A group of former heads of state issued a joint statement Thursday accusing Venezuela of human rights abuses, even though many of the signatories have themselves faced allegations of committing human rights violations while in office.
Announcing the release of the so-called “Declaration of Panama,” signatory and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon claims the human rights situation in Venezuela is “intolerable.”
“In the case of Venezuela, we ask that responsible action be taken,” Calderon said on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas’ Civil Society Forum in Panama.
During Calderon’s presidency, his government was widely criticized by human rights groups, who said the Mexican state's militarized response to narcotraffickers had led to ballooning human rights abuses, including torture and this disappearances of thousands.
The joint statement from Calderon and 25 other ex-presidents declared an “urgent and pressing need to support the people of Venezuela,” against what its signatories claim are widespread “deprivations of freedom of expression.” The authors called on the government to release opposition figures such as Leopoldo Lopez, who is facing allegations of overseeing a coordinated campaign of violence in 2014.
Calderon stated, “during the previous Summit (of the Americas) Lopez was free; other (opposition members) were free … Silence isn’t an option, we prefer to make mistakes doing things in favor of Venezuela than shut up,” he said.
“We invite all the world leaders, in politics, business... to express themselves in favor of institutional regularization in Venezuela,” Calderon said.
Another representative of the group said a total of 26 former presidents have signed the declaration, claiming there was at least one representative from every Latin American nation except Venezuela. However there are 33 countries in Latin America.
Former Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga also joined in condemning the Bolivarian revolution, claiming Venezuela’s “central bank steals foreign currency.”
“The few dollars that they have they give to friends of the regime,” he stated.
In his home country, Quiroga has been convicted to nearly three years imprisonment for defaming a bank. The sentence stemmed from claims made by Quiroga that Banco Union was being used as a conduit for illicit financial transactions involving “Venezuelan resources.” Quiroga is currently appealing.
Quiroga is also controversial in Bolivia for his performance as vice president during the now iconic Cochabamba water war. The water war was a series of protests that erupted in 2000 against the government's decision to privatize Cochamaba's municipal water services. The privatization was followed by soaring water prices. Since leaving office, Quiroga has been sentenced to nearly three years imprisonment by a Bolivian court for defaming a bank.
Refering to the wives of violent, coup supporting opposition leaders in Venezuela, Quiroga said, “Lillian, Mitzy, Leopoldo, ... you are losing fear, you are the examples, I know the struggle is hard, but you are going to be victorious … you going to achieve what you want (to democratically overthrow President Nicolas Maduro).” He then quoted Nelson Mandela.
Another signatory, former Ecuadorian president Osvaldo Hurtado added to Quiroga’s comments by stating, “We want to say to Latin America that there... are political leaders in solidarity with Venezuela ... struggling to re-establish democracy, not just in Venezuela, but in my country, in Ecuador, and in Nicaragua and Bolivia.”
Hurtado was president during the 1980s – a decade that saw an estimated 200 political dissidents killed by police, and many more tortured. The most famous case was the police kidnapping and extrajudicial execution of the Restrepo brothers in 1988 – four years after Hurtado left office.
Among the other signatories of Thursday’s “Declaration of Panama” is former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who is facing allegations of human rights abuses dating back to his time as governor of Antioquia in the 1990s. A Colombian court has ordered an investigation into allegations Uribe collaborated with paramilitaries in the 1997 El Aro massacre, that left as many as 14 civilians dead. Uribe has been accused of giving paramilitaries a free hand to slaughter civilians and pillage the village of El Aro. After the massacre, his office is accused of failing to provide aid to the survivors. Uribe denies the allegations.
Uribe's predecessor, Andres Pastrana's signature is also included on the statement against Venezuela. As president, Pastrana was one of the architects of Plan Colombia – a controversial joint U.S.-Colombian counter narcotics initiative. According to a 2010 report from the Fellowship on Reconciliation and the U.S. Office on Colombia, the initiative led to a spike in extrajudicial killings by Colombian security forces.
Former Salvadorian president Alfredo Cristiani also signed the declaration. In 2008, two human rights organizations filed a lawsuit in a Spanish court against Cristiani, alleging he oversaw the massacre of six employees of the Central American University in November 1989. Most of the victims were religious figures critical of Cristiani's government.
According to documents obtained by teleSUR earlier this week, the other signatories include: Chile's Sebastian Pinera, Colombia's Belisario Betancur, Costa Rica's Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Rafael Angel Calderon, Laura Chinchilla, Oscar Arias and Luis Alberto Monge, Ecuador's Osvaldo Hurtado, El Salvador's Armando Calderon, Spain's Jose María Aznar, Mexico's Vicente Fox, Panama's Mireya Moscoso, Peru's Alejandro Toledo and Uruguay's Luis Alberto Lacalle.