Protests over consulate closure in Miami; eleven fishermen accuse state police of torture; and seventh syndicalist murdered in three weeks.
Protests over consulate closure in Miami
Hundreds of Venezuelans living in Florida turned out to protest on Saturday after President Hugo Chávez’s announced a temporary ‘administrative shutdown’ of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami following the US government’s decision to expel the Venezuelan consul.
The protesters, who gathered next to the statue of Venezuelan liberator Simón Bolívar in Bayfront Park, demanded that Venezuelan authorities respected the ex-patriots’ right to vote and receive consular support.
‘Living in the empire isn’t a crime, Bolívar did it,’ read a banner sported by one of some 200 protestors brought together by civil group ‘Venezolanos en Florida’ (Venezuelans in Florida) who organised the protest. ‘And how will I vote for you now, Chávez?’ asked another.
According to The Miami Herald, Chávez’s move to close the consulate will affect over 200,000 Venezuelans living in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, whose closest point of consular reference is now New Orleans.
President of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce, Lesly Simón, also voiced concerns over the future of economic relations and commercial flows between Miami and Caracas.
‘The impact this will have on the commercial part is huge,’ Simón said, adding, ‘In 2011, more than 64,000 documents were issued by the consulate, most of them certificates of origin for export. […] Many companies will now have to assume the cost of traveling to a consulate in another city for those procedures.’
Meanwhile, in response to widespread discontent over the ex-patriots’ right to vote, officials in Caracas stated that a new polling station would open in Miami in time for the October 2012 presidential elections.
Speaking on behalf of the politically impartial Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council – CNE), Vicente Díaz stated that ‘the CNE must guarantee the right to vote of all citizens living within and outside of Venezuela. We cannot work on the premise that the consulate will re-open.’
‘The CNE will open a new polling station,’ Díaz concluded.
Eleven fishermen accuse Zulia state police of torture
Eleven fishermen from the northern coastal state of Zulia have claimed to have been tortured by state police, it emerged this week.
A press release issued by human rights’ organisation, Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights – PROVEA), detailed that some 20 uniformed officers took part in the abuse of 11 men, including two minors, at a local police station over the course of six hours.
Written by a relative of one of the victims, the report reveals that the incident took place after an on-duty police officer stripped naked to bathe with a female companion in the sea, leaving his uniform, gun, and motorbike abandoned on the shore. Upon his return, the report continues, the officer found his gun to be missing so summoned colleagues to arrest the fishermen who were working nearby.
The group were then taken to the detention centre, where they were submitted to severe beatings and repeated asphyxiation.
PROVEA’s investigation of the case continues.
Seven syndicalists murdered in three weeks
A young construction worker and union-member was shot dead from a moving vehicle in the company of friends and family on Friday, national press reported this week.
Ricardo Antonio Prada Farfán, aged 28, is the seventh syndicalist to be murdered in the north-eastern state of Anzoátegui this month, raising fears of a violent struggle over scant jobs in the area.
The victim count includes two men, also shot dead, when unidentified assailants opened fire on some 30 unemployed individuals who gathered outside a Mitsubishi production factory after submitting job applications to state-run energy company, PDVSA Gas.
All cases are currently being handled by state police.