March 4, 2014
We, the under-signed, Oscar Arias Sánchez, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ricardo Lagos and Alejandro Toledo, have agreed to make the following joint declaration:
We have observed with concern and alarm developments in Venezuela in recent weeks. Peaceful student demonstrations protesting against government policies – a normal feature of any democratic society – have been met with disproportionate repression by security forces and with attacks by illegal armed groups which some sources report are linked to government parties.
These events have given rise to an alarming escalation of violence and a rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.
The violence has already cost a number of lives, including those of several people attacked with firearms; detained students have publicly declared that they have suffered torture and inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of the authorities; the independent press has been harassed and efforts made to prevent the media reporting on what is happening. These include the removal from cable and satellite services of one international television channel and threats to do the same to another, physical attacks on journalists and limitations on the acquisition of newsprint by the print media.
Moreover, civic protests and democratic opposition have been criminalized. Many of the detained students have been threatened with criminal prosecution; Mr. Leopoldo López, leader of an opposition party, has been summarily deprived of his liberty and indicted on several charges which are clearly politically inspired. Other democratic leaders have also been subjected to judicial persecution for political reasons.
We condemn these actions and urge the Venezuelan government and all parties and political actors to establish a constructive debate within the framework of universally recognized democratic principles as set out in the Inter American Democratic Charter.
We call on the government in particular to contribute without delay to the creation of conditions conducive to such a debate, with a shared agenda and without exclusion. To this end, it is indispensable that it immediately cease the persecution of students and opposition leaders, freeing Leopoldo López and all those detained or persecuted for political reasons. Likewise, it is imperative that an independent and transparent investigation be conducted into allegations of torture and other human rights violations, that the harassment of the independent press cease and the signal of the international television channel blocked by the government be restored. It is also essential that protest demonstrations by opposition parties and other organizations be conducted peacefully, as required in a democratic society and with due respect for the country’s various authorities under the terms of the Venezuelan constitution.
As friends of Venezuelan democracy, we are confident that the country will succeed in overcoming the extreme polarization and intolerance that have dominated the political scene in recent years – evils which have eroded the efficacy of internal mechanisms for democratic debate as well as confidence in the Independence and impartiality of many important institutions. At the same time, we call on the international community to make a concerted effort to strengthen democracy and preserve the peace in Venezuela.
OSCAR ARIAS SÁNCHEZ FERNANDO HENRIQUE CARDOSO
RICARDO LAGOS ALEJANDRO TOLEDO