UN human rights chief to visit Venezuela amid political showdown

By JIM WYSS | The Miami Herald | Published: June 15, 2019

BOGOTA, Colombia (Tribune News Service) — United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is scheduled to visit Venezuela next week on a trip that will shine a light on continued abuses in the country even as it underscores the deep political polarization.

In a statement Friday, Bachelet's office said she would visit the country from June 19-21 and that she would be meeting with President Nicolás Maduro and the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó.

Washington and more than 50 other nations consider Guaidó the country's legitimate leader and argue that Maduro is illegally clinging to power.

In addition, Bachelet said she would be meeting with Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Constituent Assembly, a body that many believe is unconstitutional.

In tweet, Venezuelan political analyst Pedro Urruchurtu said the statement from Bachelet's office set a bad precedent by "recognizing the regime and its minions as the official government ... and treating Guaidó as just another congressman."

Even so, her visit will undoubtedly raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

"Bachelet will engage with victims of human rights violations and abuses and with their relatives," her office said. "She will also interact with civil society representatives, members of the business community and trade unions, religious leaders and academics."

There were also rumors that the Maduro regime is prepared to release some political prisoners, as a goodwill gesture, during her visit.

Bachelet, the former president of Chile, is scheduled to make a statement about her visit late Friday.

The trip comes amid a mounting humanitarian crisis and deep political divisions.

On Jan. 23, Guaidó claimed that Maduro was in office due to electoral fraud and that, as head of congress, he was constitutionally-bound to assume the presidency.

Maduro, however, considers the 35-year-old lawmaker the figurehead of an international coup plot – a charge that took on additional weight when Guaidó called for a brief but failed military uprising in April.

Locked in a political stalemate, delegates from both the Maduro and Guaidó camps have tiptoed into negotiations being held in Europe, but it's far from clear if any sort of consensus can be reached.

Bachelet had been trying to arrange a visit to Venezuela for months, but had not been given authorization by the government.

In March, she publicly chastised the Maduro regime for torture and selective killings of protesters. And she asked the leadership to acknowledge the severe humanitarian crisis that has forced more than 4 million people to flee the country in recent years.

Bachelet has also been critical of economic and financial sanctions that Washington has imposed on Venezuela.

Maduro has blamed most of his country's problems on "economic warfare" being waged by his foes and the sanctions, which have hit the country's critical oil sector.

Critics, however, say that two decades of single-party rule, first under the late Hugo Chávez, have left the once-rich nation gutted by corruption and mismanagement.


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