Human Rights Activists Under Siege

Melanio Escobar is an honest man, a good father, and a stubborn human rights activist. We had a chat last year in the midst of the student protests, due to his viral coverage of the imprisonment of thousands of protesters. I was impressed by this well spoken ex-punk rocker and journalist with a name that would fit comfortably in the García Marquez Universe.

Early this week, Melanio accompanied human rights NGOs, Provea and Espacio Publico, to file a claim against the President of the Venezuelan legislature, Diosdado Cabello, for divulging private communications between these two NGOs during his TV show.

Yesterday afternoon, he tweeted a most disturbing thread:

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Melanio reports that a man wearing dark clothes on a Black Kawasaki has been following his ex-wife and son since the day the claim was filed. He approached the relevant authorities to seek protection for his family, and made Diosdado Cabello responsible for anything that could happen to them.

How well grounded are Melanio’s worries? Well, he just came from picking a righteous fight with one of the most powerful men in the country, a man who has been signaled by media around the world as being the subject of a drug trafficking investigation by US authorities, a man who would obtain private communications illegally and broadcast them on his own show in open TV just for the sake of fueling hate. When you think about the absurd events that had to take place so I could put together that last sentence… damn.

We have the obligation to stand by these people, watch over them, spread the word. It’s the least we can do.

(Image featured in the thumbnail by Alejandro Cremades/Clímax)

60 thoughts on “Human Rights Activists Under Siege

  1. Ayatollah Khamenei on Iran’s situation today:

    “Today the country is not involved in the military war but it is involved in political, economic and security wars — and, above all, the cultural wars.”

    Recognise the rhetoric?

    human rights abusers see themselves similarly.


  2. Raúl,
    Nicely written article, to the point.


    I think there are many things we can do. Each one on itself has little effect, but all together will help.
    One of the items I do is to tweet this to foreign journalists I know and to Amnesty (not only in English).

    Another thing is editing Wikipedia. I started to work on Wikipedia from the start. The German Wikipedia on Venezuela has a lot of my contributions (starting from human rights in Venezuela, history of Venezuela and the biographies of many Chavistas).

    Do you speak Swedish? English? (obviously) Spanish? Any other language? Try to create and expand the corresponding articles. Mind the Wikipedia style. There are editing wars, but my experience has almost always been that when one has a proper profile and supports his editions with well-recognised newspapers, reports, etc, one’s edits stay.

    If I have a bit of time, I will expand Diosdado Cabello’s articles in English and German with information about his program (what’s the best English word for “Con en Mazo Dando”? If you haven’t seen the information next time you visit Wikipedia, expand it yourself. Use quotes all the time. Link to Provea.

    Again: write to Amnesty by all channels, to all the media outlets you want.

    You know what? 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of people talking about Venezuela abroad do not know what Diosdado does in his program, what kind of shit that is. At least a large majority of them would be shocked to know.
    Let’s explain it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As an example, this page (in German) shows what kind of things one can say about human rights in Venezuela (you can run a machine translation engine to get the core of it):

      I wrote about half of it and then someone else added stuff. I think it is outdated, so I will try to write a couple of paragrahs there, also with links to Diosdado and Provea.

      It would be wonderful if more people would update articles. Perhaps we can organise “adopt a Wikipedia article”. Keeping track of one single Wikipedia article is not much work provided you fastidiously keep to the rules: never say “X did Y” unless it is already history but “according to S1, X did Y”.
      Sources? Preferably articles in newspapers and magazines like NYT, Spiegel, Neuer Zürchner Zeitung, Le Monde and yes, El Nacional, Tal Cual and, for earlier times, El Universal (where we still have quotations of the Fiscal General saying “la división de poderes debilita el Estado”)


    • Excellent advice and action. Uniquely thought provoking course, and the voice of experience with regard to Wikipedia.

      The logjam here begins with language. Indeed, just imagine how useful (and portable and endlessly duplicable) that a recorded, and afterward an edited, dubbed (or closed-captioned) snippet of that wicked and terrorizing broadcast segment could become. Possibly sufficient to scare the smug domestic producers into walking back their content. Clearly they depend on activists being unable to go that extra kilometer.

      Nevertheless, that’s precisely among the simple things required to push this awareness to the targeted corporate and PR, email Inboxes (etc.) of the wider world. One simply cannot count on the individual stakeholders and other interested parties using Translation Apps, and certainly not then forwarding that result to their own networks. It wouldn’t take much more, but that “more” is essential.

