26 Venezuelan Students on Hunger Strike Want OAS to Help

Twenty six university students are now in a hunger strike demanding the Venezuelan government release its political prisoners and allow representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) to evaluate human rights conditions in the country.

The strike began 17 days ago when nine university students decided to begin fasting at the OAS headquarters in Caracas. By Tuesday 17 other students had joined the protest – at the Costa Rican Embassy, at the Chilean Embassy, in the state of Zulia, and in the state of Aragua.

“We have decided to increase the level of our protest,” Lorent Saleh said in a story published by El Nacional, one of Venezuela’s leading newspapers.

According to the story Saleh added that “faced by (the government’s) silence, Venezuela’s youth marches on with Operation Liberty.” He urged the government of Hugo Chávez to allow members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit the prisoners in Venezuela.

Globovisión, the only independent television network in Venezuela, said the students want the government to release all political prisoners.

Meanwhile in Washington, D. C., a group called A World Without Censorship (Un mundo sin mordaza in Spanish), demanded that the OAS hear the voices of the student protesters in Venezuela.

In a letter addressed to the ambassadors representing their countries at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D. C., the students said “…we have taken the decision to put our lives at risk for the purpose of having our voices heard by the Organization of American States. Our hunger strike aims to highlight the unsustainable situation of the systematic violation of our human rights by the government of Hugo Chavez against those who openly disagree with their ideas and official policies.”

The organization demanded:

· From the government of Venezuela – that they release immediately the political prisoners recognized by the State Department in its Human Rights report for 2010.

· That the government of Hugo Chavez allow OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to carry out an official visit to Venezuela with the purpose of dialoguing with civil society.

· That the member states of the OAS call for a discussion on Venezuela’s deteriorating human rights situation at the next Permanent Council meeting of the OAS in Washington.

The group’s communiqué said that until at least one of these three demands are met, the young people will continue their hunger strike. The statement from A World Without Censorship was signed by two of the group’s coordinators in Venezuela and their representative in Washington, D.C.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Nicolás Maduro, last week said the government would not allow an OAS delegation to investigate the issue, for that would be intervening in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

The Americano/Agencies