In a similar move to that of Nicaragua’s dictator Daniel Ortega, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro regime went after the Red Cross on August 4, raising the alarm among human rights organizations about the crackdown on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country.
In May, the Nicaraguan regime abolished the humanitarian organization after confiscating all its assets. Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice, following a request from Prosecutor Tarek William Saab, ordered the intervention and the “immediate” removal of Red Cross Chief Mario Enrique Villarroel, who led the institution for 45 years, accusing him of “harassment and mistreatment” of the institution’s employees.
Diosdado Cabello, vice president of Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, also accused Villarroel of conspiring against Maduro and of “mafia activities” in the management of the group’s budget. The regime installed in Villaroel’s place Ricardo Cusanno, former head of Fedecamaras, the country’s main business union.
William Clavijo, political scientist from the Catholic University of Táchira, Venezuela, and an expert on Venezuela, told Diálogo that the Maduro regime based the accusations against Villarroel on eight anonymous witnesses. The Supreme Court of Justice did not seek to investigate the alleged crimes. For Clavijo, it was an arbitrary process, with the appointment of a businessman who has nothing to do with the institution and has no experience in managing a humanitarian aid organization.
“In this context of authoritarian consolidation, Maduro and his collaborators have been working since last year to close civic space in various occurrences in which the judiciary’s orchestration has been the path that the regime used to subject civil society organizations, in a clear violation of the rights of associations, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution,” Clavijo said.
“In the National Assembly, under the control of Chavismo, they are already discussing the enactment of a law that aims to increase control over the funding that civil society organizations are receiving, mainly international, obviously to hang these organizations, so that they don’t receive resources and to criminalize human rights defenders,” Clavijo added.
On August 9, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, said in a statement that it would send senior officials to Caracas to join its permanent delegation in the country and monitor the case.
“Our priority is to protect the critical role of the Venezuelan Red Cross and its volunteers and staff in the country: Their neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian actions have been essential in saving lives. We are currently monitoring the situation closely, assessing the best way forward,” the statement said. “Any state intervention in our National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies raises serious concerns about their independence and the principled humanitarian work of the national societies and will be treated with the utmost importance.”
According to Clavijo, all NGOs working in Venezuela are being harassed by the regime, especially those working in the area of protection and defense of civil rights, due to the publicity and reports on the atrocities committed by the Maduro regime, such as abuse of persons, torture, arbitrary detentions, and disappearances. But even those only focused on humanitarian assistance, impartial in political terms, such as the Red Cross, Caritas, and Fé e Alegria, are being repressed.
“What can be done from the outside is obviously to continue raising awareness and support the work of these organizations so that these cases of human rights violations continue to be reported and that monitoring doesn’t stop. This is important in order to be able to guarantee or try to create the conditions to get Venezuela back on the democratic track,” Clavijo concluded.