Graham Minter: Human Rights in Venezuela
At our last meeting on Tuesday 16th October 2018 we were joined by Graham Minter, the county coordinator for South America (except Brazil and Colombia). Graham began his talk by explaining the role of the country coordinators – they are volunteer country specialists who work closely with the International Secretariat to turn projects and campaigns into action in the UK. He spoke about the benefits of the International Secretariat moving ‘closer to the ground’ including the positive idea of having researchers in the region; however he also highlighted the challenge of having to adapt to changes in communication, from face-to-face contact in London to email communication from thousands of miles apart.
Graham talked broadly about human rights issues in South America and the Brave Campaign, which focuses on territorial, land and environmental rights defenders, but also explained that the situation in Venezuela which has been different as it has been overshadowed by the political context. He provided a historical overview of events in Venezuela from 1810 to 1947, from independence and becoming the world’s largest exporter of oil to establishing a civilian government in 1945 after decades of military rule. He then went through a sequence of events from 1948 through to 1984, showing the turmoil of a military coup before civilian government was restored a decade later. He contrasted the benefits Venezuela gained from the oil boom in the early 1970’s compared to the fall in the world oil prices in the 1980’s which generated unrest and cuts in welfare spending. What followed in 1989 was austerity, riots and violence and an attempted coup by Colonel Hugo Chavez. After a period of imprisonment and a pardon, Hugo Chavez finally came to power in 1998 after being elected president. He launched the Bolivarian revolution that brought social and populist economic and social policies to Venezuela funded by high oil prices. Hugo Chavez made important advancements in guaranteed rights to housing, education and food and contributed to the fall in poverty, with extreme poverty falling from 21% to 7.3%.
After Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, his policies continued despite a fall in international oil prices. This led to economic crisis and protests in 2014, which were broken up by security forces using violence. The failure of economic policies led to record levels of poverty with figures showing 87% of people living in poverty and 61.2% of people living in extreme poverty in 2017. It has also led to a shortage of medicines and increases in maternal mortality between 2015 and 2016, in addition to large numbers of people fleeing Venezuela, including at least 2.3 million people in recent years and 1.6 million since 2015.
Graham showed videos to the group which highlighted the refugee issue and the extent of the problem of violence in Venezuela and there were opportunities for questions throughout the talk. The session was both interesting and informative and the group were very grateful to Graham for taking the time to meet with the group and raise awareness of issues in South America and more specifically in Venezuela.