From repression to migration: The case of Rufo Chacón
Santiago Ardila Sierra November 20, 2019
The violence committed against Rufo by the police, in a context of exercising his right to protest, allows us to reflect about the victims of repression in Venezuela that find themselves seeking refuge in other countries. | Alberto Valdés
On the second of July of 2019, in Táriba, a town in the Venezuelan state of Táchira, near the border with Colombia, sixteen-year-old Rufo Chacón was protesting in the streets with family members and neighbors, demanding a solution for the lack of natural gas in his neighborhood from the Venezuelan State. As a response, police forces shot 12mm-calibre pellets point-blank at his face, rendering him blind for life.
Rufo’s case is just one more on a list of thousands of victims of serious human rights violations in the context of social protests, which according to Foro Penal and the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS), has reached around 15,115 arbritrary detentions and 273 killings. These and other organizations have also documented cases of harassment, persecution, serious injury, torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions.
According to the OCVS, since Nicolás Maduro came into power, a total of 59,433 protests have been recorded, 70% of which have focused on demands regarding access to basic services such as health, food, education, and security. The remaining 30% have been protests that call for the guarantee of rights such as freedom of expression, access to justice, political participation, fair elections, and the liberation of political prisoners, among others.
The violence committed against Rufo by the police, in a context of exercising his right to protest, allows us to reflect about the victims of repression in Venezuela that find themselves seeking refuge in other countries.
Before Maduro’s mandate, there had been social protests of great dimensions recorded in Venezuela. However, it was not until 2014 that the relationship between protests, repression and migration was revealed. The reason? The economic crisis resurged, popular discontent increased, and with it, the government’s violent response towards citizens, so much so that by the end of that year, at least 606,281 people had emigrated, according to the International Organization for Migration.
In the following years, this number increased dramatically. By the end of 2017, approximately 1,600,000 people had left the country. One year prior, the National Assembly had declared a humanitarian health crisis, and Venezuelan civil society organizations warned of the existence of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency, this being the main cause of Venezuelan migration, according to the Displacement Tracking Matrix.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report on Venezuela declares, among other things, that access to the right to health in Venezuela is alarming, and that the situation is characterized by “a healthcare infrastructure that has been declining for years, hallmarked by an exodus of doctors and nurses, unsanitary conditions, and severe shortages in basic medical equipment, supplies and medicines . . . Reports point to shortages of 60 to 100 percent of essential drugs in four of Venezuela´s major cities.”
Due to the medical crisis, Rufo had to leave the assistance center where he was hospitalized because of a severe risk of infection. Many of the 56 pellets remain embedded in his face and his head. This situation makes it much more likely for him to suffer other types of medical complications that the Venezuelan health system will not be able to attend to.
Today, Rufo is forgetting shades of color and questions his stay in Venezuela. He faces a process of revictimization in a State that does not even offer the minimum adaptability guarantees for people with physical disabilities. In that context, what future awaits Rufo and his family in Venezuela? Will they decide to migrate? If they do, it would be expected that their country of arrival would give them the international protection they require and recognize their status as refugees, recognizing them as victims of repression in a severe humanitarian emergency, as is established in the Declaration of Cartagena.
Currently, it cannot be asserted that one factor is the only cause of migration, certainly the multicausality of migratory processes acquires spatial and temporal specificity according to each country of origin. For example, Rufo’s case is the result of a union between two factors: repression and humanitarian emergency. A young man who protested for access to basic services was assaulted by the forces of the State as he exercised a fundamental right, and now it is impossible for him to have access to a health system that can provide him the medical services he needs.
This year, although approximately 10% of the Venezuelan population (4.5 million people) has sought refuge in other countries of the region, 12,591 protests have been recorded, in which 61 people have died and 2,182 have been arrested. The majority of the protests – as the one in which Rufo participated – have been tied to demanding the provision of public services, the revindication of economic services and employment benefits. It is evident that people continue protesting despite the fact that the repressive conditions that began in 2014 and led to the migration of thousands of Venezuelans persist.
Meanwhile, Rufo Chacón, in the company of his mother, is preparing to travel to Spain, where he will get the surgical intervention needed to improve his condition. This will likely be the beginning of Rufo’s migratory process, who, as a consequence of governmental repression, generalized violence and the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, could end up calling a different city from the one that his eyes got to know in Venezuela, home.
* Ezequiel Monsalve is a former Dejusticia fellow – [email protected] / @ezemonsalve