At Summit of the Americas, 25 presidents stand against Caracas
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At Summit of the Americas, 25 presidents stand against Caracas

Ahead of the Summit of the Americas, 25 former presidents from Latin America and Spain condemned the current government of Venezuela for political persecution in a statement published on Thursday.

The ex-presidents accused President Nicolás Maduro’s administration of imprisoning political opponents, blacking out media that criticized the regime, violating human rights and altering the country’s constitution to benefit the party in power. The signees represented 13 different countries and included former heads of state of countries that currently have close relations with Venezuela, such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina.

“In particular, there is a clear absence of independent justice, a legal persecution of those who protest and express political opposition against the government, repeated acts of torture by government agents, the existence of armed groups in support of the government, and an environment of total impunity, which demands the immediate release of all political prisoners, among others the democratic leader Leopoldo López and the mayors Antonio Ledezma [of Caracas] and Daniel Ceballos [of San Cristóbal],” the statement read.

Read more: Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma arrested, opposition calls for protests

The former presidents called for international observation of Venezuelan elections and an economic reorganization of the country that would include deregulation, less reliance on petroleum and less economic inequality. In the statement, the signees stressed that opposing the current government was not an act of imperialism.

“The only possibility to reestablish democracy in Venezuela and to have an effective guarantee of political, economic and social rights of Venezuelans happens by rescuing principles and a system of separation of powers, by means of the designation of those in power respecting the guarantees of representative democracy and participation established in the Constitution,” the document concluded. “The way to assure independence and autonomy begins with the electoral authority and ends when impartiality and the development of free and just elections are assured.”

The signed condemnation of Venezuela’s government was drafted by an ad hoc organization from Spain and presented during a press conference in Panama City on April 9. The wives of imprisoned politicians López and Ledezma were present at the signing, according to a report by La Prensa.

The seventh Summit of the Americas, a conference run by the Organization of American States (OAS), brings together heads of state from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, as well as business and nonprofit leaders from across the region. This year’s summit, which was held in Panama City, took place on April 10-11.

Venezuelan President Maduro took the opportunity to frame his government as a bulwark against U.S.-backed imperialism in the hours leading up to the summit’s opening on Friday. Maduro spoke from El Chorrillo, a neighborhood in Panama City that was bombed by the U.S. in 1989 during the war against then-President Manuel Noriega. The site is controversial not just for the bombing but for the differing body counts reported by varying sides.

Speaking to a crowd of residents and reporters, Maduro condemned not only the U.S. government but also alleged that U.S. media such as CNN spread lies. Maduro said he would speak about the events of 1989 directly with U.S. President Barack Obama during the summit.

“In my speech I will talk about the justice that needs to be won,” Maduro told the crowd. “The U.S. needs to ask Panama and Latin America for forgiveness for the invasion of 1989.”

In December, Obama signed a bill that placed sanctions on Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights’ violations. The sanctions denied visas and froze Venezuelan assets.

Read more: A week of hypocrisy in US policy: Cuba diplomacy, Venezuela sanctions and CIA torture

The former presidents who signed the condemnation of Venezuela’s government ranged from regional heroes to those whose tenures ended in ignominy. Signees from Costa Rica, for example, included both Nobel Peace Prize winner Óscar Arias and convicted embezzler Rafael Ángel Calderón.

The full list of ex-presidents by country and terms:

  • Spain: Felipe González (1982-1996), José María Aznar (1996-2004)
  • Panamá: Nicolás Ardito Barletta (1984-1985), Mireya Moscoso (1999-2004)
  • Costa Rica: Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986), Óscar Arias (1986-1990 and 2006-2010), Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994), Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002), Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014)
  • Colombia: Belisario Betancur (1982-1986), Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010)
  • El Salvador: Alfredo Cristiani (1989-1994), Armando Calderón Sol (1994-1999)
  • México: Vincente Fox (2000-2006), Felipe Calderón (2006-2012)
  • Argentina: Eduardo Duhalde (2002-2003)
  • Ecuador: Osvaldo Hurtado (1981-1984), Lucio Gutiérrez (2002-2005)
  • Uruguay: Julio Sanguinetti (1985-1990 and 1995-2000), Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995)
  • Chile: Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014)
  • Bolivia: Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002)
  • Perú: Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006)
  • Paraguay: Juan Carlos Wasmosy (1993-1998)
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