Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents were reportedly harassed this week by officials from their authoritarian governments while participating in a panel at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, according to a watchdog group.
The dissidents testified on Tuesday at the council in Geneva about abuses committed by their countries’ governments, including arbitrary arrests and torture of detainees. Government delegates from Cuba and Venezuela—current members of the council despite accusations that they perpetrate systematic human rights abuses—shouted at the members of the panel and accused them of being part of a U.S.-funded conspiracy to undermine their rule.
“This is clearly a program of the United States to undermine Cuba, and they have given these speakers money to participate,” said one Cuban representative, according to the human rights organization UN Watch.
“You [the United States] have the greatest empire and you are trying to take our resources,” said one Venezuelan representative, referring to the country’s oil reserves.
Keith Harper, U.S. ambassador to the council and a speaker at the event, expressed concerns about the hounding of dissidents by government officials.
The dissidents from Venezuela included Alejandro Suarez Teppa, a student activist and national board member of the United Active Youth of Venezuela. Teppa said he witnessed student protesters being shot in February and recounted how his protest camp was raided on the night of May 8.
He told reporters that he was beaten by state security forces and held in isolation for three days.
"They put drugs and weapons inside the camps and U.S. dollars to indicate we were financed by foreign powers," he said. "We urge the United Nations to investigate the abuses."
Venezuela has not invited a UN human rights investigator since 1996, while an investigator last visited Cuba in 2007.
Teppa’s story mirrors dozens of other cases of arbitrary detention and torture documented by human rights groups monitoring the situation in Venezuela, where more than 40 people have died in protests since February. Student demonstrators blame the administration of President Nicolas Maduro for rampant crime, inflation, shortages of basic goods, and the silencing of all dissent.
U.S. lawmakers have been pressing the Obama administration to impose U.S. visa and asset bans on Venezuelan officials who perpetrated human rights abuses. Bipartisan legislation that directs President Barack Obama to do so passed the House last month.
The aunt of detained opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez also spoke on the UN panel. Lopez has been held in a military facility since February and now faces more than 10 years in prison on charges of damaging public property and inciting crime, accusations by the government that are widely viewed as politically motivated.
“They [the Venezuelan government] are accusing him of having used subliminal language inciting people to take to the streets, and having killed the students; it was not him, but the police!” Julieta Lopez said.
Cuba’s communist government has reportedly sent thousands of internal security advisers to Venezuela in recent years to assist with the repression of dissidents, activists say.
Spanish politician Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios urged the UN to further investigate the 2012 deaths of Cuban democracy activists Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a car accident. Carromero drove the car that both him and Paya’s family allege was hit by another car from behind in eastern Cuba.
“The accident took place two years ago and the family hasn't had any access to the autopsy; I'm asking you to have common sense,” Carromero said.
The UN panel discussion followed the recent arrests of Cuban political dissidents Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as “Antunez,” and his wife Yris Perez for what activists say was no apparent reason. Politically motivated detentions in Cuba have spiked this year, according to human rights groups.
Cuban-American Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a staunch opponent of the Obama administration’s recent overtures to Cuba, condemned the arrests in a statement.
“In yet another unsurprising act of oppression, the Castro regime, in a massive crackdown, has violently arrested Cuban pro-democracy leaders Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez,’ Yris Perez Aguilera, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, Angel Moya, and dozens more,” she said. “These arbitrary detentions are another somber reminder of the dictatorship’s forceful grip on the island in attempts to silence courageous leaders who seek democracy and freedom.”
“The Obama administration must immediately condemn this new repressive wave and stop providing concessions to the Castro regime,” she added.