EspañolTwo Venezuelan councilmen are walking the talk of solidarity and have joined the hunger strike launched by political prisoners Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos. They made the announcement on Friday, June 5, in the Vatican.
— Martin Paz (@MartinEPaz) June 5, 2015
“Today at 3:00 p.m. Italy time, 8:30 a.m. in Venezuela, together with @JoseVicenteG. We began our hunger strike from the Vatican in Rome.”
Martín Paz and José Vicente García, two San Cristóbal councilmen from Táchira state, decided to join the strike ahead of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s meeting with Pope Francis on Sunday. However, Maduro canceled the trip to Rome, alleging a flu and otitis infection.
This announcement swells the number of Venezuelans on hunger strike to 23: four jailed opposition leaders, one congressman, two councilmen, and 16 college students who are demanding that the Venezuelan government set a date for the legislative elections, allow international observers in, and free all political prisoners.
On Friday, Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of San Cristóbal who was transferred to a highly dangerous common prison in May, had been fasting for 14 days. His wife, Patricia de Ceballos, took to social media to denounce that the opposition leader was “kidnapped,” since neither she nor his lawyers have been able to visit him.
Patricia said she could only reach her husband through the phone. During the six-minute call, Daniel Ceballos reported injuries in his body and that his hands and feet become numb from time to time. He told his wife “the government is delaying everything to put a strain on his health.”
Patricia de Ceballos also reported that the Venezuelan court is “blackmailing” them to approve the transfer of her husband: “His lawyer Juan Carlos Gutiérrez has spoken to the Prosecutor’s Office. What they say is ‘well, get him to stop the strike and we’ll pull him out of there.'”
His legal defense team headed by Gutiérrez confirmed that they haven’t been able to see Ceballos since Friday, and lamented the conditions of his imprisonment.
Gutiérrez described his cell as bare-brick walled, “the roof made up of metal bars upon which other inmates walk everyday. All he has is a latrine, and at times during the day they throw water into his cell.”
He claims the Maduro administration is not meeting the demands made by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, nor providing the necessary care arising from the Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes.
Lester Toledo, another legal counselor, described mistreatment against Ceballos: “they torture him psychologically; they place trays with food by his side so he gives up, to provoke him.”
For his part, Friday was Leopoldo López’s 11th day of hunger strike. His wife Lilian Tintori reported that his health had deteriorated, and that he had lost eight kilograms. The other political prisoners in hunger strike, Raúl Emilio Baduel and Alexander Tirado, had been carrying out the measure for 10 days, and Deivis Oliveros for nine days.
All Eyes on the Hunger Strike
The US government released a statement on Friday expressing the Obama administration’s “deep concern” about the striking Venezuelans.
“We remain concerned about the health of Daniel Ceballos, Leopoldo López, and other political prisoners currently in detention in Venezuela,” said Marie Harf, spokesperson for the US State Department, in a written statement sent to the EFE news agency.
On Thursday, over 30 Colombian congressmen formally requested that the Organization of American States (OAS) apply the Democratic Charter to the Venezuelan situation, “to preserve fundamental rights and provide assurance to the democratic opposition.”
The letter sent to OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro reads: “When the Democratic Charter was signed, the American nations took upon themselves the duty to collectively defend democracy: the inter-American common responsibility to defend freedom. In Venezuela, the democratic order has been dramatically altered and the world sees today the Venezuelan regime as a dictatorship trampling on liberties and disregarding rights.”
The Colombian congressmen remembered the death of Franklin Brito during a hunger strike of 2010, and asked: “How many more need to die before the OAS assumes the role it has been entrusted with, to protect democracy throughout the region?” They have demanded an end to human-rights violations and what they call a complicit silence in the continent.
Former presidents of Colombia Andrés Pastrana and Bolivia Jorge Quiroga wrote Pope Francis a letter urging him to denounce the crisis in Venezuela and intercede in favor of persecuted Venezuelans during his meeting with Maduro.
“If Your Holiness tore down the walls that have separated the United States and Cuba for decades, putting an end to the last remains of the Cold War, we’re convinced you can reestablish concord, peace, and harmony in Venezuela,” they urged.
On Wednesday, June 3, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a statement expressing his concern about political prisoners, specifically Ceballos. He urged the Maduro administration to allow relatives and lawyers to visit him, and to release all political prisoners.
On Thursday, Venezuela’s Episcopal Conference released a press communiqué asking the national government to let trusted doctors visit the jailed hunger strikers. The Catholic leadership also requested that international humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross be allowed to assist the political prisoners.
“The human right to life and health is above any ideological stance, and the state is bound to respect it,” they said.
Translated by Daniel Duarte. Update: 4 p.m. EDT, June 8, 2015.