In the weeks leading up to the regional summit last week in Panama City, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro put aside such mundane concerns as a collapsing economy, exploding inflation, shortages of basic goods, out-of-control crime and corrupt police to concentrate on something really important– collecting millions of signatures on a petition denouncing recent US sanctions against Venezuelan human rights abusers.
Unfortunately for Maduro, he was upstaged at the summit by the handshake and meeting between President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro. The Venezuelan leader promised to deliver the petition to Obama through diplomatic channels. I’m sure Obama will take the time to read through all of the signatures carefully.
Oh, and the Venezuelan government was unabashedly coercive when it came to collecting the signatures. The PanAm Post reported last week:
On Sunday, April 5, authorities in the country’s southern Amazonas State arrested National Guard Second Sergeant Frank Manuel Muñoz for refusing to sign the petition convened by the Venezuelan government. On the day in question, the soldier was called at his home on multiple occasions by local commander José Miguel Alaña for him to come to headquarters to sign the document.
After Sergeant Muñoz failed to present himself, a group arrived at his house to force him to comply. A subsequent confrontation between the soldier and his comrades led to Muñoz’s arrest.
On Tuesday, Muñoz was presented before the Eighth Military Tribunal of Control in Puerto Ayacucho, where he was charged with insubordination and military disobedience, as outlined in the Organic Code of Military Justice. He was then transferred on Wednesday to the pretrial military prison at Ramo Verde, Miranda State.
It also emerged this week that employees of the PDVAL state food distribution network in Monagas State, eastern Venezuela, have been demanding that people sign copies of the government’s petition. Those affected by the situation showed the PanAm Post images of shoppers being asked to sign the document before they could buy anything.
The latest episode of political pressure has revived memories of 2004, when Congressman Luis Tascón used data from local NGO Súmate to persecute and stigmatize all those who signed a petition asking for a recall referendum, as outlined in Article 72 of the Constitution, which enshrines citizens’ right to recall elected officials.
The so-called Tascón list was used by government agencies to identify and fire those employees who disagreed with the policies of former President Hugo Chávez. The list was also used to withhold various state services from signatories on a discretionary basis.
And anti-regime Venezuelan blogger Daniel Duquenal wrote about his and his partner’s unhappy experience with the petition:
The shame has continued unabated. Even my personal one. I have almost forced my S.O., a sickly public worker, to go and sign the Maduro farce in a way to be seen by his co-workers, to make sure he does not raise any suspicion at work, to make sure he does not compromise his job, to make sure he does not risk his health insurance. We are not proud but we live in a dictatorship. I can afford not to sign, he cannot because my means do not allow me to support him financially 100%, the more so that the bolivarian revolution is homophobic and contrary to many other LatAm countries has no provision for same sex couples so I cannot put him on my insurance, my retirement, my inheritance, etc. In many other countries there are such possibilities now, but bolivarian Venezuela is probably the most backward country now in South America. Then again homophobia is but one of the many tools of subjection available to fascism.
But my personal shame made me digress.
The fact of the matter is that the 10 million + signatures the regime plans to present today in Panama are a sham at many levels. Outside of Venezuela it is quite something to see that so many people do not realize it. I was watching this morning CNN, the Hong Kong edition. They were surprised that Maduro’s regime had taken the pain to raise so many signatures for 7 human rights violators (that much wisdom from the US they did not question) but apparently nobody seems to have inquired much about how those signatures were raised.
Inside Venezuela we know better. We do not need to be private eyes to know that. The regime itself has published images of school children signing… That is enough to invalidate the process, amen of all of us knowing someone who had been forced to sign, starting with yours truly confession above, wrenching by this historical blog standards. The charade is so widespread that people by themselves wonder how come if 10 million people indeed signed the streets were so empty yesterday to celebrate the end of the drive and the cursing of Obama.