Vatican, UN Lend an Ear to Venezuelan Hunger Strikers

Venezuelan exiles in New York plan to continue their hunger strike until the United Nations takes "concrete" action.
Venezuelan exiles in New York plan to continue their hunger strike until the United Nations takes “concrete” action. (Josmir Gutiérrez)

EspañolThe demands of political prisoners may be falling on deaf ears in Venezuela, but international observers are taking notice.

On Wednesday, June 10, two Venezuelan councilmen who joined the hunger strike in solidarity from Rome met with Monseigneur Carlos Mendiola, a representative of the Vatican. Meanwhile, a pair of Venezuelan exiles who have been protesting in like fashion in front of the UN headquarters in New York received an audience with General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

The hunger strikers say the main objective of their protest, launched initially by political prisoners Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos in late May, is to gain the support of international bodies such as the United Nations and the Catholic Church in response to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Councilmen Martín Paz and José Vicente García report having suspended their hunger strike after their meeting with Mendiola.

“We gave the Vatican a letter for the pope in which we explain Venezuela’s problems.”

“We Need the United Nations to Act”

Josmir Gutiérrez, a Venezuelan exile in the United States, told the PanAm Post that she plans to continue her hunger strike outside the UN headquarters in New York until the international body acts in defense of democracy, political prisoners, and human rights in Venezuela.

Gutiérrez said the goal is to pressure UN officials into proposing solutions that will safeguard human rights in the South American nation. She explains protestors want UN representatives to accept and respond to their petition, and says they will not abandon their hunger strike until they receive a concrete answer.

“Beyond a statement, we need [the United Nations] to act fast on the issue of Venezuela. They cannot continue to treat the Venezuelan regime as a democratic government. The entire world already knows it violates human rights,” Gutiérrez argues.

While her protest is meant to support political prisoners in Venezuela, the activist explains that her group does not share the same goal of demanding President Nicolás Maduro set a date for legislative elections. “Nothing will change while those counting the votes are the same ones who remain in power.”

“We are democrats, but we believe there is no democracy in Venezuela. The National Electoral Council favors the Maduro administration. Problems will continue before and after the elections.”

Gutiérrez also expressed her frustration with the international community for failing to “raise their voices” over Daniel Ceballos’s 19 days on hunger strike.

On Wednesday, Gutiérrez announced via Twitter that a high-ranking UN official met with her group and discussed the situation of Venezuelan political prisoners.
“We have just finished a meeting with a top UN official. They promised to discuss our demands!”

Protests Intensify

So far, 68 activists have joined the hunger strike initiated by López and Ceballos: five of them fellow political prisoners, one congressman, two councilmen, a former mayor, one teacher, a state employee, and 57 youth activists.

Wednesday marked the strike’s 19th day in effect. Ceballos first announced his hunger strike on May 23, followed by López two days later. Jailed politicians Raúl Emilio Baduel and Alexander Tirado have each been foregoing food for the last 15 days.

The Venezuelan government has yet to respond to the protesters’ petitions. While their health continues to deteriorate, President Maduro remains mute on the issue.

On Monday, Baduel and Tirado warned they would intensify their protest and begin going without water if the government did not meet their demands and postponed their hearing once again.

Their petitions were nevertheless ignored, despite calling for Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, and Supreme Court President Gladys Gutiérrez to take action on the issue.

On Wednesday, Baduel’s sister reported via Twitter that her brother’s hearing had been postponed until July 29.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Update: 5 p.m. EDT, June 11, 2015.

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