Maduro Regime, Accused of Torture, is Using Talks in a Bid to Recoup its Image, Analysts Say

By Mark Browne | September 14, 2017 | 7:30pm EDT
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to journalists at the U.N. in New York on July 28, 2015. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

Mexico City ( – The Maduro regime in Venezuela, accused in a U.N. report of torturing detained protestors with electric shock, sexual abuse, beatings and suffocation, may be using talks with the opposition this week to prop up its severely damaged reputation, analysts say.

The analysts questioned the regime’s sincerity and warned that President Nicolas Maduro reneged on promises made in previous negotiations and could be using the latest talks in the Dominican Republic as a “delaying tactic.”

“This is about image control,” said Michael McCarthy, a research fellow at the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies in Washington, referring to Maduro’s agreement to send a representative to attend the talks.

“The government needs to try to show it is moderating because its image is deeply tarnished and because it is clearly authoritarian,” McCarthy told

This week’s talks began at the invitation of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and the president of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina.

A report late last month by the office of U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the Maduro regime’s security forces, “systematically used excessive force and arbitrarily detained protesters.”

Compiled from interviews with more than 100 victims, lawyers, doctors and first-responders among others, the report found the regime’s security forces subjected detainees to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In several cases this “amounted to torture,” and included the “use of electric shocks, severe beatings, stress positions, suffocation, and threats of sexual violence and death.”

“The report itself is one of the strongest condemnations yet regarding the government’s human rights record,” McCarthy said.

“It’s very, very, very powerful in terms of damaging – correctly I think – the government’s reputation at the level of the U.N.”

In the face of U.S. sanctions and widespread condemnation, Maduro backed away from plans to address the U.N. Human Rights Council at the opening of its 36th session in Geneva this week.

Human rights activists had urged the HRC to cancel the speaking engagement, and to suspend Venezuela’s HRC membership.

Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow in Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations said that in talks with the opposition last year, also hosted by Zapatero and Medina, Maduro “reneged on all the commitments he made.”

“He has done this before as a delaying tactic rather than in good faith for compromise or change,” she said.

Maduro’s decision to take power away from Venezuela’s democratically elected Congress and install a National Constituent Assembly earlier this year has drawn “near unanimous condemnation” from Venezuela’s neighbors.

“This is something quite new for the region,” O’Neil said. “The neighbors of Venezuela are standing up to the regime.”

“The U.N. report matches with similar investigations by the U.S. government in its sanctions process and other multilateral bodies including the OAS [Organization of American States],” she said. “They all have found incidences of human rights abuses.”

Speaking Monday in Geneva at an event sponsored by U.N. Watch on the sidelines of the HRC session, Diego Arria, Venezuela’s former U.N. ambassador and an opponent of the Maduro regime, accused it of crimes against humanity.

“I am convinced that the use of torture, sexual crimes, and methodic assassinations of unarmed civilians protesting on the streets amount to crimes against humanity as defined by the Statue of Rome, articles 7 and 28,” he said, in reference to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.

“How could I imagine that one day I would find myself, here in the Palais des Nations unmasking the Maduro narco-tyranny, looking for international support to liberate my country and our people from criminals that have sequestered our freedom and our rights?” Arria said.

On Monday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza – who addressed the HRC in Maduro’s place – denied his government had committed human rights abuses.

More than 120 people have died in protests against the regime that began last April 1, the BBC reports.

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