This was first published on Breitbart.
On Thursday, September 1, a massive recall referendum rally is set to take place in Venezuela. The opposition is hoping hundreds of thousands will descend on Caracas to demand a referendum to decide whether socialist President Nicolas Maduro should stay in power.
In advance of the rally the Maduro regime has arrested, often without any charges or due process, opposition party leaders, including local elected officials. Media in the U.S. and Europe, while focusing on their own presidential election or Brexit referendum, have paid scant attention. The Hollywood stars who produced movies about the Bush era detention of terrorism suspects like the 2007 movie Rendition have remained silent. On the day before the protest, Agence France Press and Business India and other Asian media were the only news organizations covering the upcoming march.
Venezuelan secret police Monday kidnapped Popular Will Party opposition leader and 2008 Milton Friedman Prize winner Yon Goicoechea, 32, from his car after he left his home. The Popular Will Party is the largest opposition party in Venezuela and other party activists have been kidnapped by the government earlier this year.
The kidnapping was first announced by David Smolansky, the mayor of El Hatillo, a municipality of Caracas, on Twitter: “[He] was kidnapped at 9:30 a.m. by an armed group. He’s missing!”
Smolansky himself is being charged by Maduro loyalists with attempting to organize armed insurrection. Writing for the opposition website Caracas Chronicles, journalist Daniel Cadena Jordan reported today “Hours earlier, Táchira State governor José Vielma Mora had accused our mayor, David Smolansky, of arming radicals in his state to plot the violent overthrow of the government. Well, I actually am one of Smolansky’s ‘shock troops’ and the only weapon I was given was a stack of flyers and a walking route. The government’s going all out to intimidate and demobilize our base ahead of tomorrow’s protests.”
Venezuelan National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, the second most powerful person in the country, publicly announced that the government had arrested Goicoechea on the claim that he was carrying explosives. In a nationwide television broadcast, Cabello referred to the $500,000 Friedman Prize award that Goicoechea received as evidence that Goicoechea was some sort of foreign-employed agent bent on terrorism. “Today a man named Yon Goicoechea was detained and cords used for detonating explosives were found in his possession,” said Cabello. “It looks like his money ran out and he wants to come here to seek blood. They gave him the order there in the United States.” Goicoechea, earned an LLM from Columbia University Law School, and lived in the U.S. and Spain until earlier this year. Supporters of Goicoecha who are operating his twitter feed during his disappearance say he was moving furniture when he was arrested. He had been moving from one friend’s home to another, after receiving death threats.
The kidnapping was in advance of the major anti-socialist protest in Caracas planned for September 1. The so-called “taking of Caracas” on this Thursday plans to demand a recall referendum vote this year to oust President Nicolás Maduro, amid the country’s political and economic crisis, which has caused inflation, food shortages and high levels of violent crime. Critics say the arrests and the claims that opposition leaders are foreign agents is an attempt by a failing regime to scapegoat political rivals and blame them for a disastrous economic crisis.
President Cabello has been under investigation for over a year, along with a number of Venezuelan government officials, by U.S. federal prosecutors for running a narco-terrorism cartel, which one investigator says funds Venezuela’s ruling socialist party but also funds people in the Cuban regime as well as elements of Hezbollah. The Obama regime has as yet filed no charges.
Venezuela’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” has produced shortages of everything from food and water, to medicine and electricity. Hunger is becoming widespread, the rate of violence is among the worst in the world, and the regime has become extremely unpopular. As of late 2015, 70 opposition leaders, including the mayor of Caracas, had been imprisoned. Reports of shortages and long lines for everything from food to funerals have fallen to absurd levels of gruesomeness, with families waiting days to be able to bury loved ones and women giving birth in breadlines, unable to leave the queue for fear of losing their place when their cupboards at home are bare. This summer the Venezuelan government enacted conscription and compulsory farm labor in an effort to offset food shortages, and instituted a system where party loyalists are in charge of allocating food rations and can withhold them from political opponents. Critics of 2014 protests against Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s late predecessor, have said that middle class leaders like the Ivy-educated Goicoechea had then failed to reach out to the broader population of less educated, working class victims of the government’s failed policies. But the economic crisis has deepened dramatically since 2014.
Despite the many Venezuelan kidnappings of dissidents, the Venezuelan state claims it respects human rights, and cites membership on United Nations committees as proof of this. Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, Delcy Rodríguez, said that with the arrival of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in 1999, the protection of human rights they have been a banner of the Revolution.“Not surprisingly Venezuela was reelected in the United Nations Human Rights Council; the rest is an advertising hoax orchestrated by opposition politicians, together with international powers to sell lies about our country ” said the chancellor.
Amnesty International’s overview of Venezuela on its website offers a different assessment: Human rights defenders and journalists continue to face attacks and intimidation. Political opponents of the government face unfair trials and imprisonment. There were further reports of excessive use of force by the police and security forces resulting in dozens of deaths, some in circumstances suggesting that they were unlawful killings. Most of those responsible for grave human rights violations during the 2014 protests were not brought to justice and there were concerns about the independence of the judiciary. Colombian refugees and asylum-seekers were deported, forcibly evicted and ill-treated. Prison overcrowding and violence continued. Survivors of gender-based violence faced significant obstacles in getting access to justice.
Goicoechea won the Friedman Prize in 2008 for having led the student movement that played the central role in defeating the constitutional reform that would have given Hugo Chavez an unprecedented concentration of political and economic power. One of Goicoechea’s and the student movement’s central tenets is their advocacy of non-violence in the promotion of basic freedoms and democracy. Goicoechea had offered an optimistic vision about the future and potential of his country, in contrast with the regime’s reliance on repression and force.
The Friedman Prize, named after free market economist and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, is given “to an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom,” and has no conditions attached to it. It has been awarded to numerous freedom champions from around the world including prominent reformers and human rights and freedom of speech advocates.
The government has not said exactly where Goicoechea is being held or under what conditions (though his supporters believe he is in a cell at the headquarters of the secret police in Caracas). In his last tweet, on the day of the kidnapping, Mayor Smolansky expressed concern that Goicoechea may have been executed. Smolansky himself seemed to stop tweeting for 24 hours after tweeting about Goicoecha’s kidnapping.