CARACAS – The son of Venezuela’s top human rights official has called on his father to prevent further deadly bloodshed tied to anti-government street clashes even as officials defied international criticism by withdrawing from the Organization of American States (OAS).
Yibram Saab said in an online video that he attended an opposition march Wednesday that was planned to reach the offices of his father, national ombudsman Tarek William Saab. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets that were blamed for the death of a college student.
“This could’ve been me,” said the younger Saab, staring into the camera and pleading with his father to help restore the constitutional order he said was broken by the Supreme Court’s decision last month to gut the opposition-led congress of its last vestiges of power. “Dad, you have the power to put an end to the injustice that has drowned the country.”
In what’s shaping up to be a battle of political kids, President Nicolás Maduro’s son responded with a letter saying he regretted his friend’s decision to seek “three minutes of fame” with a video being used as a “trophy of war” by the government’s enemies.
“Those who today marched by your side are using your father’s love to manipulate the country,” Nicolás Maduro Guerra wrote.
The exchange comes on the heels of a tumultuous day that saw Venezuela’s socialist administration follow through on a threat to quit the Organization of American States, accusing the regional group of plotting against it.
Maduro’s government announced the decision to withdraw from the OAS after a brief but contentious meeting at the group’s Washington headquarters in which representatives voted to convene a special meeting of the region’s foreign ministers to evaluate Venezuela’s crisis.
“Enough of interventionist abuses and violation of legality,” Maduro said on Twitter. “Venezuela is the cradle of the Liberators and we will be respected.”
The withdrawal announcement drew quick rebuke from Venezuelan opposition leaders. Former congresswoman María Corina Machado said Maduro’s exit from the OAS “formalized Venezuela’s outlaw status.” OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro earlier had urged regional governments to suspend Venezuela from the group over what he said were systematic abuses destroying the country’s democracy.
Pressure has been mounting for Maduro to schedule delayed gubernatorial elections and free detained political activists. Even after four weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have led to29 deaths and 1,300 arrests, the opposition is showing no inclination to pull back. Leaders called a march for Thursday to honor Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20-year-old accounting student who died Wednesday after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by security forces.
Ramón Muchacho, a Caracas-area mayor, said at least 22 others were injured, some of them seriously. Elsewhere, children were evacuated from a school after being exposed to tear gas. In the evening, government officials reported two national guardsmen were wounded by gunshots in the same part of Caracas where Pernalete was killed earlier.
The swell of protests is the most violent seen in Venezuela since two months of anti-government demonstrations in 2014 that resulted in more than 40 deaths. Maduro has repeatedly called for renewed talks between the two sides, but opposition leaders have discarded that as an option after earlier talks collapsed in December.
One potential bulwark against a further crackdown is Saab. As the theoretically autonomous national ombudsman, it’s his job to defend citizens’ rights. His vote on what’s known as the Moral Republican Council, a three-member panel charged by the constitution with defending Venezuela’s democratic institutions, could also unlock a solution to the current crisis if he and chief prosecutor Luis Ortega Díaz were to agree to remove Supreme Court justices for overstepping their authority.
While Ortega, in a surprise move, harshly criticized the high court for violating constitutional order, Saab has so far staunchly defended Maduro’s actions and dismissed any talk of impeachment. Maduro’s opponents have branded him “the dictator’s defender.”
“I ask you as your son and in the name of Venezuela, to whom you serve, that you reflect on the situation and do what you have to do,” the younger Saab said in his video. “I understand you. I know it’s not easy. But it’s the right thing to do.”