CALCULATED REPRESSION:

STIGMATIZATION AND ARBITRARY DETENTION

FOR POLITICAL REASONS IN VENEZUELA

For years, Amnesty International has documented and denounced the policy of repression implemented by Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela, which aims to silence critics and dissent. Crimes under international law and human rights violations, including politically motivated arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial executions and excessive use of force, have been systematic and widespread, and may therefore amount to crimes against humanity.

This policy of repression, which has been widely documented by organizations inside and outside Venezuela, is fundamentally based on the stigmatization of dissent. Authorities under the command of Nicolás Maduro have, for years, consolidated a narrative in which criticism of public policies, or any action that is perceived as contrary, is rejected, censored and attacked.

The Center for Defenders and Justice (Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia), the Penal Forum (Foro Penal) and Amnesty International carried out a statistical analysis of acts of repression in Venezuela in which the different patterns in politically motivated arbitrary detentions are interconnected with stigmatizing attacks towards human rights defenders.

The organizations that carried out this investigation consider that the relationship between the discriminatory narrative (stigmatization) and human rights violations (arbitrary detentions and criminalization) could indicate the existence of the crime against humanity of persecution, for which the Venezuelan authorities, up to the highest level, must be investigated to determine their criminal responsibility in these events.[1]

The following research had as its starting hypothesis the existence of a correlation between politically motivated arbitrary detentions and acts of stigmatization spread by media linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. This allowed to establish evidence on how repression works, who are its key actors and what trends of repression has been followed through the years.

A relationship was observed between stigmatization and hate speech in media with ties to the government or the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on the one hand, and politically motivated arbitrary detentions on the other.

In other words, the higher the number of stigmatizations, the more arbitrary detentions increase, and the same when they decrease, demonstrating that rather than being isolated events, stigmatizations are a fundamental part of the policy of repression and heighten the discriminatory and persecutory factor of arbitrary detentions.

Using qualitative and quantitative methodologies, the conclusions obtained were checked against international human rights law standards and international criminal law, which is the basis for the following research, aiming to determine the pattern in which stigmatization occurs at certain times and comes from of certain actors, while other actors apply other repressive measures such as arbitrary detentions, without matching victims. Once the data analysis was done, relevant conclusions regarding human rights were drawn, which were strengthened through qualitative research methods.

The qualitative research delves into media outlets and authors of acts of stigmatization, their financing, legal nature and even if a link can be traced with authorities within the government of Nicolás Maduro. Likewise, a contextual analysis was carried out based on the body of research accumulated by the organizations, particularly in relation to the policy of repression of the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Regarding temporal patterns, the research identifies the moments in which stigmatization decreased while arbitrary detentions also decreased. Likewise, for increases in both variables. This made it possible to establish some temporary milestones that, when contrasted with important sociopolitical events, could explain the correlation of the different means of repression at those specific times.


CHAPTER 1: STIGMATIZATIONS IN VENEZUELA

In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders defined stigmatization as the characterization of human rights defenders as “terrorists”, “enemies of the State” or “political opponents” by state authorities and state media and its use to delegitimize their work, increasing their vulnerability to human rights abuses and violations.[2]

© Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

“Stigmatizations” or “acts of stigmatization” are degrading or discriminatory attacks or speeches against human rights defenders that have been broadcast by media or social networks linked to the government.

The Center for Defenders and Justice (CDJ) recorded the events of stigmatization against human rights defenders between January 2019 and June 2021 in Venezuela, through public and private media outlets, which have links with government. These outlets often use their platform to attack, expose and harass people who are perceived as critics of the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The outlets that carried out acts of stigmatization more frequently prior to security forces carrying out detentions were “Con el Mazo Dando”, “Misión Verdad” and the web portal “Lechuguinos”[3]

When analyzing the data, the public nature of several of them stands out, as well as the financing and state protection of production through the public television channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), and other public organizations such as the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations (MPPRE), which replicates the content of some of these media on its official website.

