Asdrúbal Aguiar: “Dissent Is Criminalized in Venezuela”

EspañolAsdrúbal Aguiar is a prominent Venezuelan jurist and writer who studied law at the Central University of Venezuela, where he obtained a master’s degree, and at Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, where he received his PhD. A professor at various universities, he served as a judge in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The PanAm Post first interviewed him in 2013 (in Spanish), when he served as the president of the Legal Commission of the Inter-American Press Society.

Asdrúbal Aguiar. Fuente: Rinolfo Quintero.
Asdrúbal Aguiar. Fuente: Rinolfo Quintero.

Where is the human right to protest stated in the Venezuelan Constitution? Are the students or protesters acting within the framework of the law?

Assembly, protest, expressions through the press are the backbones of democracy, and they create the conditions to exercise democracy through conscientiousness and reasoned voting, and guarantee that the rest of the elements of this experience — respect for human rights, the state of rights, separation of powers and judicial independence, and transparency in the government — hold it together. Therefore, this is not an irrelevant right. Freedom of association and public meetings with legal purposes and without arms are stated in articles 52 and 53 in the Venezuelan Constitution, and protests or public meetings do not require permission according to the last provision.

The truth, as can fortunately be observed in multiple recordings — thanks to digital services and independent journalists — is that the student protest on February 12, which originated because of the critical situation that is taking place in the country, was peaceful from beginning to end. They had the legal purpose of expressing their grievance over the detention of some students and protesting insecurity — 23,000 homicides during the last year — and the lack basic goods and medicines in supermarkets and pharmacies, after the government wasted more than US$1.5 billion in 15 years and discovered that $40 billion, double the international reserves, were stolen by shell companies or over-billing, according to the government.

At the end of the protest, they had their space invaded by the so-called “popular circles,” which are groups of paramilitary officers — street militants under the government’s control — and they attacked the protesters. The repression by the guards and the Intelligence Service officials is what comes next.

Why does the president’s executive characterize the way students are exercising their right to protest as an abuse of constitutional guarantees?

For several years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has made clear in its reports that dissent is criminalized in Venezuela, and the government uses the justice system to go after it. There is sufficient objective data to support this.

However, those in government, standing on the crisis, which is the result of their wrong public policies and the attempt to transfer the Cuban political and economic paradigms to Venezuela, believe that the students’ opposition protest was trying to carry out a coup, since some of the protesters demanded the president’s resignation. This is neither unconstitutional nor anti-democratic. Also, the constitution states that the president can be the object of an anticipated revocation of his position, and resigning is one of the modalities covered by the constitutional order. Therefore, the fact that some citizens — due to the inescapable reality described in their legitimate discomfort and the repression and censure imposed — asked Nicolás Maduro to resign is a completely democratic act.

What happens is that the government officials of 21st Century Socialism — which is a mutation of communism or totalitarian socialism, as known from the past century — have brought and utilize phony democracy. They entered the democratic race to undermine it from the inside, and now they understand their position of power as a right to indefinite government incumbency. The leaders profess the [democratic] creed, but not for what democracy really is, a people’s right, a human right of every citizen, according to the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Letter.

Is the Venezuelan constitution consistent with international human rights standards?

The Venezuelan constitution, as I said and wrote in the year 2000 when I published its Critical Revision, is a kind of morganatic marriage: inflationary rights like in the French Revolution and despotic in the organization of public powers as in the Ancien Regime. The human-rights understanding that arose after World War II and the Holocaust reaffirms that rights are primary, which means that they precede and are superior to the state; it has to guarantee and serve them. This is stated in the international agreements. However, article 3 of our constitution adds to the state the function of “personality development” of Venezuelans. In other words, the freedom for being and modeling ourselves as free beings depends on thesState. This is reminiscent of the despotism demonstrated in the mix of totalitarian, Marxist, and fascist worldviews.

Is the executive power manipulating the law in its favor? If so, is it violating human rights? Please explain with clear examples.

The government, progressively, after the legal reforms of 2005 and 2008, decided to arm the people and transform them into militants as an appendage of the military to defend the revolution. That is absolutely unconstitutional. At the same time, since 1999, the government decided to organize the so-called Bolivarian Circles, which mutated to “popular groups” and integrated with government militants — people armed to repress and chase all dissidents against the revolution.

That is easy to prove with a light investigation. It is not a hidden fact, and Hugo Chávez himself announced his purpose by revealing to the armed forces his plan of action, based on the New Stage (La Nueva Etapa) and the New Strategic Map (El Nuevo Mapa Estratégico) of 2004. The armed repression of dissidents is a state policy that was rehearsed with the damages that were caused at the doors of the private television channel years ago, which was an act conducted by the commander Lina Ron. However, it was not made so evident as it is nowadays for one fundamental reason: the social and economic deprivation that affects all people equally.

The government, on the other hand, anchored in lies as state policy, talks about peace and declares war, preaches justice but feeds the misery as a form of domination, and accuses everyone who wants to protest democratically of trying to carry out a coup. For the first time, I have to say it, the international community understand this through objective data, and the regime goes to the extreme of talking about a media campaign organized against them, even though the regime itself is the one that controls the whole apparatus of media in Venezuela and maintains increasing censorship of information. The democratic Venezuela communicates and gets informed primarily through social networks.

Translated by Mariana Nava.

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