Author Topic: Colombia Faces Backlash For Turning Over Venezuelan Activists  (Read 1367 times)

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Offline mayya

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Colombia Faces Backlash For Turning Over Venezuelan Activists
« on: September 12, 2014, 13:08:18 PM »
Colombia Faces Backlash For Turning Over Venezuelan Activists

Venezuela Government Opposition Fears For Activists' Safety After Being Expelled From Colombia


Sept. 9, 2014 6:56 p.m. ET

CARACAS, Venezuela—The expulsion by Colombia of two Venezuelan activists--both of whom were being detained here--has fueled a backlash against Colombia's government for handing them over to President Nicolás Maduro's administration.

More than 3,000 young people who participated earlier this year in protests against Mr. Maduro's government here were jailed, leading to criticism from human rights groups about abuses even after most were released. At least 43 people—the majority of them antigovernment demonstrators—were killed in the protests, in which university students rose up to protest Venezuela's economic troubles and rampant crime.

Lorent Enrique Gomez Saleh, 26, who leads the Operation Liberation anti-Maduro group, and Gabriel Valles, 27, a member of the organization, were deported from Colombia last week for visa infractions and violating regulations prohibiting foreigners from "participating in activities that threaten public order or national security," said a Colombian Foreign Ministry statement. Colombian officials went on to say that Mr. Gomez Saleh had been "realizing proselytism," or publicly advocating a political cause, which is prohibited for foreigners in Colombia.

Conservative Colombians opposed to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela's opposition vented their outrage at the deportation, arguing in televised interviews and Twitter messages that turning the two men over to Venezuela would lead to long prison terms. Messrs. Gomez Saleh and Valles, both staunch critics of Mr. Maduro's government, were being held at the detention center operated by Bolivarian Intelligence Service.

In a statement Friday, Mr. Maduro's government accused Mr. Gomez Saleh of "being involved in extremists plots against the Venezuelan government." Calls for elaboration to the public prosecutor's office in Venezuela weren't returned. Attempts to contact Mr. Gomez Saleh, Mr. Valles and their lawyers weren't immediately successful.

"It's brought shame on our homeland that Santos turned over these two young Venezuelans to the dictatorship of Maduro," said Colombian Sen. Álvaro Uribe, a former president who openly opposes both Mr. Santos and Venezuela's government.

In Venezuela, the attorney general's office said that the pair had outstanding arrest warrants for violating the terms of a conditional release pending trial in connection with "violent" protests in 2010 in which they participated. The two men faced charges that included stirring public unrest and disseminating false information. Officials said they had been required to check in with authorities every 21 days while waiting for their court date but had violated the order.
The men could face from two to five years in prison if convicted, said Alfredo Romero, executive director of Foro Penal, a Venezuelan rights group comprised of lawyers who defend jailed demonstrators.

In Colombia, a spokeswoman for Mr. Santos referred the matter to the Foreign Ministry, where a spokeswoman declined to comment. But in a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Gomez Saleh allowed his visa to lapse while in Colombia and was in the process of renewing his status when he engaged in political activities that violated regulations. Colombian media carried stories about Mr. Gomez Saleh's political activities, which included speeches criticizing Mr. Santos's government.

Opponents there have said that the deportation of Messrs. Gomez Saleh and Valles show Mr. Santos has put relations with Venezuela's socialist government above human rights. The Venezuelan government, which has had close relations with Colombian rebels, has been instrumental in supporting peace talks that Mr. Santos has been carrying out with guerrillas to end Colombia's long internal conflict.

"Because of fear of Maduro and the FARC, he broke the tradition of protecting the persecuted," Mr. Uribe said in a tweet, referring to Mr. Santos and the rebel group.

Arlene Tickner, a professor of political science at Bogota's University of the Andes, said opposition claims that Mr. Santos, a center-right politician close to the U.S., is an ally of Mr. Maduro are "preposterous." But she said Mr. Santos had to carefully consider what measures to take to maintain a working relationship between the two countries.
"Santos is walking a tightrope on how to manage a very volatile situation in Venezuela," she said. "If the Venezuelan government suspected these students were participating in certain opposition activities on this side of the Colombia border, that could lead to a worsening of bilateral relations."

In Venezuela, opposition figures voiced concern Tuesday over the safety of Messrs. Gomez Saleh and Valles. Mr. Gomez Saleh, who had staged highly visible hunger strikes when he had been a university student in Venezuela, has claimed in the past that he has been beaten by security forces.

"The unusual process of handover of Lorent Enrique Gomez Saleh to the political police places his well-being and life at risk," said opposition party A New Era, who questioned the lack of formal extradition proceedings.

His mother, Yamile Saleh, helped attract attention to his case by carrying a placard in public in recent days that reads, "Oh God, where is my son Lorent?"

Still, it appeared that as of Tuesday no harm had come to him. "He has been treated well, so far," said Mr. Romero, of Foro Penal.