Evidence of meeting #117 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was regime.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Tamara Yolanda Suju Roa  Executive Director, CASLA Institute, Czech Republic, As an Individual
Diego Enrique Arria Salicetti  Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual
Antonio Jose Ledezma Diaz  Former Mayor of Caracas, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—Saint-Lambert, QC

The reason I ask the question is that it seems that, according to Venezuelan sources, President Maduro has apparently announced that anyone who had an official position in Venezuela, who has sought refuge elsewhere, and returns is considered a traitor. If a person is considered a traitor, they would normally be sent to prison, if not worse.

Is that really what is happening in Venezuela now? Is that the situation?

1:45 p.m.

Former Mayor of Caracas, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Antonio Jose Ledezma Diaz

Yes. When police or military people return to Venezuela, they are under penalty of death. They go to the mountains. A young person was deprived of his freedom for five years. As for the military members who have expressed rebellion, as Mr. Fragiskatos said, in Venezuela there are certain members of the military who have become enriched. Many of the denunciations for the deposits in a bank in Andorra are from drug trafficking. They have what they call “the cartel of the suns”. Venezuela nowadays is indeed the centre of operations to legitimize capital from drug trafficking, and there are, indeed, many examples.

An Air France plane, for example, left with 14 suitcases filled with drugs. It was detected upon arrival in Paris. The drug trafficker was then detained with over 25 bags, trafficking thousands of kilos of drugs.

If it is not drugs, it's gas. Every day there is contraband equivalent to 100,000 barrels of oil in gasoline, petrol. You can fill up a tank of gas in Venezuela, and you can have 33 cisterns or trucks for one dollar. This gasoline, which is being given away by the regime, is contraband for the military. This is the elite that sustains the dictatorship.

How long will this last? As representative Mr. Fragiskatos said—

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Excuse me; I just have to interject, because the time's up. I want to be fair to our colleague over here.

MP Hardcastle, I know you're on a timeline.

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

I appreciate that, Mr. Chair.

I will make my question as swift as possible so I can hear you, but I am going to have to step out before you're done.

It is important, and I hope that we have a balance in this discussion with you about the way forward and our role in international human rights and the diplomatic aspect. Building the capacity for democracy in Venezuela will require international relationships and support, not just punishments, or harsh realities or sanctions. I'm sure you realize that. I know that there are “NiNis”, the middle people who are neither left nor right in Venezuela. During the election I read a lot about the opposition—which is also fractured—trying to attract those people. How do we link and build consensus with them? Is that a part of how we get to the whole population, in terms of appealing with diplomacy to help build the capacity for democracy? I know that is abstract.

The horrific crimes and human rights abuses are well documented. We know of the fractured opposition. We understand that. We need some balance in how we formulate our responses as a country, about finessing the diplomacy and reaching.... There is a middle group that does not see either side. I feel like that group needs to build a political awareness. Is that where we help with the human rights assistance?

I'm trying to put all my questions into one right now so that you can take as you need for the comments. I am going to have to leave, but I would like you to weigh in.

1:50 p.m.

Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Diego Enrique Arria Salicetti

I personally believe that we, the country, must come out whole. We cannot come out in parts. That, to me, is essential if we want to have stability in the future. We aim to have some sort of reunification eventually, which is easier than reconciliation, as we know from other processes, like in Bosnia or even El Salvador, which is in our region. That's something we have very much in mind.

Diplomacy has become a bad word for the people in Venezuela who are dying. They ask, “How many more people have to die? How many more people have to leave the country? How many more children? When are we going to reach a limit?” Diplomacy as a currency has been absolutely devalued. We have been, actually, victims of diplomatic exercises. We have been promoted, for example, by the Spaniards at one time—Rodriguez Zapatero—and other countries. Some of our own political parties participated in that, which has actually damaged the credibility a lot.

You're talking about the people's credibility in the process. We have to build on that. That's very important. That's what I said at the beginning. Canada is an honest broker, honourable and distinguished. It has a great soft power that I believe will be extremely important. You know, we speak to many Canadians—Professor Cotler, for example—who are really influential in our thinking. Why do we do that? We see him and Canada as probably our best allies in this fight.

1:50 p.m.

Former Mayor of Caracas, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Antonio Jose Ledezma Diaz

I would add further—

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Go ahead. There's still time, but I have to leave.

1:50 p.m.

Former Mayor of Caracas, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Antonio Jose Ledezma Diaz

—that over 90% of the national population is requesting a change of regime. We speak on behalf of that 90%. There's a majority who do not want to have a false dialogue, who want to leave dictatorship as soon as possible. If this dictatorship has done something, it has been to unite the country and its majority, very sadly, amidst misery.

Here in Canada there are parents who have children in Venezuela, or in Venezuela there are children who have their parents or their grandparents here in Canada. This happens throughout the world. That's another issue we have put forward: benevolence for that diaspora, which suffers so much when it finds itself in legal limbo. They don't know what's going to happen to them when they come to Canada, the United States, or South America.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

Before I turn the floor over to my colleague Mr. Tabbara, I have a follow-up question for you, Ms. Suju.

You mentioned a number to do with the number of political prisoners still in jail. I just want to get clarification on that number. Were there 300, or what was the number you stated of political prisoners in jail at the current time?

1:50 p.m.

Executive Director, CASLA Institute, Czech Republic, As an Individual

Tamara Yolanda Suju Roa

There are 340 prisoners.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

Go ahead, MP Tabbara.

September 20th, 2018 / 1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank you all for being here today.

