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lawrence auls venezuela protestsHugo Chávez’s ‘pretty revolution’ might not be as pretty as he wanted us to believe.

The late Venezuelan leader often told members of the press that his socialist revolution was different, in that it was peaceful, democratic.  Never mind the threats of violence that would come if his peaceful revolution was blocked.  While the movement he led mostly was admirably peaceful, democratic practices began to deteriorate later during his time in office, and powers began to consolidate.

Nicolás Maduro has since taken office in place of Chávez after his death last year.  Maduro doesn’t have the same appeal as the former leader, and nationwide protests have become the new normal.  Violent crime has risen amidst food shortages and stalled incomes from oil.  The government has begun a serious crackdown, detaining nearly 3,000 citizens to date.  Human rights groups are reporting excessive force being used regularly, with police dealing out beatings and detaining people illegally.

Human Rights Watch released a detailed report this Monday, outlining patterns of serious abuse that go far beyond what one would expect from riot police. Not only are the police firing rubber bullets at point blank range, which could be deadly, but sometimes at individuals already in custody.  They have also shot live ammunition and tear gas canisters into crowds indiscriminately.

These issues are so widespread, that the HRW has noted the problems part of a systematic practice by security forces.  The report also claims prosecutors and judges are a part of this system, turning a blind eye to serious and deadly human rights violations, denying detainees access to lawyers.  The government has claimed that the 41 deaths are due to the oppositional forces, but haven’t given any evidence to support the claim.  The report claims that there is strong evidence that point to these deaths being at the hands of pro-government gangs.  There is also evidence that the government not only allowed these gangs to attack protesters, but perhaps have even collaborated with them.

These findings are extremely alarming, and our thoughts go out to all of the people of Venezuela.  We especially hope that the fifteen hundred people facing criminal prosecution find real justice, and that the world community can effectively investigate the political unrest and violence in the country.  It is now a crime to protest there without permission by the government, an edict issued by the supreme court.  The pretty revolution is no more.