I missed last week’s “Human Rights Week”, but I still wanted to write about a particular case that got my attention. Better late than never.
In the wake of the strong HRW report and the recent update in the number of torture cases by NGO Foro Penal Venezolano, it’s not easy to digest the brutal pattern of repression seen in recent weeks all around the country.
But what happened to 23-year old Xavier Beckles (pictured) has to be mentioned. On April 30th, this computer science student at the UCAB campus in Guayana was arrested outside his home by a group of unidentified men in Puerto Ordaz, who turned him over to the National Guard. There had been a march in the same area, but Beckles wasn’t involved in it. He was just going home.
His uncle Freddy Sánchez, told El Nacional what happened right after that: (The quote contains some strong language, relevant to the case)
The GNB soldiers tied him up. He jumped off the truck and eight men jumped over him and started to kick him. He has long hair and they cut some of it with a razor. At the same time, they told him: ‘Te la tiras de arrecho, te la tiras de marico’”. (You think you’re tough. You think you’re a queer).
Then he was taken to court and charged (along with other seven students) with resisting authority and incitement to commit crimes. As has become usual, these charges are based on no evidence of any kind.
The detail is that Beckles has Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild version of autism). People on the autism spectrum have severe difficulties handling the unexpected, changes in routine, and ambiguous social situation. Being arbitrarily detained by the National Guard is a bewildering ordeal in the best of times: imagine what it’s like for someone with Asperger’s.
Beacuse of the injuries he sustained in detention, Xavier was transferred to a private clinic. The public outcry over his arrest includes a strong-worded statement of the Venezuela Asperger Foundation (FUNDASPERVEN):
…In his capacity this young do not have the ability to defend or pay any statement within the appropriate parameters for this purpose because it is destabilized and frightened not knowing how to manage the situation it is in, thus placing a completely defenseless which is capable of being subjected to violence both physical and psychological, that cause such a state of distress that do not allow you to respond accordingly.”
Days later, People’s Ombdusman (and former PSUV deputy) Gabriela Ramirez decided to “intervene” in the case and announced that Beckles would be released. But Xavier’s lawyers have complained that he’s not fully cleared of charges, and remains under investigation.
As someone who’s familiar with AS and autism (I know people who work with people affected by such conditions and even parents of autistic children), I found myself appalled after reading this story. And after reading Emi’s post yesterday, it hit me: the government isn’t just acting as a bully, bullying has become public policy. Cases like this one, Kavier’s and Massiel Zambrano’s just confirm it.