Foreign Policy Blogs

Opposition Leaders in Venezuela Seek Asylum

It remains possible to disagree with the Venezuelan government over its policies. It appears more difficult to do so within the country.

Yesterday one more opposition leader sought asylum from what he considers oppression from the Chávez administration. Oscar Pérez, who is part of the Alianza Bravo Pueblo (ABP) party, is now charged by the government for participating in a September 22 march against the Reforma Educativa (Education Reform).

One might wonder if Mr. Pérez is overreacting, and whether it is truly necessary to leave the country.

The Venezuelan government has a history of cracking down on opposing opinion. The country directors of Human Rights Watch were forced out after the release of a report critical of the Chávez administration. Other opposition leaders, Richard Blanco and Julio César Rivas, have been jailed under charges similar to those for Pérez. In April, Manuel Rosales, the mayor of Maracaibo (which is the second largest city in the country), fled to Peru.

To be fair, existing opposition to the national government and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV in Spanish) is often tolerated. Attempts are made, however, to reduce the strength of any challengers, as well as their ability to govern.

For example, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, held a somewhat-dramatized 6-day hunger strike in July to draw attention to his political marginalization. Elected to office in November 2008, his capacity to govern has been consistently limited by both the direct policies and indifference of the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

As reported by CNN, “chief among Ledezma’s complaints was the creation in April of a ‘head of government,’ appointed by Chávez, who took over many of the metropolitan mayor’s duties, in addition to offices and budget.” To date Ledezma, a leading opponent of PSUV, has not been allowed to fulfill his mayoral duties. Armed supporters of Chávez occupied his office, while graffiti scrawled on the building’s exterior called for him to leave the country. Computers and official vehicles were destroyed or stolen, and records showed that the previous PSUV-aligned mayor illegally used thousands of workers on city payrolls for campaign activities. One might wonder, are these events in Caracas isolated, or do they fit into a regular pattern?



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.