      Gracias de nuevo para el cargo, aunque estimulante!


  3. DC is a powerful, super rich bully with delusions of invulnerability.

    Screw with me and you’ll live to regret it.

    Whether you are a newspaper, a NGO or a private citizen the word is out.

    Anything to slow down the flood of information against him.


  4. I admire people like him, because he could just flee to any country, yet he’s there facing these demons… Fighting for freedom.

    What is happening in Venezuela is being really important to make the world aware of the dangers of political systems like Chavismo. Some days ago, the Brazilian Congress voted to abolish reelection for presidents, for example. Venezuela’s suffering is being really pedagogical to everybody, but it’s a shame that we had to witness so much pain to learn that the far-left is as dangerous as the far-right. History books were not enough.

    “Resulting in 452 votes in favor, 19 against and one abstention, the House gave the green light to the initiative presented by Congressman Rodrigo Maia, the rightist Democrats (DEM), which includes the elimination of the possibility of reelection included in 1995 Constitution.”


    • Totally agree. Unknowingly, Guisozuela has been extremely helpful internationally for other countries, showing them exactly what NOT to do, and undermining the pervasive leftists trends, and “socialist” crap out there. Especially for Brazil and now the Philippines (where Chavez’s Smartmatic also stole an election) and in Spain, where Chavismo destroyed “Podemos”.


  5. On a lighter note, I had no idea Venezuela had a punk rock scene. That a former punk rocker is an activist in Venezuela, actually makes sense. The system is truly f@&!ed.


    • I believe he was also into speed metal for a while.

      And you are right, the system is truly fucked up. Some years back he was in a semi-coherent path writing for URBE and as a VJ for PUMATV (Venezuela’s Mtv, chaired by the one and only José Luis Rodríguez), sadly both outlets faded away during the Chávez era. Here’s the story on how he ended up with this gig:

      The good thing about Melanio’s case, though, is that he found purpose in this, and is trying to reinvent himself into a human rights activist/journalist. He feels proud with what he is doing and is in the way of making a living out of it. Others are not as lucky. Most journalists, and I dare say most professionals in Venezuela, must moonlight doing some other crap they hate just to keep their careers aloof until the storm dies. It’s tragic.


      • No wonder the signature music of this regime seems to be joropo. Milan Kundera was good on the link between totalitarian politics and kitsch. Maybe Melanio is a sort of Venezuelan Pussy Riot. Though that sounds weird.


    • It was a huge success, call at the right time by LL. (unlike what many wrote and predicted here, you know who you are)

      Success not just because of the numbers, but because people conquered fear (unlike many bloggers here) found a sense of purpose and unity, in the end, won for the opposition. It showed what are the more putrid parts of MUDcrap, and who are the people and parties (AD, Chuo, etc) that cannot be trusted. So in a way, it will help purge the MUD a bit.

      And the demands now stand stronger than ever, a date for the Parlamentarias will have to be given, Those “elections” are still a joke since there’s no real parliament in Cubazuela, but people will be even more united and upset once they realize the next fraud by December.


      • In Miami we were a couple hundred at Biscayne (dunno later at Arepazo in Doral)

        Internationally this was also a huge success.


        • Vulgar, uneducated Latin americans with a bit of money always end up in South Florida.

          Why is that?

          Is like Doral has a shit magnet.


          • For the same reason we like the French Riviera: good weather, great beaches, it’s easy to find the food we like there, the people are more touchy and chatty. Not every one of us can’t stand Scandinavia’s Winter without becoming a bitter person later.


            • Winters will not make you happy, but they do sharpen your wits and make you a practical person.

              Yesterday’s march was not important at all. on the contrary, it was futile.

              Happily, there was no violence.

              There is a faction of the opposition that works as a star system. It’s frivolous and superficial.

              None of these guys have stated their vision of the country. None of them can win an election. None of them has narrative.

              None of them can build a majority.

              They can shave their hair and take selfies. That’s about it.


          • From a retarded Venezuelan who kept writing the March was useless and would be a total failure with violence, while freezing his sorry ass in Norway.


            • Mate, wake up, it was totally, absolutely useless and unsuccessful.

              Read my post below.

              By the way, weather is really nice here today.