CALCULATING REPRESSION: THE STIGMATIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

For many years, Venezuelan civil society organizations have denounced the continuous attacks and intimidation they receive from public and private media, which transcend social networks and which, on occasions, have resulted in damage to the life and integrity of human rights defenders.[4]

While the independent media in Venezuela have been subjected to strict administrative control that has included the closure and discontinuation of media concessions, in parallel, the public media, financed by the state budget, and others with editorial lines close to the governing party, have prospered.[5]

It is common for the media and communication outlets to identify people in places of influence who have or have had public positions and roles, and for state entities to replicate the information from these sources.

© Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

Often these last means of communication, which can take the form of websites, television programs and blogs, among others, use their platforms to attack, expose and harass people who are perceived as critics of the government of Nicolás Maduro. Among the people who are subjected to these expressions are political activists, human rights defenders, and people attached to humanitarian aid organizations, among others.

These acts of stigmatization have been condemned by international organizations, including the Office of the Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[6]

Examples illustrating stigmatization events:

This analysis shows that the main perpetrators of stigmatization for the entire period under analysis are “Con el Mazo Dando”, “Misión Verdad” and the website “Lechuguinos”. In 486 arbitrary arrests, the website “Mission Truth” (Misión Verdad) had carried out acts of stigmatization three days prior to security forces carrying out arbitrary detentions. Similarly, in 481 cases the same would have happened with the television program “Con El Mazo Dando”, and in around 100 cases, detentions occurred three days after the site “Lechuguinos” published stigmatizing information.

The main perpetrator of stigmatization is the television program and website “Con el Mazo Dando”, broadcast and produced by the Venezuelan state television channel: Venezolana de Televisión (VTV).

© Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

Other sources, such as the television programs that are sources of stigmatization called “Zurda Konducta” and “La Hojilla” are also VTV productions, so it would be reasonable to conclude that their production is financed in some way by public money. The blog “Misión Verdad”, whose frequency in stigmatization-detentions ranks second, includes Jorge Arreaza among its opinion columnists, who until August 2021 served as minister of popular power for foreign relations and who, subsequently, served as Minister of the popular power of industries and national production. Although his participation is not enough to prove that this source of stigmatization is of a public nature, VTV also publishes his opinion columns in a specific section of its website.[7]The same thing happens in the news section of the MPPRE, which also publishes the columns of Misión Verdad.[8] The financing of Misión Verdad is not clear, and its website only includes the possibility of making donations through cryptocurrencies. 

Regarding other websites such as “La Tabla”, “La Iguana TV” and “Lechuguinos”, it was not possible to establish where their financing comes from, but at least in the case of “La Tabla”, it is also reviewed in its own section of the VTV website.

Although these media outlets and sources are not homogeneous and each one has its own profile, it is common for them to use hate speech, denigrating attacks, exposés and “fake news” to stigmatize human rights defenders, political activists and, ultimately, any actor who is considered critical of the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The evidence shows that these media outlets cast coordinated statements, with an undeniable link with official state media and the government party, and a close relationship with agents of the Venezuelan state.

© Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

It should be noted that the authorities’ obligations go beyond preventing and punishing these acts, but they are also obliged to effectively refrain from any discriminatory practice on political grounds.


CHAPTER 2: POLITICALLY MOTIVATED ARBITRARY DETENTIONS IN VENEZUELA

Arbitrary detentions in Venezuela have been widely documented and their systematic and widespread nature is known. In the period under analysis, 1,270 arbitrary detentions were documented.

Since 2014, Foro Penal has recorded that at least 875 Venezuelan civilians have been investigated, prosecuted, or tried by military courts.[9]

2019 was a year of massive protests at the national level, which were attacked with excessive use of force, acts of torture, and massive arbitrary detentions by state authorities and armed groups of people linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro, with sufficient reasons to consider that these acts could constitute crimes against humanity.[10]

The realities of the Covid-19 pandemic from March 2020 changed the dynamics of how the authorities have repressed the population from that moment on..

