UN rights chief Bachelet to leave monitors in Venezuela after visit

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UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who was wrapping up an official visit to Venezuela on Friday, will leave two delegates behind to monitor the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis, opposition leader Juan Guaido said.

Guaido told reporters on Friday two members of Bachelet’s team would remain in Venezuela to investigate issues relating to chronic shortages of food and medicine, along with allegations the Maduro administration has violated human rights while cracking down on the opposition.

“The situation in Venezuela pains me because I see what’s happening to the people,” said Bachelet, her voice breaking during a news conference late Friday at Caracas’ airport before boarding a flight back to Geneva.

With huge challenges in mind, Bachelet celebrated Maduro’s decision to invite two delegates to reside in the country to more easily advise the government and monitor abuses - the first step to what she hopes will be the establishment of a permanent office in the country.

But she said the best hope for improving the lives of struggling Venezuelans is through dialogue and appealed for support for an incipient mediation effort by Norway that has led to two rounds of negotiations.

“The destiny of more than 30 million Venezuelans resides in the will and the ability of its leaders to put the people’s human rights above any personal, political or ideological ambition,” Bachelet said. “Maintaining entrenched positions by either of the two sides only aggravates the crisis, and Venezuelans can’t give themselves the luxury of allowing their country’s situation to deteriorate any further.”

She urged Venezuela’s government and opposition Friday to put aside deep political differences and commit to dialogue aimed at ending a humanitarian crisis showing no signs of letting up.

The former Chilean president’s trip to Venezuela, the first ever by the head of the UN watchdog agency, was bound to be a fraught one given the divisions caused by two decades of polarizing, socialist rule.

Throughout the visit she was hounded by government opponents complaining she was being given a whitewashed view of a crisis marked by severe shortages of food, water and medicine.

Bachelet’s visit, at the government’s invitation, comes ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council opening of a three-week session on Monday. Western states are expected to use the session to heap criticism on Maduro, amid the economic meltdown in his nation that has triggered the flight of more than four million refugees.

In an unapologetic tone, Bachelet read a long list of deteriorating social indicators while recounting a string of meetings with victims of torture and even murder at the hands of rampaging, masked security forces. She also called on the government to free from jail all those detained for “exercising their civil and political rights in a peaceful manner” - a not so veiled reference to the almost 700 activists considered political prisoners.

Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature, assumed a rival interim presidency in January, denouncing Maduro as an usurper who had secured re-election last year in a vote widely considered fraudulent.

Maduro, a socialist who says he is the victim of an attempted US-led coup, retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

Maduro rolled out the red carpet for Bachelet, a fellow socialist. On the eve of her arrival, the government freed 28 opposition activists considered political prisoners, including a substitute lawmaker and 18 people detained during recent anti-government protests.

But Guaidó said that he emphasized in his closed-door meeting with Bachelet that Maduro’s government is still holding two opposition lawmakers in jail. He said he also spoke with her about the need to remove Maduro from power to end Venezuela’s “suffering.”

“May this visit serve to bring solutions to the catastrophe that this country is experiencing,” Guaidó said on the steps of the opposition-controlled National Assembly following his meeting with Bachelet. “This visit should serve to reinvigorate the fight in Venezuela.”

Maduro, for his part, hailed Bachelet’s visit as a “first step” in fostering stronger relations between Venezuela and UN human rights monitoring agency and he promised to earnestly consider her input.

“She can count on me to take her suggestions, recommendations and proposals with absolute seriousness,” he said after their evening meeting.

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