Venezuelan dissident violinist decides to move to the U.S.

Wuilly Arteaga said a Venezuelan officer used a lighter to burn his hair. He said he witnessed the sexual assault of a protester. He showed images of the injuries he suffered during two attacks. He was arrested, wounded, threatened and none of it stopped him from playing his violin.

The Venezuelan government ordered Arteaga to stop playing his violin at anti-government protests and to report to officials regularly. He accepted an invitation from The Human Rights Foundation to the Oslo Freedom Forum Tuesday in New York City.

Arteaga played at the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center and was “received as a hero for his courage and willingness to use creative dissent to stand up to Nicolás Maduro’s cruelty,” Oslo Freedom Forum founder Thor Halvorssen said in a statement.

Arteaga flew to Riohacha, Colombia, and later to Bogotá to catch a flight to New York City. He told a Colombian reporter with El Tiempo that he was fleeing. He left his family and his friends. And like many other Venezuelans who were forced to leave, he said he doesn’t know when he will be able to come back to the country he loves.

His skin still had not healed and he said he was still dealing with some trauma. 

“They beat me a lot when they caught me,” he told El Tiempo reporter in Spanish. “In fact, I was left deaf from this (right) ear after taking a hit that provoked an internal hemorrhage, but I am able to hear now. It’s not like before, but I can hear — Thank God.”

 

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The 23-year-old classical musician started to play during the chaotic clashes in the streets of Caracas. While protesters, the military guard and riot police officers attacked each other, he played the national hymn and some of the songs Venezuelan grandparents listen to with nostalgia.

Unhappy with shortages of medicine and food, a triple-digit inflation and the socialist government’s repression of political opponents, student protesters returned tear gas canisters and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. They did everything they could to block streets.  

Arteaga has said that although he was there to show his support, he never picked up anything other than his violin. He started to play after Armando Cañizales, a 17-year-old violinist who played with the Sinfónica Juvenil José Francisco del Castillo, died during a protest May 3.

While examining Cañizales’ body, a medical examiner found pellets, rubber and marbles used by riot police. His body still smelled like tear gas. Cañizales was the first student Arteaga cried for, but he wasn’t the last. Authorities linked 163 deaths to protest-related causes. 

When the musician became the target of riot police officers who damaged his violin, his tears went viral. Arteaga’s resilience inspired the Cubans and Venezuelans in South Florida who were following the crisis. 

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After Trump’s UN speech, Maduro says Trump is ‘Hitler’

During his speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly Tuesday, President Donald Trump prioritized the crisis in Venezuelan and said the situation was unacceptable.

Trump asked worldwide leaders to join him in his efforts to issue sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as he persists on a path to destroy democratic institutions and impose authoritarian rule.

 “The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing,” Trump said

Trump said other leaders shouldn’t stand by and watch. Instead, he said, they should be prepared to do more. Maduro didn’t attend the meeting, but Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who was there in his place, condemned Trump’s statement.  

Maduro reacted Tuesday afternoon and said Trump was “the new Hitler of international politics” and said he was dividing the U.S. with a view of racial supremacy. Maduro did not mention the food and medicine shortages, the street protest, the Venezuelan exodus or the country’s triple-digit inflation.

“Nobody threatens Venezuela and nobody owns Venezuela,” Maduro said.  

Maduro faced worldwide condemnation for the methods he has used to neutralize political opponents. In March, there were massive street protests after the Venezuelan Supreme Court, an institution loyal to Maduro, decided to take powers away from the democratically-elected members of congress.

After a brutal military effort against protesters — who were in their majority demonstrating peaceful dissent — there were many political prisoners reporting abuses of human rights. Maduro set up an election that was under investigation for fraud. His administration stacked loyal members of the socialist party in a new powerful legislative body. 

South Florida continues to witness the Venezuelan exodus forcing attorneys and other professionals to turn to setting up small businesses and meager jobs to make ends meet. Those who were unable to afford a trip to Miami are finding refuge in other countries in Central and South America. 

 

 

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Venezuelan-Americans call on US government to grant Venezuelans TPS

The Venezuelan community in South Florida gathered Tuesday at Bayfront Park to call on the federal government to grant Venezuelans temporary protection status.

