The Malta Independent 22 March 2019, Friday

Sakharov Prize: Venezuelan winners call on EU for urgent humanitarian intervention

Julian Bonnici from Strasbourg Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 13:44 Last update: about 2 years ago

Sakharov Prize winners, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Julio Borges and political prisoner Antonio Ledezma have called on the European Union to intervene through coordinated diplomatic pressure to ensure that the many individuals who are suffering under the authoritarian rule of President Nicholas Maduro are provided with much needed humanitarian aid.

“Four out of 10 children suffer from malnutrition, 9 out 10 crucial medicines are out of stock; yet Maduro has blocked all form of aid reaching these people,” Borges said.

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“All while we have the largest gas and oil reserves in the southern hemisphere, and are experiencing a boom and hyper-inflation of 2000%.

“This traumatic version of socialism of the 21st century is doomed to fail, and is the greatest obstacle to peace and human rights."

He also requested that the EU provide an electoral observation unit to ensure there is a democratic transition in the country when election take place next year.

The men were the representatives of the democratic opposition in Venezuela, including student activists and protesters, marking the first time an entire institution has won the award.

Borges & Ledezma, have been central figures to the opposition in the fight against the Nicholas Maduro government in Venezuela, which has enacted constitutional reform to weaken the opposition-controlled national assembly, of which Borges was the President, and create a new superior body formed mostly of Maduro supporters.

Borges has been assaulted by government mobs in both 2013 and 2016; while former Caracas Mayour Ledezma was detained  in a politically motivated arrest by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service at his office in the EXA Tower in Caracas, resulting in mass protests and wide spread condemnation from human rights groups in 2015.

On November 17th, 2017, he slipped past guards and fled into Colombia and found refuge in Spain, were he declared that he would continue his fight of opposition to the Venezuelan Government.

Borges emphasised the shared bond and history between the Americas and Europe; referencing the large amount of European migrants who fled the continent during World War Two and Socialist Oppression and found a home in Venezuela.

“In the darkest moment of our history, we are asking you to extend this hand of friendship,” he said.

In an emotionally charged speech, Ledezma said that he could not accept the award in good conscious when there so many political prisoners in his country.

“The award should be turned into flowers and put on the graves of those who have fallen. It should be tribute to all those suffering in Venezuela. We are not seeking vengeance but justice, we are free from grudges, we all want a peaceful Venezuela, and not the current failed state we live in,” Ledezma said.

What is the Sakharov Prize?

Named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, honours individuals and groups of people who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

Other finalists this year included a Pakistani Christian woman who has been on death row for six years, a human rights defender in Guatemala, two pro-Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, a Swedish-Eritrean playwright long held in Eritrea and a Burundian human rights activist.

 

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