© Laura Rangel

SECURITY FORCES THAT DETAINED AFTER ACTS OF STIGMATIZATION

Politically motivated arbitrary detentions are carried out by security forces of the Venezuelan state, including civil and military security forces, some with powers to safeguard public order, such as the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB); and others, with intelligence and preventive investigative roles, such as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM).

By crossing the data on stigmatization and politically motivated arbitrary detentions, the analysis shows that, between January 2019 and June 2021, there have been changes in the security forces that have implemented the repression and that carry out the arbitrary detentions.

Although in 2019 the GNB had a primary role in arbitrary detentions -which was maintained in 2020-, in 2021 this military component dropped to fourth place in number of arbitrary detentions.

On the other hand, the DGCIM, a military intelligence body, ranks as the second security force to carry out arbitrary detentions each year.

Another important change has been how the Special Actions Forces (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) have increased the number of detentions they have made. While in 2019 they ranked fifth among security forces that arbitrarily detained, by 2020 they were third and in 2021 they ranked as the first security force to carry out arbitrary detentions.

On the other hand, the Judiciary and the courts involved in arbitrary detentions also vary year-on-year, and in particular the increase in the use of special or military courts to deal with cases of arbitrary detentions in the last year should be noted.

The crossing of the two variables under analysis, that is: (1) which security forces carried out detentions in the three days following (2) an agent of stigmatization carrying out an attack, the results per year were as follows:

The role of the DGCIM as a repressive body is constant, as is how it remains predominant amongst the security forces that carry out arbitrary arrests after stigmatization has occurred, throughout the period under analysis. 

THE COURTS IN CHARGE OF CASES OF ARBITRARY DETENTION

The justice system in Venezuela has been used in recent years to commit human rights violations. Of the more than 1,270 arbitrary detentions documented by the Penal Forum between January 2019 and June 2021[11], the courts and judges who were in charge of these cases were tracked once the detained persons were brought before the judicial authority.

Most cases of politically motivated arbitrary detentions are processed in ordinary courts. It is common that people prosecuted before ordinary courts are charged with conspiracy and treason, among other crimes.[12]

The special courts with competence over ‘terrorism’ originate from the Organic Law Against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism. This type of court has frequently been used by the authorities to silence dissent. Especially in 2019, at least 60 people arbitrarily detained were prosecuted in these courts.[13] . Among the most common crimes within the framework of this law are association to commit a crime, ‘terrorism’ and financing of ‘terrorism’.

In recent years, hundreds of civilians and retired soldiers have been prosecuted in the military jurisdiction for alleged violations of the Code of Military Justice. It is common for people prosecuted before the military jurisdiction to be charged with treason, afront to the military guard and even rebellion.

We observe that, at times, the use of military courts has prevailed, especially when civil authorities have been more resistant to following lines of action by the authorities of the government of Nicolás Maduro.[14] Likewise, the ordinary courts with competence over ‘terrorism’ are associated with moments where the repression is selective and seeks to promote a narrative of conspiracy, which goes hand in hand with the stigmatization and consolidation of the discourse of ‘them versus us’.


CHAPTER 3: CORRELATION BETWEEN STIGMATIZATION AND ARBITRARY DETENTION

The correlation between politically motivated arbitrary detentions and stigmatization was filtered for each year under analysis. This analysis showed that the general correlation between both variables increased from 29% in 2019, to 42% in 2020 and up to 77% in the first half of 2021. That is, three out of four times that stigmatizations were carried out, days later arbitrary detentions followed.

This increase in the correlation between detentions and stigmatization could be an indicator of how the policy of repression has become increasingly sophisticated and its use of both tools has been refined, with more similar trends and more aligned objectives.