              • Alejandrito,

                Realmente eres un acomplejado increíble. Me recuerdas a otro venezolano que vive en Noruega y al que le pregunté algo trivial sobre la comunidad venezolana allí. Me dijo que él no acostumbraba dar ese tipo de detalles porque él ya tenía una mentalidad noruega y allí la gente es reservada
                Se lo conté a un amigo noruego (noruego-noruego) y me dijo lo mismo que yo pensé:
                “qué tipo tan pendejo! Ningún noruego tendría problemas en contestarte”
                Personas como ese venezolano en Noruega y tú en Suecia están aturdidas y tienen un sentimiento de inferioridad bárbaro que tratan de compensar haciéndose pasar por más escandinavos que los escandinavos mismos…aunque realmente ni siquiera entienden la mentalidad de la zona.
                Tengo la mitad de mi vida en Europa, he vivido y trabajado en diversos países, y lo que tú tratas de mostrar como “mentalidad europea” o “mentalidad escandinava” probablemente la tienen solo tú y tu madre…y aquel venezolano en Noruega.


              • ¿?


                Ahora criticar una estrategia política fallida es muestra de estar acomplejado…

                Chamín, tus insultos, y los de los demás me recuerdan los que recibí en 1999, cuando advertía de lo estúpido que era votar por Chávez.

                Siempre es más fácil insultar, marchar y hasta cortarse uno mismo el pelo, que analizar por qué la oposición es excluyente en lugar de incluyente. Porque hay 200000 y no 2000000. etc.


              • Y tú crees que eras un visionario porque en 1999 pensabas que era malo votar a Chávez?
                Yo sabía en 1991 que los milicos iban a producir una intentona en 1992 y estaba seguro de que ellos iban a ser un desastre absoluto. No fui el único o el primero en pensarlo, para nada.
                Bájate de esa nube.


              • umm

                no soy tan mayor como para haber evaluado el ánimo de los militares en 1991.

                En todo caso, no me creo un visionario, solo apunto que tu manera de hablar me recuerda a la de un chavista en 1998.

                Pero no estoy montado en ninguna nube. al contrario, si pensara que este gobierno puede ser presionado por cortes de pelo y huelgas de hambre, sería el primero en apoyar este activismo de peluquería.


          • Alejandrito, the shit magnet in Sweden or wherever you purport to live must have been really strong to attract the likes of you from so far away.


    • So far, I have not heard any news of violence or incidents at the protests. I saw large turnouts in all major cities. It looked very well organized. Still waiting on eyewitness accounts…


  6. Good morning!

    Did the government fall?

    Is it releasing the political prisoners?

    Is it scared?

    What?, No?

    Man… and I had so much hope put on this march…


    • Good morning! Go read Gene Sharp now to understand why these protests are important. It’s a great reading. My country started to change after we put millions in the streets two times. The government didn’t fall, but society has changed.


        • Brazil is no Switzerland or Sweden! It is behind Venezuela in a lot of things! To mention one:

          But after the two mass protests, Dilma’s popularity rocked bottom. Dilma is now for the first time with less than 10% of approval. We forged a “culture” of opposition with our protests, we showed a narrative to our stupid ni-nis, we gathered followers. Venezuela is doing the same thing, and guess what, it will achieve the same results. It will take longer because it is already a dictatorship, but they must keep pushing. I insist: go read Gene Sharp!


  7. Let us do some back-of-the-napkin numbers here.

    The biggest marches, post 11-A, were said to have been attended by one million people.

    This one is said to have been attended by 200.000.


    1) Four fifths of the marchers have evaporated since May 2012. Therefore, yesterday’s march cannot be considered a success.

    2) Since there is no growth, but decrease, in the public going to these things, I think it is not unreasonable to say that marching has not won ONE single vote for the opposition.

    The opposition has grown since 2002, but not because street protests or opposition activism.

    3) And anyway, who counts the people in these things? In Spain during the 15M 2011 there were helicopters and two or three police agencies calculating how many people were there. The estimations varied wildly (as in, the organisers said 100.000, the police 10.000).

    Somehow, I think in Caracas there aren’t the same resources available in Spain to calculate how humans fill a given area.

    So how can we know for certain there were 200.000 guys there? We don’t. My guess is, there were less.

    4) Which leads me to the crucial point here. The MUD got at least 7.363.980 votes in the latest presidential election, but that, according to the buttheads in Dade county, is a failure.

