UN rights experts report a rise of efforts in Venezuela to squelch democracy ahead of 2024 election
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro points while meeting Colombia’s new ambassador to Venezuela, at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, August 16, 2023. United Nations human rights experts are criticizing Venezuela’s government for stepping up efforts to curtail democratic freedoms with use of threats, surveillance and harassment as President Nicolás Maduro faces reelection next year. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)

GENEVA (AP) — Venezuela’s government has intensified efforts to curtail democratic freedoms with use of threats, surveillance and harassment as President Nicolás Maduro faces a re-election contest next year, United Nations (UN)-backed human rights experts reported on Wednesday.

An international fact-finding mission authorised by the Human Rights Council notes that violent repression between 2017 and 2019 eased after the coronavirus pandemic broke out the following year. That coincided with a drop in huge protests against the government. A report by the mission three years ago decried “crimes against humanity” in Maduro’s Venezuela.

In the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, the experts warned that political interference has been on the rise. They noted that three candidates running for the opposition’s Unitary Platform — Henrique Capriles, Maria Corina Machado and Freddy Superlano — were banned from taking part. Other prominent figures have already been blocked from holding political office.

Hoping to “silence, discourage and stifle” any opposition, authorities have curtailed freedoms and tightened restrictions on the work by rights defenders, advocacy groups, labour unions, the media and political parties, the experts said.

“By criminalising participation in legitimate activities, the state is silencing and creating a chilling effect on anyone who might consider participating in any activity that could be perceived as critical of the government,” said Patricia Tappata Valdez, one of the mission members.

She said a lack of independence of the judicial and electoral authorities “suffocate and suppress political debate.”

Opposition factions have been organising a political primary despite constraints in the electoral system that independent observers say gives Maduro’s socialist party the upper hand.

The campaign comes at a time of economic crisis and runaway inflation in Venezuela that have pushed 7.3 million people to flee abroad.

The mission’s latest report, based on interviews and talks with nearly 300 people, covers a period from January 2020 through last month. They bemoaned a lack of cooperation from Venezuelan authorities.

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