The annual correlations between arbitrary detentions and stigmatization also vary depending on the different security forces involved in the detentions, thus the correlations of the various security forces that carried out the repression were:

PeriodSecurity ForcePercentage Correlation
2019Intelligence agencies (DGCIM y SEBIN)74%
2020Security forces under the Bolivarian National Police (including the Special Actions Forces FAES)92%
January – June 2021Decentralized security forces: (FAES, PNB, municipal police forces and Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigation Corps)92%

International organizations have documented and denounced on multiple occasions the widespread and systematic practice of these security forces of carrying out arbitrary detentions, but also of using methods of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Even the UN International and Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela has requested an investigation into the crimes under international law committed by these security forces and, also, of their authorities for their possible criminal responsibility in these acts.[15]

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SECURITY FORCES AND AGENTS OF STIGMATIZATION

EnIn 2019, the greatest correlation between stigmatization and arbitrary detentions occurs with detentions carried out by intelligence services, both civil and military. In these cases, there is a 30% chance that only two sources have made stigmatizations: ‘Misión Verdad’ and ‘Con el Mazo Dando’.

The same happens in 2020 with the security forces that have the highest correlation between stigmatization and arbitrary detentions, the PNB and the FAES, while the most prevalent agents of stigmatization continue to be ‘Misión Verdad’ and ‘Con el Mazo Dando’.

For the first half of 2021, this pattern varies since the main agents of stigmatization with the highest correlation between stigmatization and arbitrary detentions by the PNB and the FAES, are ‘Zurda Konducta’ and ‘Lechuguinos’.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AGENTS OF STIGMATIZATION AND THE COURTS

SPECIAL COURTS WITH JURISDICTION OVER “TERRORISM”:

When analyzing the data from 2019, a correlation between arbitrary detentions processed by courts with jurisdiction over “terrorism” and acts of stigmatization stands at 68%.

On the other hand, half (47.1%) of the arbitrary detentions that were processed by courts with special jurisdiction occurred in the three days following the stigmatization by the ‘Misión Verdad’ blog.

At least for 2019, in which the courts with jurisdiction over “terrorism” were used more frequently to prosecute people arbitrarily detained for political reasons, they were closely related and coordinated with the acts of stigmatization carried out by ‘Misión Verdad’. 

© Laura Rangel

MILITARY JURISDICTION:

When analyzing the participation of the military courts between January 2019 and June 2021, the correlation of their actions with arbitrary detentions carried out by military security forces (GNB, GAES, DGCIM and the National Army) that occurred in the three days following the stigmatizations, the percentage rose to 94%, that is to say that the amount, increase and decrease of actions by the military courts in cases of arbitrary detentions was almost identical with the acts of stigmatizations.

Likewise, when analyzing the agents of stigmatization related to detentions by the military and submitted to military courts, we find that, to a greater extent, the stigmatizations that occurred three days prior to the detentions stem from ‘Con el Mazo Dando’.

In conclusion, the military courts and the stigmatization carried out by ‘Con El Mazo Dando’ are closely linked with the arbitrary detentions carried out by military security forces throughout the period under analysis.

The above demonstrates a pattern that includes three phases: stigmatization, arbitrary detention, and validation and criminalization in military courts.

CORRELATION PATTERNS IN SPECIFIC PERIODS

When analyzing the curves in general, certain milestones were observed where there were irregularities in both curves, that is, when the stigmatizations increased abruptly, so did the arrests, or when the former decreased, so did the latter. Those peaks were extracted and could be explained by how they matched with socio-political events that can influence the operation of repression.

PATTERNS OF STIGMATIZATION AS AN INDICATOR OF POLITICAL PERSECUTION

The correlation of the arbitrary detentions with the stigmatizations -which have an evident political nature- point to an objective of political discrimination that seriously affects the rights of people in Venezuela who think differently from the government of Nicolás Maduro.

This indicates how political persecution is carried out through arbitrary arrests and stigmatization in Venezuela, which could constitute a crime against humanity.


