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Michelle Bachelet, Nicolás Maduro, and the Report on Human Rights in Venezuela

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, fielded reactions to a new U.N. report documenting torture and extrajudicial executions in Venezuela.

New York, July 23.– Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile who now serves as the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an Maduro welcomes Bachelet in CaracasMaduro welcomes Bachelet in Caracasinterview last November to the journalist Fernando del Rincón, of CNN en Español, to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. He began by asking about two letters she had recently received—one from family members of dozens of political prisoners, the other from the parents of young protesters who had been killed by security forces—requesting that she personally visit Venezuela to report on the human-rights violations committed by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Bachelet told him that these were not the only letters she had received making that request. “Today, I also got an official invitation to visit Venezuela,” she said, from Maduro’s government. Rincón, who was visibly surprised, asked if, in accepting Maduro’s invitation, she could be seen as collaborating with the government, and noted that “accepting this invitation is accepting the invitation of the person accused of violating human rights.” Bachelet replied that she wanted to sit down with every side. “Listen, I’ve had many years of experience,” she added. “I’ve been Secretary and President of my country, I’ve worked with many governments and people from civil society, and I think it would be wrong to say that, because I am invited by one or the other, I would be non-objective.”

U.N. Human Rights Commissioners are, of course, expected to be objective, but, in this instance, the issue was a delicate one for Bachelet. In Chile, right-wing politicians have criticized her for not taking a stronger stance during her first term (from 2006 to 2010) against President Hugo Chávez, who led Venezuela for fourteen years, until his death, in 2013, when he was succeeded by Maduro, his Vice-President. Chávez and Bachelet both rose to power as part of the “pink tide” of socialist-leaning Presidents that swept into office across Latin America. He spoke highly of her (“Michelle is a good friend; I know how brave she is. She’s an extraordinary woman”), and she of him. (She told CNN that he had “always been a great friend, and a great colleague.”) In 2006, she reportedly considered supporting Venezuela’s bid for a seat on the U.N.’s Security Council; her foreign minister and other politicians protested and, in the end, Chile abstained in the vote.

Bachelet was not completely blind to Chávez’s undemocratic practices or the political crisis that they were creating in Venezuela. She once rebuked him, when he said that Chile’s Senate was ruled by “fascists,” after legislators had denounced attacks on the press. During her second term as President, she tried to mediate between the Venezuelan opposition and the Maduro government. But the invitation from Caracas suggested that she was still seen as a possible ally. That possibility ended this month.

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