The Venezuelan Crisis
Nicolas Maduro became late dictator Hugo Chavez’s hand picked successor to continue Venezuela’s so called socialist revolution. Since taking the reigns of power, Venezuela’s economy and political landscape has continued to spiral out of control leaving the country in a state of chaos with high inflation, violent street protests, food shortages, and increased government crackdowns on the political opposition. Instead of using Venezuela’s vast oil reserves for economic stability or embracing free markets, the Maduro regime has continued to forge ahead with his predecessor’s socialist agenda of reckless entitlement spending, constitutional manipulation, and judicial influence in order to maintain power.
Maduro allowed the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to completely take over the legislature that won a majority in recent elections. The measure was soon reversed, but seen by many Venezuelan’s as the final breaking point to an out of control dictatorial government. Maduro has even banned opposition candidate Henrique Capriles from running for political office. As a result, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets calling for Maduro to step down while dozens of Venezuelan’s have been killed by security forces in the process.
In an act of desperation, Maduro has ordered the government to arm his supporters in an effort to counter the protesters while proposing a new constitution and increasing the minimum wage. To make matters worst, Maduro’s government has nationalized the nations grocery stores and controls the prices causing the country to run out of the most basic supplies for survival leaving the majority of Venezuelan’s without food or medicine. As the situation continues, Maduro held a sham election that would grant him absolute power. Venezuelan’s could only vote for candidates in the constituent assembly making the election an easy victory for the ruling socialist party. After the election, two opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were arrested by Venezuelan authorities in the middle of the night and taken to an undisclosed location. Their whereabouts are unknown.
In the wake of Venezuela’s state oppression, thousands of Venezuelan’s have fled the country to neighboring Colombia or beyond in order to escape the daily hardships of scavenging for food and basic supplies. The majority of Venezuela’s population are starving because of the Maduro regimes control over the country’s food distribution which is incapable of supplying basic commodities for survival due to the government’s reckless spending and resource mismanagement under a socialist system that has run out of money causing inflation to reach unprecedented levels which has resulted in empty store shelves. Venezuelan’s opposed to Maduro’s policies have become the target of a state sponsored crackdown on free speech, peaceful assembly, and political association.
China’s Contradicting Constitution for Restricting Freedom
China’s constitution of 1982 is depoliticized, business friendly, emphasizes economic development, and contains many democratic elements.
Article 35. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.
Article 36. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.
However, many of these freedoms may be denied by some other articles in the constitution.
Article 51. The exercise by citizens of the People’s Republic of China of their freedoms and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.
Article 54. It is the duty of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to safeguard the security, honor and interests of the motherland; they must not commit acts detrimental to the security, honor and interests of the motherland.
China’s constitution also reflects four cardinal principles:
- Uphold the principle of the socialist path
- Uphold the principle of the people’s democratic dictatorship
- Uphold the principle of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party
- Uphold the principle of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong thought
According to Middle East Eye, The Punishment Methods of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State Are Basically the Same!
Crime: Blasphemy, Homosexual acts, Treason, Murder
Saudi Arabia=Death, Islamic State=Death
Crime: Slander, Drinking Alcohol
Saudi Arabia=At the discretion of a judge, Islamic State=80 lashes
Crime: Adultery if married
Saudi Arabia=Death, Islamic State=Death
Crime: Adultery if not married
Saudi Arabia=100 lashes, Islamic State=100 lashes
Saudi Arabia=Amputation of Hand, Islamic State=Amputation of Hand
Saudi Arabia=Amputation of Hand and Foot, Islamic State=Amputation of Hand and Foot
Crime: Banditry, Murder and Theft
Saudi Arabia=Death, Islamic State=Crucifixion
Politically Motivated Counter-terrorism Laws
Initiating counter-terrorism laws that crack down on terrorist activity is a good policy for any society to consider when faced with a potential terror threat. However, some countries use counter-terrorism laws as a way to crush all forms of political dissent.
The counter-terrorism laws that these dictators enacted are too broad in their interpretation and leave a lot of leeway for cracking down on political opposition and free speech. For example, these laws seek to gain access to critical information under the disguise of promoting national security by not specifically detailing the measures of lawful prevention. Several individuals from these countries have been detained and sentenced for simply criticizing the government, protesting, or joining a political opposition group that these dictators view as terrorist acts.
Here are four dictators that imposed counter-terrorism laws in their countries, not to deter real terrorists, but instead to use as a tool to round up and detain individuals, groups, or organizations critical of the government.
