAS Commonwealth countries as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Bahamas and Jamaica. As are the values in our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada has the responsibility in denouncing human rights abuses, including these unconstitutional arrests and torture universally. It is the role of Canadian parliamentarians and civil society to demand release of political prisoners above business and trade.
In the women’s last event of the day hosted by Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation and University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, the room was packed of hundreds of Venezuelan Canadians and supporters. They are overjoyed not only to have the chance to speak in their mother tongue but for these women’s activists as a beacon to the world to further mass atrocities. With families still in Venezuela, these proud Canadians respect of right and freedoms in democracy they care so much about for in their home country, they cheer and literally surround Lilian, Antonieta, and Hon. Colter Lilian for their strength and determination as representatives for basic human rights. To thousands, Lilian is the heroine and hope of Venezuela. She is the hope of a country to rid away of the ongoing fear, abuse, torture and deprivation of necessities.
@alfredoromero. “#9May 8:00am: 1991 arrested in protests since April 4th 2017 #Venezuala. 653 still jailed”. Twitter, 9 May 2017, 8:31 a.m., https://twitter.com/alfredoromero/status/861921446087602178.
@Almagro_OEA2015. “As Attorney General @lortegadiaz has recognized the violation of the constitutional order in #Venezuela bit.ly2qOJBT” Twitter, 16, May, 2017, 5:25 p.m., https://twitter.com/Almagro_OEA2015/status/864592772292108288 .
Bello. ‘What is to be done in Venezuela ?’. The Economist, 5, Nov. 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21709580-vatican-sponsored-talks-are-more-promising-they-look-what-be-done-venezuela. Accessed 16 May 2017
EFE. “ Ecovi: 82% de los hogares está en pobreza’. El Nacional, 17, Feb. 2017. http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/crisis-humanitaria/encovi-los-hogares-esta-pobreza_81460. Accessed 16, May 2017.
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “Advocate, Educate, Legislate: The Role of Parliamentarians in the Prevention of Mass Atrocities” 4 May, 2017, http://www.globalr2p.org/publications/487.
Pestano, Andrew. “Venezuela: 75% of population lost 19 pounds amid crisis”, UPI, 19, Feb. 2017. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/02/19/Venezuela-75-of-population-lost-19-pounds-amid-crisis/2441487523377/. Accessed 16, May 2017.
Talley, Ian. “Venezuala’s Inflation Is Set to Top 1,600% Next Year”. Wall Street Journal, 18 July 2016. https://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/07/18/venezuelas-inflation-is-set-to-top-1600-next-year/. Accessed 16, May 2017.
Watts, Johnathan. ‘Venezuela opposition allege coup as supreme court seizes power’. The Guardian, 30 March, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/30/venezuela-president-nicolas-maduro-national-assembly . Accessed 16 May, 2017
‘Venezuela to withdraw from OAS as deadly protests continue’ BBC, 27 April, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39726605. Accessed 16 May, 2017.
“Venezuela human rights activities asks Canada for help in crisis”. CBC News, uploaded by CBC News, 16, May 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/venezuelan-human-rights-activist-asks-canada-for-help-in-crisis-1.4118816