Venezuelan protesters camp outside UN office

AP News
Posted: Mar 26, 2014 12:35 AM
Venezuelan protesters camp outside UN office

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Dozens of students have pitched camp outside the United Nations office in Caracas to complain the international community is siding with Venezuela's government by not speaking out against rights abuses during a bloody, two-month political standoff.

About 100 young activists put up tents on the concrete sidewalk along one of the capital's busiest, smog-filled streets Monday ahead of the arrival of a delegation of South American foreign minister. The ministers are expected to express support for President Nicolas Maduro's call for reconciliation with his opponents.

Several governments in the region are recipients of sizeable foreign aid from Venezuela during the past 15 years of socialist rule in this oil-rich nation, and none of the students expect those countries to abandon support for Maduro.

They reserve special anger for Brazil, the region's economic powerhouse, which has supplied Venezuelan security forces with tear gas used to break up sometimes violent protests. At least 32 people have died and hundreds been injured during the unrest.

"If Brazil knows that in Venezuela people are being killed and arrested, then why does it keep contributing to the repression?", said Gerardo Carrero, who traveled 15 hours by bus from the western state of Tachira, where the unrest that began in early February has been strongest. He brought a manifesto demanding the U.N. intervene.

The students, who hail from 15 states, said they won't take down the makeshift campground until U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sends an international commission to investigate allegations of brutality, torture and abuse by security forces and pro-government militias during the crackdown on dissenters.

In recent weeks, Maduro has also arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and two mayors for allegedly plotting with students to topple his year-old administration.

The U.N. chief urged Maduro's government March 3 to "listen carefully" to the streets. While not the condemnation that protesters want, it was far better in their view than the vote a few days later by the Organization of American States to declare "full support" for Maduro's attempts at dialogue. The U.S., Canada and Panama were the only OAS members to vote against the declaration.

While the South American foreign ministers will meet with some members of the opposition, they're expected to voice a similar view. Many of the region's leftist leaders received support from Maduro's mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Others, like Brazil and Colombia, have substantial trade and business dealings with Venezuela.

"If they play the same role as those that sat at the OAS, then it's a trip to collaborate with the government instead of look for solutions," Andres Velazquez, an opposition lawmaker from Bolivar state, told The Associated Press.

The United States has spoken out forcefully in criticizing the Venezuelan government's handling of the unrest. But some analysts say Washington's comments could hurt the opposition's chances of broadening its support.

Talk of sanctions in Congress and comments by Secretary of State John Kerry accusing Maduro of leading a "terror campaign" against opponents is likely to boost support for Maduro among leftist leaders in the region who mistrust the U.S. after spending their youth protesting its meddling in Latin America.


Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.


Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APjoshgoodman