How bad is it in Venezuela after weeks of protests against the Cuban-imposed dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro? So bad that even doctors are risking their lives and joining the fray.
Doctors stage protest in Venezuela
Caracas (AFP) – Several hundred doctors and medical students protested conditions in Venezuela’s hospitals Monday, citing shortages of medicines and critical supplies in the troubled oil-rich country.
As police held back the demonstrators in the city’s Plaza Venezuela, other health workers marched without incident through the center to the presidential palace in a government-organized show of support for President Nicolas Maduro.
The rival protests were the latest in an unresolved, nearly five-week-old crisis that has claimed the lives of at least 20 people.
Another victim was reported over the weekend in the western Andean city of Merida, Giselle Rubilar, a 47-year-old Chilean national.
Chile’s outgoing President Sebastian Pinera said in Santiago Monday he had asked Venezuela to investigate her death of a gunshot wound to the head.
“Apparently there was a barricade near where she was living. She approached it and that’s where she was reportedly hit by the bullet that caused her death,” Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said.
Venezuelan doctors and medical students turned out in their white lab coats with signs denouncing the state of health care in the country.
“Not only bullets kill, the lack of medicine does too,” read one sign.
The president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Douglas Leon, said 95 percent of hospitals have only five percent of the supplies needed to take care of patients.
“The hospitals are deteriorated, supplies aren’t available and we have to tell patients to buy their own,” medical student Caterine Acosta, 20, told AFP.
Meanwhile, at the Miraflores presidential palace, Maduro touted the 2,500 medical students who he said will graduate this year from programs in partnership with allies like Cuba.
Cuba provides an estimated 40,000 doctors and health care workers to staff clinics for poor and hard to reach populations in Venezuela.
In exchange, Venezuela supplies Cuba with 100,000 barrels of oil a day at preferential rates.
The human rights abuses taking place in Venezuela under the orders and supervision of Cuba’s Castro regime are not going completely unnoticed. Amnesty International has released a statement condemning the arrest and trial of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez:
Venezuela: Trial of opposition leader an affront to justice and free assembly
The charges brought against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country, said Amnesty International.
“Venezuelan authorities must either present solid evidence to substantiate the charges against López or release him immediately and unconditionally,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International Americas Programme Deputy Director.
“These charges appear to be politically motivated because of his leadership in the recent anti-government protests. Currently, Amnesty International has not seen evidence to substantiate these charges. This is an affront to justice and free assembly.”
It is understood that Leopoldo López, the leader of opposition party Voluntad Popular (Political Will), has been charged with homicide, grievous bodily harm and other crimes in relation to the deaths of three people in the last few days during mass demonstrations.
President Maduro showed his commitment to human rights when he stated a few days ago that his government wouldn’t tolerate violence from his supporters and the security forces. He must now send a clear message that nobody is going to be detained for exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly.
In the absence of any evidence against Leopoldo López, Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release and for all charges to be dropped. Likewise, the deaths of last week must be fully investigated and those responsible be brought to justice.
Leopoldo López handed himself in to the National Guard (Guardia Nacional) on 18 February after a mass anti-government demonstration he organized.
The arrest warrant issued against him on 13 February is for his alleged responsibility for violence that occurred during and after student demonstrations in the last two weeks.
Amnesty International has not seen a copy of the arrest warrant, but press statements state that he has been charged with homicide and grievous bodily harm among others.
According to the information received, Leopoldo López was due to appear before Judge Raleyns Tovar Guillén at a Court in Caracas at 10:00 local time (14:30 GMT). The judge has to make a decision on whether he will be held in detention, freed on bail or unconditionally released.