Red Cross: what’s behind the intervention in Venezuela of one of the most important NGOs in the world

Red Cross: what’s behind the intervention in Venezuela of one of the most important NGOs in the world

Published on 23 Aug 2023

What happened to the Red Cross in Venezuela?

The intervention of the Red Cross in Venezuela by the Maduro government set off alarms about the future not only of this international organization, but also of the NGOs and independent institutions operating in the country.


The intervention of this organization was woven around a model that has been repeated with other institutions in the country and that even replicates the dynamics of other authoritarian regimes in the region.


While in Venezuela the Supreme Court of Justice imposed a new ad hoc board of directors for the organization, in Nicaragua, the Ortega regime completely eliminated the Red Cross and replaced it with a new organization that responds directly to his government (White Cross).


What happened to the Red Cross in Venezuela?


Rumors about a possible intervention of the Red Cross in Venezuela were increasing days before the TSJ finally made a decision.


As on other occasions and responding to a pattern already established in the Maduro Government, the political leader Diosdado Cabello days before sentenced what would happen with the Red Cross in Venezuela.


On Wednesday, August 3, in the program “Con el Mazo Dando”, Cabello singled out the then president of the Venezuelan Red Cross, Mario Villarroel, for mismanaging the organization. “I have nothing against the Red Cross but against those who run it, I do not like mafias anywhere”, he said while assuring that there were denouncements from workers about acts of corruption.


By then the Attorney General of the Republic, Tareck Willian Saab, announced an investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office against the team of the then president of the Red Cross, Mario Villarroel.


Finally, on August 4, a ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice was published ordering a “broad and diverse restructuring of the Red Cross with the participation of the sectors of Venezuelan society”.


The decision of the TSJ denotes a previous preparation. In the sentence, the new board of directors was already appointed. The businessman and president of Fedecámaras, Ricardo Cusanno, was appointed as the new director of the organization, accompanied by people linked to the health sector and two other surprises: Alberto Vollmer and the fencer Rubén Limardo.


The news of the day was not trending in networks


Although the issue of the intervention of the Red Cross was widely explained and reported by the digital media, it failed to be positioned as a trending topic in Venezuela, neither with the civil society nor by the regime.


On the day when the TSJ issued the sentence for the intervention of the Red Cross (August 4), the ruling party promoted the hashtag #GNB86AniversarioConElPueblo to highlight the 86th anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard.


On its part, from the account of the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIPPCI), the hashtag #MaduroInvencible (Maduro Invincible) was promoted to commemorate the 5 years of the alleged assassination attempt against Nicolás Maduro, accumulating a total of 102,000 tweets.


It is not the first time


This is not the first time that the Venezuelan regime has confronted humanitarian organizations. In January 2021, six members of the organization Azul Positivo were arrested on charges of money laundering.


In July 2021, Javier Tarazona, director of FundaRedes, an organization that monitors violations of fundamental rights, with emphasis on border areas, was also deprived of liberty. On this occasion he was accused of “treason”.


But interventions to organizations had so far been reserved to political bodies. In July 2020, the TSJ suspended the board of Voluntad Popular, the party of exiled opposition Leopoldo López and Juan Guaidó.


And in June of the same year, the highest court had taken similar measures against two other major opposition parties: Acción Democrática and Primero Justicia.


The last political party that has been a victim of the Maduro’s government’s interventions has been the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), which was intervened just a few days ago (August 11, 2023).


Now, with the intervention of the Red Cross, it seems to be opening a new compass in the issue of interventions by independent organizations, previously reserved to political parties.


The position of the International Red Cross and the call of the NGOs


In view of the TSJ’s decision, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) expressed concern about the situation in Venezuela and sent high-level officials to Caracas to address the issues regarding this intervention.


“Our priority is to protect the fundamental role of the Venezuelan Red Cross and its volunteers and staff in the country: their neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action is essential to save lives,” it said in a statement.


The international organization assured that any intervention “raises serious concerns” about the independence and humanitarian work of the Red Cross, which is based on Fundamental Principles.


In view of the situation, human rights organizations have raised their voices to denounce the risks involved in these intervention practices by the regime of Nicolás Maduro.


The Venezuelan Program for Human Rights Education and Action (Provea) raised its voice against the intervention suffered by the Red Cross in the country.


“We warn that such decision constitutes the worsening of a pattern of interventions in violation of the different expressions of civil society that has been taking place in the country and that until now had been limited to imposing new directives and calling for elections in professional associations, unions, organizations with political purposes and even in condominium boards,” the organization said in a statement.


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) also expressed its rejection of what happened to the Red Cross in Venezuela.


Through a statement on its web page, the IACHR assured that the recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela “attempt against freedom of association” and for that reason they ask to protect the civic space and guarantee the participation in matters of public interest without any type of discrimination.


Venezuela follows Nicaragua’s example


The intervention of the Red Cross in Venezuela has a recent precedent in Nicaragua. Last May 10, legislators sympathetic to the Ortega regime repealed the autonomy of that country’s Red Cross on the grounds that the Nicaraguan Red Cross “violated” its impartiality by attending to injured people during the April 2018 protests.


As of that date, a Law was created in Nicaragua for the creation of the new Nicaraguan Red Cross that, although it followed the principles of the international Red Cross, was managed by the government of that country. However, it seems that this decision was not enough and the regime went a step further. On June 2 of this year, the White Cross Law was urgently approved.


The purpose of the White Cross, according to the law, will be to carry out humanitarian and relief activities, especially in the field of health, “governed by the principles of solidarity and humanitarian practices of the Nicaraguan nation”, and not those of the International Red Cross, as had been approved last May 10.


The difference is that the White Cross will not be the legal successor without continuity of the Nicaraguan Red Cross Association, nor will it continue to comply with the international legal framework based on the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols to which Nicaragua is a State Party. Nor does it give continuity to the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement approved at the 1965 Vienna Conference and its reform at the XXV Geneva Conference in 1986, as well as those to which Nicaragua is a State Party.


What is happening in both Venezuela and Nicaragua provides a more visible picture of how authoritarian regimes in the region not only coordinate on social media platforms, but also follow similar patterns in terms of repression and human rights violations.


Follow us on all social media platforms as @ProBoxVE for more information and content on these issues.

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