Latin America’s Shameful Silence On Venezuela Human Rights Violations

Latin American history in the 20th century is stained with autocrats and human rights violations. But with former victims now elected leaders, why don't they speak up about political prisoners in Venezuela?

At a rally in support of Lopez's release from jail.
At a rally in support of Lopez's release from jail.
Santiago A. Canton*


BUENOS AIRES â€" Since 1983, a major part of Argentina's credibility on the international stage had been its defense of human rights. The extraordinary achievement of the late Raúl Alfonsín, the president who succeeded the military regime in the 1980s and put junta members on trial, and the later progress made under President Néstor Kirchner ending impunity for rights violators, have made Argentina an example to the world.

The vision of certain national political leaders and the will of the Argentine people was the natural extension of the revolution that began on Dec.10, 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified. From that moment, the individual became the state's ultimate objective, and the impregnable wall of sovereignty and nonintervention showed its first crack in favor of preventing the violation of human rights.

Unfortunately, the ultra-conservative ideas that defend sovereignty and nonintervention in the internal affairs of states, even in cases of rights violations, continue to affect billions of people. Our region is no exception. Despite approving numerous instruments for protecting human rights, many regional governments and entities prefer to remain silent or, worse, to justify these violations.

The recent sentencing in Venezuela of opposition politician Leopoldo López is an example of the persistent difficulty of defending human rights. Without a doubt, López is a political prisoner, as several reputable organizations have declared. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others, have urged his release. Amnesty International calls him a prisoner of conscience.

The gravity of the situation in Venezuela is not limited to López's arbitrary detention. There are 70 other political detainees. The UN Committee Against Torture has reported more than 1,200 cases of extra-judicial executions, and the Inter-American Court recently determined that failure to renew the broadcasting licence for RCTV, one of the main television channels, violated free expression. All these bodies and other international and UN entities have unequivocally voiced their concerns about the state of human rights in Venezuela.

Standing by doing nothing

But while the rest of the world is indignant, Latin America wallows in a ghastly silence. For the regional trading group Mercosur, it seems that political prisoners don't affect democracy. So far, it has been mute. Worse is the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which not only has observed the deteriorating violations over the past two years, but also has actually legitimized López's detention by issuing a communiqué respecting the court decision.

On the other hand, Luis Almagro, the new secretary-general of the Organization of American States, has done in two months what his predecessor failed to do in 10 years: He has met with the opposition and criticized Venezuela's leftist government. Let's hope the impetus will not be lost and the body will soon join voices with those giving priority to human rights and urging López's release.

Fortunately, certain states in the region haven't forgotten that our history is replete with political prisoners. That's true for Peru and Chile, while in Uruguay, it was the Sen. Rafael Michelini who raised his voice for justice, in contrast with so many Argentine politicians.

Argentina and Brazil are key actors â€" Brazil, as the chief regional power, and Argentina as Venezuela's ally. Brazil has at least taken the step of naming a special envoy in one of the most important politicians of the recent decade, Nelson Jobim. It is especially significant knowing the cautious nature of Brazilian diplomacy.

And where is Argentine President Cristina Kirchner? Why is her government staying quiet? It wasn't just Argentine society collectively that suffered under the junta in the 1970s, but her party in particular, which endured persecution for decades. Its historical leaders were also prisoners of conscience in their time.

A memorial to the desaparecidos of the Argentine Dirty War. Photo: Wikilaurent

Is it to avoid meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs? Considering her silence in the face of support from important foreign politicians to her favored candidate in upcoming presidential elections, it doesn't seem that she's particularly bothered by the idea of interfering in a country's internal affairs. Is it because López is right-wing? I don't think so. The president comes from a party that spans practically the entire political spectrum, and her favored successor to the presidency, Daniel Scioli, doesn't seem like a typical representative of the revolutionary or progressive left, even if some supporters pretend to believe he is.

Both the entire government and Scioli himself are remaining silent. Faced with questions about López's incarceration, he said he would "not comment on such questions." Somebody should urgently explain to him that "such questions" involve violations of human rights that cannot be ignored, under any circumstance.

The president has the opportunity to help pick up a Venezuela teetering near the precipice, but she prefers to keep quiet. The revolution begun in 1948, and our history in Argentina and Latin America are sufficiently strong arguments to justify a firm condemnation of the López jail sentence. The keys to his cell doors are in your hands, Madame President. Stop looking the other way.

*Santiago A. Canton is the director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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