In 2015, the Chinese government enacted its first ever anti-terrorism law which increased the role of law in politics and governance. The law was put into action as a precursor against the growing unrest in the Xinjiang province in which ethnic Muslim Uighur’s claim that the Chinese authorities are restricting their religion and culture. The law is vague and does not give a clear definition of terrorism which opens the way for the Chinese authorities to interrupt what they think classifies as a terrorist act. The law, however strengthens and extends the Chinese governments police and intelligence capabilities of extracting critical information in the name of national security and placing tighter restrictions on media censorship. The people most affected by this law are the ethic Uighur and Tibetan separatists and anyone who contributes to disrupting China’s social system and public order.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan/Turkey
In April 2014, Turkey’s Parliament adopted a law that expanded the powers of the National Intelligence Agency which granted them the authority to access a citizens personal data without a court order. The law also strengthened the governments control over the internet by blocking websites without a prior court order often on vaguely defined terms when related to the right to privacy. In March 2015, The Turkish government passed two more package laws referred to as the Domestic Security Package. The sixty eight page law enhances the powers of the police to conduct searches, detain persons, use weapons, and wiretap individuals without a warrant. The other package law gives the government greater authority to remove online content and block the internet. The individuals affected most by these laws were journalists. Many journalists operating in Turkey have been targeted, threatened, and arrested for publishing photographs of banned terrorist groups that the government charged as spreading terrorist propaganda. In an effort to prevent the dissemination of the photos, the Turkish government briefly shut down Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and also threatened to ban access to Google.
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa/Bahrain
In July 2006, Bahrain enacted a counter-terrorism law called Protecting Society from Terrorism Acts which is extremely vague on what laws constitute a crime in relation to terrorism. The law contains broad terminology regarding terrorism that can be interrupted by the authorities including statements like “obstructing the public authorities from doing their work,”or “harming national unity” which are viewed as acts of terrorism. In August 2013, Bahrain proposed new measures to further strengthen the existing law by adding in a provision that would allow the government to revoke an individuals citizenship as a new penalty. Under the law, Bahrain’s government considers terrorist acts as any individual, organization, or group that openly criticizes the government, calls for protests, or any association with a opposition group that prevents the authorities from carrying out their duties. The majority of people affected by this law and considered terrorists have been peaceful protesters, photographers, human rights defenders, political leaders, and children. Most of these individuals have been detained under a lack of evidence and forced to confess under torture while having no access to a lawyer. Some have even been sentenced to death.
In 2009, the Ethiopian government issued a anti-terrorism proclamation that is both broad and vague in its definition regarding terrorist activity which enables the law to criminalize all opponents to the regime. The law is so vague in its interpretation of terrorism that the government uses it to crack down on free expression, political dissent, peaceful political demonstrations, or any individual, group, or organization that is critical of the government. Terms like “disruption of public services” which could indicate public demonstrations or a non-violent march. Acts like property crimes or groups who engage in peaceful protests are deemed terrorists by the government. Any individual who supports, helps, or participates with any political opposition group is branded as a terrorist. The majority of people affected by this law are journalists, bloggers, political opposition, religious leaders, political organizations, and teachers. Many of these individuals have been kidnapped from other countries and brought back to Ethiopia to stand trial, often enduring arbitrary detention or the death penalty while being forced to confess and sign false documents under torture.
The United Nations Human Rights Council of Human Rights Abusing Dictators
The United Nations Human Rights Council is suppose to be the leader in upholding and defending international human rights. “The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) works with governments to ensure that all human rights are fully respected.” The United Nations Human Rights Council’s role is to “promote and protect human rights for all.” The council also “leads global human rights efforts speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide.”
If these statements were true then why does the U.N. Human Rights Council allow countries with horrific human rights records to sit on the council?
Here is a list of dictatorial regimes that actually have a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council that are accused of committing severe human rights violations.
Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud/Saudi Arabia: Restricts the freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly. Human rights activists are prosecuted. Enforces strict sharia law which includes public floggings, and executions for minor crimes. Discriminatory towards women’s rights. Exploits and abuses migrant workers. Supports and finances terrorist organizations.
Xi Jinping/China: All forms of free expression, assembly, and association are severely restricted. The government controls and monitors all media outlets. Religious freedom is highly restricted. Human rights activists are arbitrarily arrested, and tortured.
Raul Castro/Cuba: Initiates brutal crackdowns on individuals critical of the government, journalists, and human rights activists. Political dissent faces arbitrary detention and beatings while in custody. The government controls the media and severely restricts the freedom of expression. Political prisoners are kept locked up and endure harsh and abusive prison conditions. The government restricts the access to freely travel abroad.
