Despite an amnesty law signed by president Hugo Chávez in December of 2007 purportedly ensuring that no Venezuelan would be imprisoned for political reasons, Venezuelans have continue to be subjected to political persecution and imprisonment for disagreeing with or opposing the government. Many of these prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions without access to medical care.
The Tell Chávez campaign aims to increase public awareness about political persecution in Venezuela using emblematic cases including: Otto Gebauer, Humberto Quintero, Iván Simonovis, Lázaro Forero, Henry Vivas, and Raúl Díaz.
On April 11, 2002, President Chávez’s cabinet informed the international press that Chávez had resigned. A coup d’état followed and a provisional government took power. The next day, army captain Otto Gebauer’s commanding officer ordered him to act as President Chávez’s custodian. Gebauer was ordered to protect Chávez’s physical safety and with ensuring that his human rights were respected. In a radio and television broadcast on April 14, 2002, Chávez acknowledged the humane treatment and effective protection he received from Captain Gebauer.
On November 11, 2004, Gebauer was arrested and taken to the Military Intelligence Division headquarters, where he was tortured and interrogated. He was imprisoned for more than a year and a half before trial proceedings finally began. At the close of the trial, he was sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison for "insubordination" and for his role in depriving President Chávez of his liberty on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of April 2002. Ironically, the officer who ordered Gebauer to take the president into protective custody was condemned to only three years in prison. Gebauer remains incarcerated in the military prison of Ramo Verde.
Humberto Quintero, National Guard lieutenant colonel and commander of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Unit in the state of Táchira, was arrested in January 2005 for capturing Ricardo González, alias Rodrigo Granda, one of the senior leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Considered a terrorist organization responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the FARC routinely kidnaps civilians for ransom, for political gain, and for use as human shields. It systematically commits atrocities against civilians; torture, assassination, and "disappearances" are routine. The FARC also forces children to serve as soldiers in its army, and has been known to test the loyalty of these child-soldiers—some aged fourteen and under—by forcing them to torture or even kill other children. Children who desert are hunted, apprehended, and executed.
Quintero was accused of high treason since his actions allegedly constituted an incitement to war with the Republic of Colombia. He was also accused of abusing his power by commissioning Granda’s capture, and of perpetrating offenses against the Venezuelan military.
Tortured and interrogated for seven days, Quintero suffered internal hemorrhaging and severe thoracic wounds. According to Quintero, his interrogators were trying to force him to testify that the governments of Colombia and the United States were behind the Granda capture. In December of 2007, Quintero was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. He is currently detained in Ramo Verde, a military prison that lacks running water and basic medical care.
These men are among the eleven members of the Caracas Metropolitan Police accused of killing protesters during the demonstrations of April 11, 2002. They have been imprisoned since 2004.
Their ongoing trial has included more than a thousand hours of debate and 210 witnesses—but no evidence has been produced to prove their guilt. In 2007 alone they have been called to more than thirty hearings, only nine of which have taken place.
While imprisoned, Simonovis was denied medical treatment for a life-threatening gastrointestinal illness, despite several judicial orders approving his transfer to a hospital. He did not receive treatment until national and international organizations became involved on his behalf. He says he has been a victim of "a demeaning and humiliating revenge that goes against the most basic principles of human rights."
In December 2002, Raúl Díaz, an engineering student, joined thousands of people in peaceful protests against the Venezuelan government. He became involved with a group of Venezuelan dissidents and military officers who had declared themselves in legitimate disobedience to the government and were rallying in Plaza Altamira, Caracas.
Díaz was subsequently accused of participating in the 2003 bombings of the Spanish and Colombian embassies in Caracas. There was no evidence to support this accusation—but Díaz was nonetheless arrested in February 2004.
Díaz languished in prison for twice the time permitted by law before he was taken to trial. Originally, the public prosecution charged him as an accomplice to the bombings. On the day of the ruling, however, the charges were changed and he was convicted as the author of the crime. Raúl Díaz was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison. He was imprisoned for more than four years before he was finally sentenced.
For most of his time in jail, Díaz has been confined to a tiny, poorly ventilated cell, and has only been allowed to see sunlight for one hour each week. He has suffered from serious bacterial infections in his ears due to inadequate medical treatment. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a provisional order asking that he be given proper medical assistance, but he was not permitted to see a doctor until a full eleven months later.