One time Zulia State governor and center-right candidate for the presidency Oswaldo Álvarez Paz will be spending his first night behind bars tonight for what can only be described as thoughtcrime.

Backed by professionally conducted investigations and publicly available data on clandestine flights from Venezuela to the Caribbean, Álvarez Paz’s contention that Venezuela has become a center of clandestine operations that facilitate drug trafficking is unambiguously true. 

Alas, it’s a truth that afflicts the comfortable. And so expressing it has become a jailable offense

I think it’s important for all decent Venezuelans to take some positive step to register their disgust at this abuse in a public medium. Because in the internet era, everything is on the record. And in the fulness of time, we will look back on the events of these days and we will ask which side each person stood on. 

Those who stand by and, by their silence, tacitly approve abuses such as this one will have an awful lot to explain. When this generation (hopefully) or future generations (more likely) ask "where were you when Venezuelans were being thrown in jail for expressing dissent in public?", you’d better hope you have a good answer.

My hope (and, if I’m honest, also my expectation) is that within my own lifetime, people who cannot show they opposed this madness will find themselves well beyond the pale of mainstream democratic life. Fail to speak up for basic human decency now, and you will one day find yourself in the situation of those who quietly conspired to maintain apartheid in South Africa, or Pincohet in Chile. 

The imprisonment of Oswaldo Alvarez Paz will be remembered as perhaps the clearest signal of the establishment of a full-blown dictatorship in Venezuela under Chávez. Tonight I’m staggered, unable to find the words to register my disgust at this.

The thing that stands out most, I think, is the insane double standard. Watch any Aló, Presidente and you find many, many instances of actual defamatory speech: the kinds of untrue statements injurious to reputation that will result in a hefty fine from a proper court. The government issues defamatory statements each and every day, and a random browse of any Venezuelan newspaper shows as much. The torrent of unfounded allegations – blithely unhinged from any evidence – is overwhelming…yet it’s the true statements that land people in jail. 

The government’s claims to impartiality in the application of the law are, today more than ever, absolutely laughable. Venezuelans are going to jail for speaking the truth. Tonight. Right now.

Silence is complicity. 

Mourn for our civil liberties, people. 


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