I want to follow up on the question of my colleague Mr. Fragiskatos on the regime. My colleague was asking whether the military, police forces, and security forces in Venezuela were still loyal to the regime.

We've heard about the economic crisis within Venezuela and also about the crumbling infrastructure, with power cuts and water accessibility problems for many people. When the military and security forces see all of this crumbling of the nation, with the lack of employment, of health care services, of all kinds of services, how do they remain loyal to a regime that has really failed in all aspects of the state?

1:50 p.m.

Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Diego Enrique Arria Salicetti

It's unimaginable that the armed forces as a whole would support the regime.

The armed forces are like a big family, and in a way they mostly represent, as the mayor was saying, what about 90% of Venezuelans reject. These are armed forces dominated and controlled by the Cubans. It is amazing that a small country like Cuba is like the occupying power in the nation of Venezuela and that we cannot talk to the military. They are all the time under scrutiny and are spied upon by the regime. Even among themselves they don't talk very much, because they don't know which of them is working for the Cubans. We are really trapped, in Venezuela. This is an unprecedented case.

I have to imagine, when you look at the figures Tamara was mentioning, of 340 officers having recently been taken to jail, that it means there's a fracture. The ones in jail are lieutenants, captains, majors, and lieutenant-colonels, who generally are the ones who really control the armed forces. I believe, then, that the armed forces are very fractured and that something may happen there.

Without the military, we'll never be able to rescue our country, because we have not only the Cubans, but we have the guerrilla forces of Colombia that have remained in Venezuela; we have the Hezbollah groups; we have the paramilitary. They have about 200,000 men. How can we rescue our country in that situation? Plus, the narcocartels will defend themselves. Venezuela is the biggest sanctuary not only for drugs, but for money laundering, for the arms trade, etc. Without the armed forces, we would not be able.... The armed forces will require international support.

1:55 p.m.

Executive Director, CASLA Institute, Czech Republic, As an Individual

Tamara Yolanda Suju Roa

The breakdown that you have mentioned has a lot to do with repression. At present, the Venezuelan administration is using the collective paramilitary armed groups to conduct violations, together with the FAES and CONAS groups: to abduct people, to make them disappear, and to have others come back. They are using these collective groups and groups that had not been performing before in an open manner to sequester people.

Security organizations tell us there is tremendous discontent, not just institutionally but in the armed forces, except for the high command, which is totally committed to the government. In some way, internally there is already some kind of rebellion among those groups. If you ask a colonel or lieutenant-colonel or if you know that a colleague of yours has been in prison and has been tortured and that his family has also been violated, there has to necessarily be tremendous discontent.

This is what we see today in Venezuela generally in the national armed forces, as well as within certain bodies that are now rebelling against the repression against their own colleagues.

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

We have time for one last short question before we adjourn, and it's going to go to MP Sweet, please.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

First, thank you very much to all the witnesses. Time is always our enemy, and I have a lot of things I'd like to ask you.

This is the first time, by the way, that our committee has heard of the magnitude of the involvement of the Cubans within the country right now. We've heard about the other gangsters, and we've heard about some of the extremists.

Because you mentioned that the only way the country is going to be released from this tyranny is with your own military, I will ask, do you have senior military people who are in exile who are able to plan and muster without the fear of being incarcerated or murdered? You may not even want to answer this.

1:55 p.m.

Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Diego Enrique Arria Salicetti

I wish I could tell you yes, but I'm not so sure. We have a lot of them, but are they coordinated in a way to do something? It's difficult to answer.

1:55 p.m.

Former Mayor of Caracas, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Antonio Jose Ledezma Diaz

Yes. There are some members of the military who are discontented, who feel ashamed. Malnutrition and hunger have reached the military headquarters, and the military, as you know, are also human beings. They happen to eat. They get thirsty. They have families.

This year in January they murdered an inspector in the so-called massacre of El Junquito, a small community where there had been a rebellion. Then, by March, a captain was captured who had headed an assault, an attack, against a military headquarters in Venezuela. General Rodriguez Torres is now also detained. He was one member of the military group that supported the revolution. Then there was a so-called rebellion this year in May with the commanders of that so-called rebellion, the Ayala battalion.

Recently there was another act of violence with members of the military under a situation of rebellion. As Ambassador Arria was telling us, the armed forces and the institutional reserve of the armed forces have to necessarily play an important role in the establishment of the rule of law in Venezuela.

2 p.m.

Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Soy Venezuela, As an Individual

Diego Enrique Arria Salicetti

Let me add something to that. They say that the military obey until they cease to obey. That we have seen. It's difficult to read them, because the climate of intimidation is such that they are very afraid, and the Cuban issue is of fundamental importance in our case. The Cuban situation in Venezuela is very much a link.

That's why, for example, I personally criticized the U.S. when they had this Cuban-American agenda. I said that they could not have a Cuban-U.S. agenda excluding Venezuela, because the Cubans are in Venezuela. They have killed people. They persecute people. They have not killed or tortured Americans. In their agenda it's very important to have Venezuela and Cuba as a case, I would say, a symbiotic case.

2 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Maybe we can have our witnesses stay there for 30 seconds, and we can help them with some social media by taking a picture after we adjourn.

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Michael Levitt

Thank you.

I want to thank each of you. Once again, this committee has been and continues to be seized with the issue of the intense repression happening in Venezuela. We thank you for being here and bringing it first-hand to us. It's so important, as you've mentioned, that our Parliament and our colleagues continue to be engaged on this point.

If you can just stay there, we're going to adjourn and then come over to you.

The meeting is adjourned.