“We need to do it now,” Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Florida, said.

Rodriguez joined a growing chorus of voices, demanding President Donald Trump shelter Venezuelans who fled to the U.S. without legal immigration status.

“Mr. President, if you’re watching this, this is the opportunity to prove the critics wrong. You need to extend TPS,” immigration lawyer Mark Prada said.

TPS would allow Venezuelans in South Florida to legally live and work in the U.S. until it’s safe to go home.

“They need driver’s license, they need to open accounts in the banks, they need to work, because they have to live here, because in Venezuela, it’s impossible to live now,” Venezuelan-American activist Jose Hernandez said.

Months of violent protests have rocked Venezuela.

Protesters blame the government for widespread inflation and a severe shortage of food and medicine.

“These people are suffering. This should not be happening — not so close to our shores,” Prada said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, have also demanded TPS for Venezuelans.

“TPS is something we can do in the U.S. right now to protect the Venezuelans here in the U.S. from having to return to violence and hunger in Venezuela,” Rodriguez said.

Ten countries are designated for TPS, including Haiti, where droves of people fled after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

So far, Trump has not said whether he’s open to making Venezuela the 11th country.

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New Venezuela assembly declares itself superior government branch

Venezuela’s new constitutional assembly took over the halls of the endangered, opposition-controlled congress on Tuesday, issuing a decree declaring itself superior to all other branches of government and prominently displaying images of the late President Hugo Chavez.

The order bars anti-government lawmakers in congress from taking any action that would interfere with the laws passed by the newly installed assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, the super-body’s leader, declared to unanimous approval.

“We are not threatening anyone,” said Aristobulo Isturiz, the constitutional assembly’s first vice president. “We are looking for ways to coexist.”

Embattled President Nicolas Maduro convoked the constitutional assembly in what he contends is an attempt to resolve the nation’s political standoff, but opposition leaders insist it is a power grab. Since its installation on Friday, the assembly has already ousted the nation’s outspoken chief prosecutor, established a “truth commission” expected to target Maduro’s foes and passed decrees pledging “support and solidarity” with the unpopular president.

Opposition lawmakers said they were barred from entering the gold-domed legislative palace after security forces led by Rodriguez broke into congress late Monday.

“This government invades the spaces that it is not capable of legitimately winning,” Stalin Gonzalez, an opposition lawmaker, wrote on Twitter of the assembly’s takeover of the chamber the opposition has controlled since winning 2015 elections.

Earlier Tuesday, Venezuela’s pro-government Supreme Court sentenced a Caracas-area mayor at the center of recent protests to 15 months in prison for not following an order to remove barricades set up during anti-government demonstrations.

Ramon Muchacho is the fourth opposition mayor whose arrest the high court has sought in the past two weeks. The court also ordered an investigation into another prominent Caracas-area mayor, David Smolansky, for the same alleged crimes.

Muchacho’s whereabouts were not immediately known, but he denounced the ruling on Twitter, saying that “all of the weight of the revolutionary injustice has fallen on my shoulders” for merely acting to guarantee the constitutional right to protest.

The constitutional assembly’s meeting Tuesday came amid mounting criticism from foreign governments that have refused to recognize the new super-body.

More than a dozen Latin American leaders were gathering in Peru to discuss how to force Maduro to back down. Peru’s president has been vocal in rejecting the new Venezuelan assembly, but the region has had trouble agreeing on collective actions.

In response, Maduro convened a meeting of foreign ministers from the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told representatives from nations including Cuba and Bolivia Tuesday that longstanding U.S. aggressions against his troubled South American nation have “entered a much stronger phase.”

Opposition lawmakers have vowed to hold onto their only government foothold — the country’s single-chamber congress — despite threats from the constitutional assembly to strip them of any authority and lock up key leaders. Lawmakers voted unanimously Monday not to recognize any of the new super-body’s decrees.

Since the disputed election, security forces have stepped up their presence. The U.N. human rights commissioner report warned of “widespread and systematic use” of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators.

Only a few dozen demonstrators heeded the opposition’s call to set up traffic-snarling roadblocks in Caracas Tuesday to show their opposition to the new assembly.