    Getting the (less than) 200.000 of the usual marchers to fill a small square in Chacao is a tremendous success.

    How much of an imbecile do you have to be to buy this narrative?

    Unsurprisingly, the government welcomes opposition marches in Chacao, but dreads national elections.

    Unwittingly (because they are half-wits?) marchers are actually helping the government, keeping its narrative alive, giving it fodder for its propaganda and underscoring their (the half-wits’) failure to attract people from the lower classes to these self-love fests.

    People like LL and MCM have this anti-charisma, they can’t be leaders of everybody, they only are able to be gurus of a faction.


  8. Latest opposition strategy: to cut one’s hair short (if one is a woman) or very short (if one is a man).

    The government is terrified.


  9. Yesterday’s march and the hair-dressing activism illustrate why it is so hard to take these people seriously.

    Had Ms Ceballos shaved her hair completely, a young elected mayor of a big city, she would have made the BBC and the NYT. Had she started a hunger strike simultaneously with her husband, she would have forced the government to react.

    Instead, she just changed style, to a faux Claire Underwood. And that is supposed to be a gesture of strength.

    Smolansky was also shaving his hair, but as he already wore it very short, no one can really notice.

    I am not saying that hunger strikes are useful (they work only rarely); what I am sating is even they fail to believe their own strategy.

    It just… they take the easy way, fishing for compliments and applause from their hard-core followers.

    What can the opposition do to build a fraud-proof 70-80% majority? How can they deliver a message that would push people in Catia and El Valle to march spontaneously, like they did in 1958, 1989, 1999?

    Those are hard questions.


    • But they did do something!

      The doers and risk-takers who make history, must suffer forever the barbs of the effete armchair critics.


      • Something? changing hair style? that’s a low bar, even for you.

        Listen, do you want to win? or to be on the opposition for the next 16 years?

        Keep following these people and you will have Daniella Cabello on Miraflores soon. At least she looks good (but sings horribly)

        Actually, were they sitting at home they would break less damage and wouldn’t be in prison.


  10. Protests can be useful in politics, other attention getting gestures can also be useful, precisely by bringing or heightening attention on that which inspires them . They can also epically rouse the spirits of those that support the causes that inspire them , which a good thing. However by and large, protests unless they are very massive and a regime is deeply fractured do not toppled govts. They have their place in the game of politics but alone by themselves unless a certain tipping point in a regimes weakness and erosion has been reached will not bring on its demise . Much more than that is needed to acomplish the deed . Grass roots level efforts to organize and movilize people where elections are still held is perhaps the main thrust of a regime opponents strategy, they are less glamorous but often more long term effective . If fraud is perpetrated that significantly falsify the results of an election then protests and other more drastic action may become the main method of resistance to an overbearing tyrannical regime .!! There is always the risk that a thuggish regime may use protests as a pretext to do uncosnciounable things , like posponing or cancelling an election which it is bound to lose. But the consequences for a regime that so relies on its claim to popularity could be very dire indeed. !! In any event the deed is done with no adverse consequences and some good ones as far as we can tell . Still not to be forgotten is the true role that protest play in a struggle which goal is provoking a regime change.!!


  11. Exactly man.

    I have been saying the same, but because you are so polite, they may even listen to you.


    • What a pompous little ass you are, Alejandrito, as you sit comfortably, far away, without a clue about, nor empathic ability to fathom the daily shifts in reality, as well as the safety margins in Venezuela.

      At no time do you propose strategies, ahead of the game. Nor do you engage in any of the strategies yourself. Rather, you’re drawn to this audience in order to rain on any well-meaning behavior from the opposition, after the fact, and gain a reaction. That ego of yours must need terrific amounts of massaging.

      But the best indicator is your nitwit Monday-morning-quarterbacking on the “strategy” Ms Ceballos should have taken on Saturday.

      I’m talking about your: “Had Ms Ceballos shaved her hair completely, a young elected mayor of a big city, she would have made the BBC and the NYT. Had she started a hunger strike simultaneously with her husband, she would have forced the government to react”.

      That you actually think your fantasies for Ms Ceballos would have miraculously forced the government to react, tells me you’re a delusional pup.

      And yes, a pup, if you weren’t aware of what was going on in 1991.


    • Politeness has nothing to do with it, young Alejandro. The reason why people “listen” to Bill Blass is due to his willingness to share views grounded in balance, experience, education, and sincerity. That’s the difference.


