Venezuela Independence Day marked by rival rallies, UN rebuke

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuela’s Independence Day was marked by rival rallies on Friday, led by opposition leader Juan Guaido and President Nicholas Maduro, who waged a war of words even as the United Nations (UN) warned of eroded rule of law in the country.

Guaido, who considers himself Venezuela’s legitimate acting leader, implored supporters in the streets of Caracas not to give up hope: “Don’t leave! We’re going to get there! Have no doubt, we’ll succeed.”

The crowd that gathered to hear the centre-right leader, who in January declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority, was markedly smaller than those at the beginning of the year. The country was observing the July 5 holiday celebrating its 1811 Declaration of Independence.

Maduro, meanwhile, led a military parade down the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honouring the country’s founders, and received a public display of support from the military’s top brass.

“Count on the armed forces… we are not afraid to face the enemies of the country,” Commander of Operational Strategy General Remigio Ceballos assured the President.

UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet meanwhile presented a report on Venezuela which pointed to attacks on political opponents and activists, including torture and thousands of killings by security forces in the country.

Venezuela’s self proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido speaks during a protest in Caracas. – AP

She said that attempting to exercise the most basic rights like freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly in Venezuela “entails a risk of reprisals and repression”.

However she later welcomed the release of 22 prisoners in recent days, including journalist Braulio Jatar and Lourdes Afiuni, a judge.

The Supreme Court confirmed the reversal of detention measures against the two, although they were yet to be released.

Afiuni, who has been detained since 2009 expressed her “immense gratitude” to Bachelet on Twitter, saying her release, if it was finalised, would “be the end of nine years and seven months of persecution and torture”.

Jatar’s sister denied he had been freed, but said she hoped he would be released.

The United States, along with some 50 other countries, including major Latin American powers, has declared Maduro to be illegitimate and recognised Guido as the interim leader.

But Maduro has withstood a US-led pressure campaign that includes sanctions on Venezuela’s crucial oil exports, and still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.