UN Human Rights chief arrives in Venezuela to probe crisis

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet arrived in Venezuela on Wednesday to meet with embattled President Nicolas Maduro and self-declared interim President Juan Guaido.

Bachelet’s first visit to Venezuela comes as the political crisis, which escalated in January when Guaido declared his interim presidency, remains deadlocked. The country’s army has continued to support Maduro, despite deteriorating economic and humanitarian crises.

Both the opposition and the government recently took part in a round of talks hosted by Norway, but the mediation effort stalled over the key opposition demand for new elections.

Ahead of the UN envoy’s three-day visit, the government freed some 21 opposition activists that were considered political prisoners, including a substitute lawmaker and 18 people who had been detained at anti-government protests.

Welcomed by Maduro

In an appearance on state television, Maduro said he was ready to listen to what Bachelet would have to say that could help improve the human rights situation in the country.

 “We greatly anticipate her visit,” the president said. “It will be good for Venezuela’s system of human rights.”

Maduro has been under heavy international pressure for allegedly silencing opponents with jail, torture and excessive violence.

Protests planned

Student organizations and NGOs have called demonstrations on Thursday and Friday to demand the release of political prisoners, local media sources reported.

Guaido himself has also urged for a new mobilization. “Let’s take to the streets. We are hoping that Bachelet will verify the things we are denouncing,” he said, according to Venezuelan news daily El Nacional.

The opposition leader has stressed that he hoped the meeting will be seen as “recognition of the catastrophe” in the oil-rich country.

Guaido and his supporters have said they worry that Bachelet will not get an accurate portrait of Venezuela’s situation from government sources. But the UN said that in addition to meeting with Maduro and his aides, Bachelet is also set to meet with victims of human rights violations and their relatives.

Corruption probe

The visit comes at a difficult time for Venezuela’s opposition. Despite garnering the recognition of more than 50 nations and having galvanized international opinion against the ruling government, Guaido has failed to seize power since he began his push to oust Maduro five months ago.

Now the 35-year-old opposition leader has come under fire, after online media outlet PanAm Postreleased a report last weekend allegedly exposing corruption within Guaido’s ranks.

The PanAm Post accused two of Guaido’s diplomatic representatives in Colombia of misappropriating funds earmarked for hotel costs of Venezuelan soldiers who had defected to the neighboring country.

Guaido responded to the allegations saying he would ask Colombia for help in carrying out an investigation on the matter and swiftly dismissed the individuals linked to the report.

But Maduro’s government has taken notice and announced that the office of Attorney General Tarek William Saab will investigate the matter. Saab said on Tuesday that the case was already proof that Guaido is leading a “mafia of corruption” and can’t be trusted to exercise real power.