Protests Erupt in Caracas During Venezuela Visit by UN's Bachelet





(Bloomberg) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners.

"I call on the authorities to free all those who are detained for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights," Bachelet said via webcast before departing Venezuela after a three-day visit.

The UN will leave two officials in Caracas to provide technical assistance and to more closely monitor the country's human rights situation, Bachelet said. Venezuela's government also agreed to an evaluation of the national commission on torture prevention and another study of the obstacles to accessing the justice system, she said.

Protests broke out in eastern Caracas on Friday during the final day of Bachelet's visit.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the UN's Venezuela office to denounce what they say are the myriad of rights abuses by the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, including extrajudicial killings, hundreds of political prisoners and detained journalists.

"Bachelet, do not be fooled, this is a dictatorship!" protesters shouted, many of them holding signs calling for the release of lawmaker Juan Requesens, detained since August for his alleged participation in a plan to assassinate Maduro. Demonstrators also invited the former Chilean president to visit Maracaibo, a city in northwestern Venezuela where chronic blackouts and gasoline shortages have wreaked havoc on municipal services, security, health care and daily life.

"This is a peaceful protest, demonstrating the need we have for medicines such as antibiotics or chemotherapy in the country," said Beatriz Gonzalez, a hospital worker protesting alongside coworkers dressed in scrubs.

Earlier this week, Bachelet sat with local NGOs and Maduro officials, including Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab, who after the meeting said Venezuela guaranteed human rights despite "a political faction that had chosen a violent path." She visited opposition leader and National Assembly head Juan Guaido on Friday morning, where he discussed the nearly 700 political prisoners detained in Venezuela, according to NGO Penal Forum.

"For us, beyond using the visit to draw attention to the systematic abuse of human rights in Venezuela, we used it to talk about real solutions to the crisis," Guaido told reporters following a closed-door meeting with Bachelet at the National Assembly.

Maduro, speaking outside the presidential palace after his meeting with Bachelet, said he would take recommendations on human rights seriously.

"Bachelet can count on me as the president of the republic, head of state and head of government to take her suggestions, recommendations and proposals with all seriousness so Venezuela has a stronger human rights system," Maduro said on state television.

Bachelet said she spoke to families of people tortured by the government and those of government supporters whose rights have been violated. She further maintained a delicate balance by saying recent sanctions have worsened the economic crisis, while acknowledging that the crisis already existed.

"The causes of this economic crisis, exacerbated dramatically since 2013, are diverse," Bachelet said. "I worry that the sanctions imposed this year on oil and gold exports are exacerbating and aggravating the pre-existent economic crisis."

(Corrects year in last paragraph in story first published on June 21.)

--With assistance from Andrew Rosati.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patricia Laya in Caracas at playa2@bloomberg.net;Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Cancel at dcancel@bloomberg.net, Jose Orozco, John McCluskey

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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