Nicolas Maduro/Venezuela: Prosecutes political opponents. Enforces violent crackdowns on protesters. Conducts arbitrary arrests and tortures political dissent. Restricts the freedom of expression. Targets and harasses opposition media outlets and human rights activists. Enacts extrajudicial killings. The government controls the prices of food and manipulates the constitution and the judicial system.
Paul Kagame/Rwanda: Suppresses the freedom of expression. Limits the ability of the media and human rights groups to operate freely and criticize the government. The military and police routinely arrest and detain individuals critical of the government. Widespread use of torture against political opponents. The government creates a climate of fear among society to were citizens often practice self censorship with their thoughts and opinions because of retribution from the government.
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani/Oatar: Freedom of expression is restricted. Migrant workers face exploitation and abuse. Discriminatory towards women’s rights. Sponsors and finances terrorist organizations.
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan/United Arab Emirates: Restricts the freedom of expression. Engages in forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture of political dissent. Widespread mistreatment of detainees. The government uses increased surveillance on dissidents. Abuses migrant workers. Discriminatory towards women’s rights.
Hailemariam Desalegn/Ethiopia: Government security forces routinely crackdown on peaceful protesters often shooting and killing unarmed civilians. The media is under government control, websites and social media are restricted and blocked. Journalists are jailed, opponents and critics of the government are arrested and tortured. All forms of free expression, assembly, and association are highly restricted.
Pierre Nkurunziza/Burundi: Opponents of the government are targeted, killed, raped, tortured, or forcibly disappeared. Human rights organizations are banned. The government manipulates the constitution and the judicial system.
Denis Sassou Nguesso/Congo: Freedoms of expression and assembly are met with violence and the arresting of opposition figures. The government conducts air strikes on residential areas. Presidential security forces use forms of torture and ill treatment against opposition members.
These dictators clearly know nothing about respecting human rights as they are all guilty of suppressing free speech, women’s rights and religious freedom while detaining and killing anyone who opposes or challenges their rule. It’s apparent that the U.N. Human Rights Council has no clue about respecting human rights because if they did they would not allow these countries and their dictators to be part of the human rights council in the first place. Allowing human rights abusers to be part of a human rights council that is suppose to defend human rights makes the United Nations look like a hypocritical out of touch institution that fails to uphold its own principles and obligations in regards to human rights.
Out of Power, But Not Forgotten For the Decades of Corruption and Human Rights Violations
Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Years in Power: 1979-2017
After nearly 38 years in power, Angolan dictator Jose Eduardo dos Santos finally stepped down amidst health concerns only to remain head of the ruling party MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola). After a long and enduring civil war that cost many Angolans their lives, dos Santos was able to use his power and the country’s oil finances to enrich himself, his family, and his closest associates while the rest of the country lived in poverty. dos Santos managed to keep himself in power by rigging the country’s elections through constitutional manipulation, fraud, and intimidation. Like all dictators, dos Santos restricted free speech and the right to assemble while using his security forces to crackdown on independent media, human rights activists, and critics of the government. In an effort to rebuild Angola, dos Santos routinely forced people from their homes in order to create new infrastructure projects.
Years in Power: 1980-2017
While embarking on a 37 year career as dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe managed to totally destroy a once prosperous country known as the bread basket of Africa into a wasteland of hopelessness and brutal repression. Robert Mugabe begrudgingly stepped down from power after a brief military coup that placed him under house arrest for firing his vice president in an attempt to automatically position his wife Grace to succeed him as president. Mugabe agreed to abandon his post only after impeachment charges were brought to his attention.
During Robert Mugabe’s reign, the powers of the presidency were expanded and all political dissent was crushed. Mugabe violently invaded white owned farms causing many of Zimbabwe’s white farmers to flee the country. The farms were replaced with inexperienced farmers and in return caused Zimbabwe’s commercial farming production to collapse which triggered years of hyperinflation and food shortages. Mugabe started a campaign to clean up the urban areas of Zimbabwe by bulldozing and forcibly evicting people from their homes leaving many Zimbabweans homeless and without food.
Robert Mugabe was able to maintain his power by rigging the country’s election process through intimidation and violence. In order to silence his critics, Mugabe launched attacks on human rights activists and restricted the freedom of expression by harassing journalists and arresting members of the media. Mugabe used his security forces to brutally crackdown on anyone critical of the government while detaining and torturing opponents who defied his rule.
