Students end hunger strike in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2009 6:33 PM

A group of college students ended a hunger strike after 17 days following a meeting Tuesday with Organization of American States representatives to air their concerns about human rights in Venezuela.

Student leader Julio Rivas said the protest achieved its objective and the three OAS officials visiting from Washington agreed to relay their concerns to OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza.

A dozen students started the protest Nov. 21 outside the OAS office in Caracas, aiming to press the body to look into their complaints, including allegations that President Hugo Chavez's government abuses the legal system to persecute opponents.

"Today we have an official OAS commission that came to receive the complaint of human rights violations, of repression and political persecution," Rivas said.

In a statement, Insulza said OAS officials were relieved the students ended the hunger strike, "because that way talks regarding a possible visit from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission can be taken up."

Insulza noted such a visit would have to be authorized by Chavez's government and said he hoped the administraiton would allow him to personally visit Venezuela.

There was no immediate reaction from the government of Chavez, who insists his administration fully respects human rights and denies authorities have been bringing trumped-up criminal charges against his critics. Chavez has said government opponents behind bars are legitimately accused of committing crimes.

Rivas, 22, was among government opponents jailed in September after clashes between police and protesters at a march. He was later released pending trial on charges including inciting civil war and instigating disobedience _ allegations he says are bogus.

Rivas said that in all, 16 hunger strikers finished the protest, during which they took only water or intravenous fluid.

The OAS officials spoke by phone with Chavez opponent Richard Blanco, said Gonzalo Himiob, a human rights activist. Blanco, city administrator for Caracas' opposition mayor, has been jailed since August on accusations of injuring a police officer during a protest.

His lawyers say he is innocent, and the opposition has rallied around his case.