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23 December 2014

New defamatory statements aimed at impeding the work of human rights defenders

On 17 December 2014, during his weekly television programme “Con el Mazo Dando”, transmitted on Venezolana de Televisión, president of the National Assembly and vicepresident of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (Psuv), Mr Diosdado Cabello, once again made defamatory comments against human rights defenders in the country. These comments were related to a recent meeting in the offices of Human Rights Watch in New York on 1 December 2014, in which many Venezuelan human rights defenders participated.

During the broadcast, a number of human rights defenders were named for having taken part in this meeting via video conference, including Mr Marcos Ponce from the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory for Social Unrest) Ms Rocío San Miguel, from Control Ciudadano para la Seguridad, la Defensa y la Fuerza Armada Nacional (Citizen Watchdog on Security, Defence and the Armed Forces) and Mr Carlos Nieto Palma from Una Ventana a La Libertad (A Window to Freedom). Diosdado Cabello also named Mr Marino Alvarado from the Programa Venezolano de Educacion y Proteccion de los derechos humanos – PROVEA (Venezuelan Programme for Education and Protection of Human Rights) and Mr Humberto Prado Sifontes, the general coordinator for the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones – OVP (Venezuelan Prison Observatory). However, neither of them had taken part in the meeting. A number of these human rights defenders have previously been the target of defamatory statements by Diosdado Cabello and other government representatives for their role in monitoring and denouncing human rights violations in the country.

During the section “Los mazazos” (The heavy blows) of the television broadcast, Diosdado Cabello made unfounded comments about how the human rights defenders had used this meeting to plan their strategies for 2015 and he suggests that they will resume the violent campaign that they were allegedly involved in during the first half of 2014, which left 43 people dead. In the meeting, which Diosdado Cabello described as being 'financed by imperialism', he alleged that the human rights defenders and NGOs were discussing their 2015 plan for 'destabilisation', including the resumption of the tactic of “Guarimba”, a form of protest which includes blocking roads, setting fire to tyres, and throwing rocks. He further criticised the NGOs involved for discussing the alleged violations of human rights in the country, the role of political parties, and the persecution of human rights defenders by the President of Venezuela Mr Nicolás Maduro.

Diosdado Cabello also commented that he had allegedly been informed by those participating in the meeting that Marcos Ponce had put himself in charge of organising the trade unionists from the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana, a decentralised state-owned conglomerate, located in the Guayana Region, to protest, instigate violence and to bring many of the essential industries in the country to a standstill. Marino Alvarado was also allegedly designated by the group to be an instigator of labour union protests in 2015. When mentioning Humberto Prado Sifontes, Diosdado Cabello suggested that he had not been asked to join the meeting due to a loss of confidence in him among fellow human rights defenders given his lack of accountability for $250,000 that he received and Diosdado Cabello mentioned hearing him described as a thug and a thief.

He also criticised the use of the organisation Transparencia Venezuela, the national branch of Transparency International which promotes transparency and accountability across all sectors of society, as a way of cleaning up the image of right-wing institutions. In his criticism of this organisation, he details how the director Ms María Freitas Sánchez has travelled to the US ten times this year and that she is responsible for the finances of the organisation, including money transfers from the US, and suggests that she is linked to a number of well known right-wing politicians in Venezuela. The defamatory comments made during this programme are believed to be part of a smear campaign against defenders and civil society organisation by the President of the National Assembly.

This is the latest in a series of defamatory remarks made by Diosdado Cabello on his programme. In a recent hearing of Venezuela before the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, Diosdado Cabello's programme was mentioned as an example of criminalisation against human rights defenders.