Another African Dictator Out of Power!
Years in Power: 2012-2018
Ethiopia’s ruling party dictator Hailemariam Desalegn has officially stepped down from power in the midst of violent protests that has left hundreds of people dead and hundreds more detained by the government. While in power, Hailemariam Desalegn’s regime under the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has been guilty of committing serious human rights violations particularly in the Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. During these protests, Hailemariam Desalegn’s government declared a state of emergency and used his security forces to routinely crackdown on the protesters by shooting and killing unarmed civilians.
The growing unrest was a direct result of the Ethiopian governments intense restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Desalegn’s government is also accused of taking land away from the Oromia and Amhara ethnic minorities in Ethiopia which led to protests and the security forces killing hundreds of people as a result. Under Hailemariam Desalegn’s rule, journalists and opponents of the government were arrested and routinely tortured. The media was under government control. Websites and social media were blocked and free expression was highly restricted. Hailemariam Desalegn was instrumental in using draconian counter-terrorism laws as a tool to target and oppress his political opposition and to silence individuals or groups that were critical of the government.
At the time of Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, he turned an about face and released several political prisoners he said his government did not have while vowing that his resignation would pave the way for political reforms in Ethiopia.
To Rule For Life
Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has been granted the powers to rule for life now that China’s rubber stamped party congress abolished the two term mandate paving the way for Xi to have great control over policy decisions while implementing his own vision and ideology into the constitution. This maneuver moves China into one man rule territory similar to that of Chinese Communist Party founder and murderous dictator Mao Zedong.
The underlying question is how will this power move impact the lives of Chinese citizens? Since coming to power, Xi has orchestrated more restrictions on free speech, religious organizations have seen higher levels of persecution, and numerous human rights activists have been arrested. China will witness an increased degree of human rights violations with a cult of personality aligned to an existing authoritarian state under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Expect to see more assaults on free expression, religious persecution, tighter control over the internet, arbitrary arrests, systematic killings, torture, crackdowns on human rights activists, and politically motivated disappearances. Giving Xi Jinping access to rule for life is a giant step backwards for China’s sovereignty and an even greater myth for those in U.S. foreign policy circles that opening China up economically will lead to democracy has officially been debunked.
Cuba’s Raul Castro Steps Down and Appoints a Successor
Years in Power: 2006-2018
Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro has formally stepped down from his position as president only to appoint his successor vice president Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez to the top position of president of Cuba. Raul will retain control over the Communist Party and the armed forces while continuing to dictate Cuba’s policies from behind the scenes. Prominent party loyalists and members of the Castro family are intertwined within the apparatus of the Cuban government including Raul’s son Col. Alejandro Castro Espin who runs counterintelligence for the Interior Ministry that controls the secret police. Raul’s ex son-in-law General Luis Alberto Lopez Callejas runs Cuba’s Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA) which is a state owned and operated holding company for Cuban businesses. Ramiro Valdes, a regime enforcer sits on Cuba’s highest governing body the Council of State.
The fact remains that the Castro’s are still firmly in control of the Cuban government and Miguel Diaz-Canel will only lead a ceremonial post at this time. The Cuban presidency is a powerless role when it’s occupied by someone who doesn’t control the party or the military. At the assembly, Miguel Diaz Canel reaffirmed the party congregation that Raul will be in control of all decisions involving Cuba. Miguel Diaz-Canel is not a reformer by any means, he has instead vowed to keep Raul Castro’s authoritarian policies in play. As a party loyalist who quickly moved up the ranks, Miguel Diaz-Canel is known to stand against any attempt to restore capitalism in Cuba while criticizing Cuba’s political dissidents and being okay with censorship.
During Raul Castro’s time in power, the well being and human rights conditions of the Cuban people has continued to erode like it did under Raul’s brother Fidel Castro when he was in control of the country. Critics of the government, journalists, and human rights activists are routinely arrested for voicing their opinions. Cuban’s who step out of line with the governments strict policies of anti-government behavior are targeted and arbitrarily detained. Detainees often face harsh and abusive prison conditions including beatings and torture. In an effort to silence dissidents and activists, the Cuban government will keep all political prisoners locked up indefinitely without access to a fair trial. Cubans are denied the ability to freely travel abroad. The government also controls all media outlets and severely restricts the freedom of expression.
The appointment of Miguel Diaz-Canel will be nothing more than a continuation of the same repressive policies that have plagued the Cuban people for decades now. Raul Castro is not in the spotlight anymore, but the compulsive police state he brutishly enforced lives on through his predecessor Miguel Diaz-Canel who is neither a visionary of political reform nor a fan of individual freedom, but rather a product of the past with a bleak vision for the future.
