Pope Urges End Of Violence In Venezuela And For Government To Respect Human Rights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Pope Francis urged on Sunday for an end to the violence that has marred the anti-government protests in Venezuela.

He called for the respect of human rights where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.

On Friday, Venezuela formally notified the Organization of American States of its intention to leave the regional body amid the protests at home and international calls for its embattled government to hold delayed elections and release prisoners.

Venezuelan interim ambassador Carmen Velasquez submitted a letter announcing the move in Washington to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a strong critic of socialist President Maduro.

The notice begins a two-year exit process from the Western Hemisphere’s largest diplomatic body, which had become a forum for its neighbors to exert pressure on Venezuela.

“This is a historic moment that marks a new independence for Venezuela and the region,” said Velasquez, adding that Venezuela would be the first country to leave the Washington-based bloc this way. “We are not going to be participating in any OAS activities.”

On Friday, hundreds marched to a military prison outside Caracas to demand the release of opposition Lopez and other jailed activists they consider political prisoners.

The march was part of an intensifying campaign by the opposition to force Maduro from office. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in almost four weeks of street clashes.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Americas

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

An opposition activist clashes with riot police during a protest march in Caracas on April 26. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

By Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff April 26 at 7:57 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela — Faced with growing criticism from its neighbors over a slide toward authoritarian rule, Venezuela announced Wednesday it will quit the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s oldest regional alliance.

The move comes after OAS member states voted Wednesday to convene an emergency meeting of their top diplomats to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis and deadly political violence that has convulsed Venezuela all month. At least three people were killed in fresh protests Wednesday, including a 20-year-old student struck by a tear gas canister in Caracas.

Speaking on national television Wednesday evening, foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolás Maduro would give formal notice on Thursday of Venezuela’s plans to renounce its OAS membership. During the 24-month period it will take for the country to formally leave, Rodriguez said her government will no longer participate in OAS activities or meetings with other nations she said are trying to “undermine the stability and peace of our country” with the goal of promoting an “invasion.”

OAS general secretary Luis Almagro in recent months has become a fierce critic of Maduro’s, calling him a “dictator” guilty of widespread human rights violations. His concerns are backed by the Washington-based OAS’s largest member states: the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Colombia and several others.

If Venezuela quits OAS, which was founded in 1948, it would join its leftist ally Cuba, whose communist government was expelled in 1962, as the only non-OAS nation in the hemisphere. But Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature may attempt to block it, and if Maduro is unseated in elections due to take place late next year, his successor could halt the process.

Opposition supporters attend a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas as police respond with tear gas. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Chris Sabatini, a Latin America expert at Columbia University, said Venezuela’s withdrawal risks a major split in OAS if Nicaragua, Bolivia and other Maduro allies follow him in protest.

“At that point, the body that had once represented the hemisphere would be fractured,” Sabatini said, adding that none of the region’s other international organizations has the same institutional heft as the OAS, including the CELAC bloc of states that excludes the United States and Canada.

Venezuela has asked for an emergency CELAC meeting, that, if boycotted by many other Latin America nations, could leave that international body crippled as well, Sabatini noted, saying Venezuela’s decision is a “rejection of long-standing international rules and commitments” that leaves it increasingly isolated.

On Wednesday, thousands of anti-Maduro protesters again seized control of the main highway through Venezuela’s capital, but their march toward government buildings downtown was pushed back by police water cannons and stinging clouds of tear gas.

Although the standoff has played out the same way several times this month, opponents of Maduro insist they will continue to pressure his government through near-daily protests, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

One 20-year-old protester died after being struck with a gas canister in the city’s upscale Altamira district, authorities said.

As the government lashed out at foreign critics Wednesday, the blocked march underscored the degree to which the country’s political crisis has become a battle of attrition ­between Maduro and his ­re-energized opponents.

Venezuela’s opposition clashes with police

The country’s political crisis intensified after its supreme court curbed the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature, then reversed the rulings days later.

Caracas was crippled for another day as the government shut down subway and bus systems and choked off highway access to the capital in what appeared to be an attempt to limit the size of the protests.

Thousands marched against the government anyway, some ready with gas masks. By calling their supporters into the streets repeatedly, opposition leaders say they want to wear down security forces and push the government to meet their demands: new elections, the release of political prisoners, acceptance of international aid and a return to democratic rule.

Their ability to summon huge crowds also sends a message to Venezuela’s armed forces, said political analyst Margarita López Maya, because Maduro grows increasingly dependent on their loyalty as he weakens. Opposition leaders are appealing directly to Venezuelan soldiers, asking them to defy Maduro’s orders and force the government to give ground.

“By putting thousands and thousands of people in the streets almost every day, they’re trying to keep the cost of supporting Maduro very high for the armed forces,” said López Maya. “And the government is in a slide that looks irreversible.”

[Government opponents appeal to Venezuela’s military as chaos grows]

The unrest has left at least 29 dead this month, according to Venezuelan officials, including protesters, police, government supporters, alleged looters and several others who appeared to be bystanders.

The antigovernment surge was triggered by a perfunctory attempt by pro-Maduro judges last month to incapacitate Venezuela’s legislative branch, which the opposition has controlled since it won a landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

The court mostly reversed the decision, but anger swelled again a few days later when the government barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office.

Venezuela’s downward spiral has left food and medicine in short supply but anger at the government in abundance. Maduro charges that his enemies are trying to sabotage the oil-rich country’s economic recovery and are paving the way for a foreign invasion.

“They want to fill our country with hate, to push our country into violence,” Maduro said Wednesday. He said he plans to announce “a historic measure” in the coming days but did not elaborate.