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Stigmatization and the use of discriminatory narratives against human rights defenders have been part of the policy of repression, which at different times are interrelated with politically motivated arbitrary detentions.

Por lo tanto, algunas de las recomendaciones son:


This work is a collaboration of the Center for Defenders and Justice (Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia, CDJ), the Penal Forum (Foro Penal) and Amnesty International.

For this investigation, the CDJ, the Penal Forum and Amnesty International used a statistical measurement and data analytics methodology to identify the relationship between the stigmatization produced by the media linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro and politically motivated arbitrary detentions in the period from 2019- June 2021.

The organizations used Qlik Sense software to apply statistical models

References

[1]For the analysis of the lack of access to domestic resources to obtain justice, truth and reparation for these acts, see: Amnesty International, Hunger for Justice: Crimes against humanity in Venezuela, AMR 53/0222/2019, 13 May 2019, UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, UN Document Number A/HRC/48/69, 16 September 2021.

[2] UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, 30 December 2009, UN Document Number A/HRC/13/22, para. 27.

[3]Agents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who carried out 104 detentions after their stigmatization, have been excluded because they are considered different in nature from the rest of the means of stigmatization. However, their presence as a perpetrator of stigmatization will be discussed further below.

[4] COFAVIC, Report: “Enemigos Internos” La defensa de derechos humanos bajo ataque (“Internal Enemies” The defence of human rights under attack), March 2020, cofavic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Informe-Venezuela-enemigos-internos_2020.pdf (Spanish only). Center for Defenders and Justice, monthly reports on the situation of human rights defenders, centrodefensores.org.ve/ (Spanish only). Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, IACHR and OSRFE Condemn Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and Warn of the Closure of Democratic Spaces in Venezuela, 21 February 2021, https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/preleases/2021/025.asp, inter alia.

[5] Espacio Público, Situación general del derecho a la libertad de expresión (General situation of the right to freedom of expression) Report January-August 2021, espaciopublico.ong/situacion-general-del-derecho-a-la-derecho-a-libertad-de-expresion/ (Spanish only) (accessed 21 October 2021).

[6] UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly, inter alia, “High time to pull the plug on televised reprisals against rights defenders in Venezuela,” 22 July 2015, www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16259&LangID=E. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “IACHR Concerned about Harassment against Human Rights Defenders in Venezuela,” 22 February 2019, https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/040.asp. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet,” 46th session of the Human Rights Council, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26874&LangID=E

[7] For example: Venezolana de Televisión, “Canciller Arreaza recomendó leer análisis sobre contrato mercenario suscrito por Guaidó con SilverCorp” (“Chancellor Arreaza recommended reading analysis on mercenary contract signed by Guaidó with SilverCorp”), 11 May 2020, www.vtv.gob.ve/canciller-arreaza-analisis-contrato-mercenario-silvercorp-guaido/ www.vtv.gob.ve/tag/mision-verdad/, (Spanish only) accessed 20 August 2021.

[8] Venezuelan Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, , “Canciller Arreaza a Misión Verdad: Estamos listos para defender a Venezuela en cualquier escenario”, (“Foreign Minister Arreaza to Misión Verdad: We are ready to defend Venezuela in any scenario”), 5 April 2020, www.mppre.gob.ve/2020/04/05/canciller-arreaza-mision-verdad-estamos-defender-venezuela-cualquier-escenario/ (Spanish only) (accessed in July 2021, not available in October 2021, verified in archives).

[9] Foro Penal database.

[10] Amnesty International, Hunger for Justice: Crimes against humanity in Venezuela, AMR 53/0222/2019, 13 May 2019

[11] The dates referred to in the methodology section are excluded.

[12] Foro Penal database.

[13] Foro Penal database.

[14] UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, UN Document Number A/HRC/45/CRP.11 15 September 2020, para. 365.

[15] UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, UN Document Number A/HRC/45/CRP.11 15 September 2020, Recommendations 1, 63 and 65.