Saudi Arabia’s Continued Corruption and Intolerance for Human Rights
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made an exclusive trip to the United States in an attempt to open the kingdom up to more innovation and enterprise opportunities. The Crown Prince who is posed to claim the royal throne from his father King Salman met with the president, members of congress, CEO’s from multinational corporations, and the tech industry. Prince Mohammed assured the United States that Saudi Arabia is ready to enact reforms to the kingdom’s highly controversial norms involving ending the country’s ban on allowing women to drive and the reopening of movie and entertainment centers. These moves were calculated in an effort to make the country look more enticing to new business investors instead of portraying an image of a backward country that inhibits strict rules and severe punishments which would deter most business ventures.
The U.S. tour and the reforms made by the Crown Prince were an act of pure political theater on his part in an attempt to solidify his standing on the international stage and concentrate his political power before he takes the throne. Before the trip to the United States and any mention of reforms, Prince Mohammed rounded up many high ranking prominent individuals inside Saudi Arabia including princes and military officials that might be a challenge to his future rule and had them detained inside a Ritz Carlton where they were tortured and had their investments confiscated. One of the detainees died while in custody. According to the Saudi authorities, the motive behind the round up was to cleanse the country of corruption. In reality the move was to send a message to all the Crown Prince’s rivals that there will be no competition to his kingship.
While women are being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, more women activists are being arrested for advocating for more freedom inside the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has arrested eighteen civil rights activists including Samar Badawi the sister of detained blogger Raif Badawi for challenging the country’s male guardianship laws. Four women have been temporarily released and banned from traveling outside the country. None of the women detained have been formally charged. Canada has also spoken out against Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women activists and as a result Canada has witnessed all their formal relations with the Saudi regime being revoked and discontinued on an account of criticizing the kingdom’s human rights record.
The Saudi regime has also been accused in the disappearance of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi. According to news reports, Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul Turkey, but never left. It is speculated that Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, murdered, and dismembered by a team of assassins inside the consulate. The plot to kill Jamal Khashoggi was coordinated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an effort to silence all rivals to his future rule.
Cuba’s New Constitution: Solidifying the Power of the State
Cuba’s new constitution will remove references for a communist society, recognize the right to private property, a created position of prime minister, and the recognition of same-sex marriages. According to the Center for a Free Cuba Article 3 of the new constitution says that “socialism and the social and political revolutionary system established by this constitution are irrevocable.” “Citizens have the right to combat by all means, including armed struggle, when other means are not available, against anybody who seeks to topple the political, social and economic order established by this constitution.” This means that the Cuban regime cannot be challenged or allow the creation of an opposition party to confront it. If anyone tries to challenge the ruling order then the regime contains the authority to put down all offenders.
Article 5 says “The Communist Party of Cuba, and no one else, guided by the teachings of independence hero Jose Marti Fidel Castro and Marxism Leninism, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation is the superior leading force of society and the state.” This reaffirms Article 3, hence the words “and no one else.” Article 224 says that “under no circumstance can the clauses about the irrevocable nature of socialism and the political and social system established in Article 3 be subject to reforms.” This means that the Cuban regime contains within itself the superior authority to remain in power and no one person or persons has the legal authority to change the status quo.
Uganda: A Crisis in the Making
Uganda, the home of former dictator Idi Amin has produced another tyrant in Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been president of Uganda since 1986 and reelected through countless elections that were mired with voter irregularities. Never the less, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement which dominates the parliament and the judiciary pushed through a constitutional amendment that removed the presidential age limit of 75, paving the way for 73 year old Museveni to run again in 2021 and setting himself up to be president for life.
Opponents to Museveni’s rule have been met with violent consequences. Ugandan pop singer and law maker Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, stage name Bobi Wine who is a fierce critic of Museveni was detained and severely beaten by security forces after supporters of Ssentamu pelted Museveni’s motorcade with stones after departing a campaign rally in the same town where both individuals had been campaigning for rival candidates. Ssentamu’s drive was shot dead by Museveni’s security forces and all parties involved in the incident were arrested in what the president called a national security matter. Museveni’s government has also implemented a social media tax that charges 200 shillings ($0.05) per day for the use of mobile apps that include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. The primary motivation behind the social media tax is to silence free speech by attempting to discourage and hinder peoples ability to use social media platforms as a way to speak out and mobilize against the Ugandan governments blatant corruption and authoritarian rule.