Latin American leaders talked of butterflies and Ukraine at U.N., but ignored Maduro’s massive crimes | Opinion

The new United Nations report accusing Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro of being directly responsible for massive “crimes against humanity” is one of the most explicit indictments of a sitting president I’ve seen lately.

And yet, amazingly, when the presidents and foreign ministers of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and other Latin American countries addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York in recent days, they didn’t even mention Venezuela’s human-rights abuses.

It’s one of the world’s biggest human-rights crises, taking place right in front of their noses and that, according to previous U.N. estimates, has resulted in more than 6,700 extrajudicial executions and more than 6 million refugees. But these leaders chose to talk about almost anything except that.

Some of them, like Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, even asked for the relaxation of international sanctions on Venezuela’s dictatorship.

“Argentina adheres to the demand of the peoples of Cuba and Venezuela that the [economic] blockades against their countries be lifted,” Fernandez said. Where, exactly, did Fernandez get the information of what their citizens want, since they haven’t had free elections in decades?

Colombian President Gustavo Petro told the U.N. General Assembly about the “yellow butterflies” and “magic” natural beauties of Colombia’s jungles — nothing wrong with that — but never even mentioned the name “Venezuela.” Nor did he refer to the estimated 2.5 million Venezuelan refugees who have crossed the border into his country, fleeing the Maduro regime.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who represented his country’s president, talked about the Ukraine war and other world issues, but also omitted Latin America’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

Earlier this year, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador boycotted President Biden’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, citing the U.S. refusal to invite the rulers of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Most of last week’s speeches before the U.N. General Assembly came only hours after an independent international fact-finding mission on Venezuela — appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council — issued its report denouncing Maduro’s atrocities.

The report found widespread evidence of “a plan orchestrated by President Nicolás Maduro and other high-level individuals to suppress opposition to the government, including through the commission of extremely grave acts of torture amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The report cited “killings consistent with previously documented patterns of extrajudicial executions and other violations in the context of security operations” by the Maduro regime. It also found evidence of “acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence, by state law enforcement and intelligence services.”

To his credit, Biden included a paragraph in his U.N. speech saying that “years of political oppression“ in Venezuela have driven more than 6 million people from that country, and that, “We urge a Venezuelan-led dialogue and a return to free and fair elections.”

But, except for Biden’s speech and a few mentions of Venezuelans’ exodus by the presidents of Chile and Ecuador, most Latin American leaders are looking the other way at Venezuela’s massive human-rights violations.

International human-rights experts agree that the U.N. independent mission’s report is unusually harsh, because it cites Maduro by name. It also includes numerous well-documented examples of government atrocities, which could serve as a prologue to a possible International Criminal Court case against the Venezuelan dictator.

“This is the strongest U.N. report on Venezuela that I’ve seen so far,” José Miguel Vivanco, a human-rights fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “It’s not a generic report, but one with the names of victims and which identifies those responsible for the abuses throughout the chain of command.”

Yet, key Latin American presidents talked about the “yellow butterflies” and other unrelated issues, or even defended the Maduro dictatorship at the U.N. General Assembly. Their silence will only help embolden Maduro and other dictators.

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