Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The denial of medical treatment as a tool of torture in Venezuela

The following article was published in “La Razón”, a Venezuelan weekly newspaper of national circulation, on 14 June 2011. It has become even more relevant in light of the surgery and complementary treatment President Chávez has received in Cuba in order to cure his own cancer. (Comment and translation into English by Enrique ter Horst).

The denial of medical treatment as a tool of torture in Venezuela.
By Tamara Suju Roa
A number of unjustly imprisoned Venezuelans – political prisoners - have had recourse to public scandal and international protection mechanisms, hunger strikes and other forms of protest in order to secure permission from the Venezuelan state to receive urgently needed medical treatment. The cases that come to mind immediately are the ones’ of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, whose bleeding was allowed to continue for months before she was permitted to have the hysterectomy she needed, as well as the case of Wiiliam Saud, operated for four heart bypasses and treated for skin cancer only after the peaceful protests by the students of Operacion Libertad pressured the government to relent and allow the operation.
The right to health, however, is consecrated in article 83 of the Constitution of Venezuela as part of the right to life and as an obligation of the state, but its arbitrary and systematic denial to those unjustly imprisoned for political reasons clearly constitutes a form of torture. To deny medical attention to someone already psychologically weakened by arbitrary detention, as well as entirely dependent on the whim of those in power, is certainly a form of cruelty. One must imagine someone in such a situation, closed-in between four walls, fearing that treatment quite probably will be denied on purpose, his or her family fearing that the perversion of the power of the state can lead to his death and only able to scream to the world the outrage he or she is being subjected to. That is, if the scream can be heard beyond the prison walls.

The Government of Venezuela not only violates Venezuelan laws ordaining the protection of the right to life and health, but all international conventions and treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and I dare also include the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Demeaning Treatment or Punishment, as the concept of torture included therein is applicable to the treatment Venezuelan political prisoners are subjected to.

Indeed, according to this Convention, by “torture” shall be understood “…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity….” (Article 1).

I ask the reader if under this concept the denial by the Venezuelan state to allow Alejandro Peña Esclusa, imprisoned in the dungeons of the SEBIN, the political police, to be treated for his prostate cancer is not torture, in addition to cruel and inhuman treatment? Let us recall that a month before his detention Peña Esclusa was operated for a radical prostatectomy and could not receive the necessary radio therapy for the complete eradication of his illness, and has suffered a relapse of the cancer. In order to benefit from this therapy Peña Esclusa requires a judicial authorization to receive such treatment in an aseptic environment only available in an appropriate health center, a measure of surveilled liberty for humanitarian reasons foreseen in the Criminal Procedure Code and which an independent judge would accord as a matter of routine but which now is arbitrarily denied to him. Is the government waiting for his cancer to methastasize?

Police Commissioner Lázaro Forero urgently requires medical examination to determine the extent of his prostate enlargement and treatment for posible glaucoma. Metropolitan Police Officer Erasmo Bolívar requires to be operated on a knee and to be treated on his left eye after having been operated on his retina. Rolando Guevara suffers from a lumbocyatic hernia since August 2007 (diagnosed by doctors of the SEBIN and the Investigative Police) which has not been treated, and Jose Sanchez suffers from cronic gastritis and severe lumbago and needs rehabilitation treatment.

The government, in particular the Minister of the Interior and Justice, is in full knowledge of all of the above, as the provision of medical attention to the political prisoners mentioned by name are part of the agreement the government reached with the students of the so called Operación Libertad protest organized in front of the OAS office in Caracas. The Venezuelan State is the custodian of each of these prisoners of the Venezuelan “justice” system and is therefore responsible, by action and/or omission, of what might happen to them. These particular cases entail a special responsibility for the government, as in spite of its knowledge of their situation it denies them the right to health.

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