Protests that drew hundreds of thousands at their peak are drawing fewer and fewer as fear and resignation creep in. At least 124 people have been killed and hundreds more injured or detained during the protests.

A United Nations report released Tuesday found that Venezuela’s armed forces were responsible for 46 of the deaths since April. Another 27 people were killed by groups of armed, pro-government civilians, the report said.

Now at a crossroads, opposition parties are facing a rapidly approaching deadline to decide whether to take part in regional elections scheduled for December.

The National Electoral Council announced that the nation’s largest opposition coalition was barred from entering candidates in seven of Venezuela’s 23 states, citing ongoing court proceedings. In recent years, the government has also taken action prohibiting high-profile opposition leaders from running.

While Maduro’s popular support is estimated to be no higher than 20 percent, some opposition leaders are skeptical of running in regional elections they fear could be rigged. The official turnout count in last month’s constitutional assembly election has been questioned at home and abroad. The CEO of voting technology company Smartmatic said last week that the results were “without a doubt” tampered with and off by at least 1 million votes.

Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed to this report from Miami.

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Maduro’s new weapon: Venezuela’s Truth, Justice and Reparations Commission

After setting up a new all-powerful legislative body, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will get a new tribunal that will have the power to send anyone who defies him to prison. 

The socialists were referring to the new tribunal as Truth, Justice and Reparations Commission. But the Venezuelan Democrats, who oppose Maduro and control parliament, believe the tribunal set up on Saturday will be used to persecute them. 

“We are asking of the Justice and Truth Commission that anyone who has acted against the fatherland be stripped of public duties,” said Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s ruling party chief and longtime ally of Maduro. 

Maduro’s constituent assembly, the new legislative body that will oversee the tribunal, met Tuesday and declared that the Venezuelan members of parliament will not have the power to interfere with their work. 

After voters elected the members of parliament in 2015, Maduro used the Supreme Court to diminish their legislative power. This week he was getting ready to use the tribunal to get rid of the constitutional immunity that protects them. 

“We must investigate those who have been calling for violence and now want to run for governor,” Cabello said referring to the Dec. 10 regional elections. 

Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the new constituent assembly, will preside over the commission. Rodriguez stepped down as Venezuela’s foreign minister in June. 

“I swear to defend the homeland from the imperial aggression and the fascist right wing that has spread its hate and intolerance against the country,” Rodriguez said during her appointment. She also sent a message to Maduro’s opponents: “Justice will come to them.”

During his weekly Sunday address, Maduro said that the commission was setting up an office at the Ministry of Foreign Relations. He also threatened Julio Borges, the president of parliament. 

“Justice is coming for you,” Maduro said. 

 

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UN human rights chief decries abuses against protesters in Venezuela

To crush dissent in Venezuela, the National Guard, the National Police and other law enforcement agencies and the socialist paramilitary known as “colectivos” violated human rights to instill fear, according to a United Nations investigation. 

Without the opposition of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, security forces were allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths, and the socialist armed groups known as “colectivos” were responsible for 27 deaths, according to the UN statement. 

“Several thousand people have been arbitrarily detained, many reportedly subjected to ill treatment and even torture, while several hundred have been brought before military rather than civilian courts. And these patterns show no sign of abating,” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement released by UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani. 

Since the wave of anti-Maduro protests began in April, there has been a “widespread and systematic use” of excessive force, according to the observations of a group of human rights officers who conducted interviews from June 6 to July 31.

More than 5,051 Venezuelans have been arbitrarily detained, and more than 1,000 remain in detention, according to UN investigators. There were also reports of several cases of torture, violent and illegal house raids and the destruction of private property at the hands of authorities. 

“Tactics used included electric shocks, beatings, including with helmets and sticks while handcuffed, hanging detainees by the wrists for long periods, suffocation with gas, threats of killings — and in some cases threats of sexual violence against the detainees or their families,” Hussein’s statement said.

Hussein also warned that the responsibility for the violations of human rights that occurred amid the breakdown of the rule of law lies at the highest level of government. Shamdasani said UN investigators believed the government was showing no signs of stopping the abuses. 

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