  12. Bottom line is that yesterday’s March was a huge success, for many reasons. It will force a date for the little “elections”, at least, and something else will have to happen before LL, Ceballos and/or the students on hunger strike die. Those of course will be cheap, phony “concessions” and the parlamentarias are a lamentable joke.

    The more important accomplishments in my view are:

    1/ People are waking up, with a new sense of hope, and direction. They are losing their fear. Expect many, many, many more public protests the upcoming weeks, than we’ve seen all year.

    2/ The opposition leadership will emerge more unified. And some of the rotten apples will begin to fall. Ad and those who did not join lost a lot of credence and support. Good riddance.

    3/ The Leadership is better defined, they will have to release political prisoners at some point. LL and the Lady Heroes (all 3 of them) will hopefully be the Top Leaders. with Caprilito, Ceballos, Ledezma, etc right behind them.

    4/ International visibility and support will increase even more. Expect more crack-downs from the USA and elsewhere, even the bribed Chavismo puppets in L.America.

    People now know they own the streets, even if the Dictatorship goes for tougher repression. That’s usually irreversible.


  13. My guess as to what will happen now, besides what I just wrote above, it that NarcoCabello and co. will play the game a little bit, set a date for the “elections”, release a few students, and continue to repress more, intimidate more, bribe even more, and talk more crap. There will be more and more popular unrest, even violent and deadly confrontations with the Dictatorship’s thugs.

    Until after the laughable December elections, when they will fake a “small defeat”, say by 55%, or a “win” by the opposition Chavista-Light, corrupt in large part.. then play with the seats again, with Cabello crushing elected officials he doesn’t like, as usual.

    Hopefully that will piss people off even more and more next year, along with the continued deterioration of the economic situation, especially where it hurts: peoples’ pockets, forget all the other “patria” “libertad” and nice stuff we always hear.. ESCASEZ, inflacion, No hay Luz (ahora con las lluvias de verano), etc.

    So the March was HUGE, at the right time. People know they can fight, and they will have to fight a lot more in the streets. It won’t be pretty either.


  14. The march and all the bad publicity Venezuela is getting is totally useful for the opposition (and more importantly human rights) regardless of what others may say. The leadership is on the ropes and everyone knows it. The opposition is showing strength and is providing a narrative and an alternative. Being the joke of Latin America is hardly what any citizen aspires to these days. I wonder if those opposed to the march are really okay with the kinds of human rights abuses happening in Venezuela. What would it take to get one to be outraged?

    Here’s the thing. Maduro and company had a great opportunity to take socialism into this century with a real Cubazuela flavor by reaching out to the opposition and building a coalition that united the ideals of late 20th century socialism with the real economic world of the 21st century. Most understand that Cuba did a successful pivot while Venezuela was left in the dust. Maduro could have joined in and created a new model that elevated the people of Venezuela. However, he lost his chance via human rights abuses, giving green lights to violence, and the weak judicial system and the government’s broad national support for corruption and drug trafficking. When Cuba pivoted, Venezuela became deeply isolated.

    China knows a dead goat when they smell it and they have backed away quite a bit. They have made their money (and will collect what is owed for decades). But Russia, which seems to want to play into global stereotype, seems comfortable with the corruption and drug dealing of Venezuela. The U.S. is an interesting player here. Something is clearly happening behind the scenes and I expect that the government is divided into a pro-USA rapprochement and an anti-USA hardline camp.

    Certainly most of the Latin American and Caribbean leaders have cooled to the Venezuela model for obvious reasons. I still think that barring fair elections and a clear transition into a more moderate and rule-of-law environment, Venezuela is likely to face more difficult times in the months ahead. Plus, a leader of congress clearly breaking the law to accuse a well-regarded human rights leader may pass in Moscow and presidential palaces in some countries of South America, but it won’t fly in much of the world.

    Venezuela is a global pariah and is approaching North Korea status globally. It is interesting to watch the Maduro and company in their panopticon.


  15. “Well, he just came from picking a righteous fight with one of the most powerful men in the country”

    Not just one of the most powerful men… but THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN VZLA

    @diego_arria asegura que Nicolás Maduro es un rehén de Diosdado Cabello. Lea nuestra entrevista— NewsweekEspVenezuela (@newsweekespvzla) June 2, 2015


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