Venezuelan migrants — like those dropped in Martha's Vineyard by Ron DeSantis — are fleeing a government that has engaged in 'crimes against humanity,' UN says

Venezuelan migrants — like those dropped in Martha's Vineyard by Ron DeSantis — are fleeing a government that has engaged in 'crimes against humanity,' UN says
Family members of Fernando Albán are seen mourning outside the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service in 2018 after the opposition lawmaker allegedly committed suicide while in custody.Roman Camacho/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • The Venezuelan government is responsible for "crimes against humanity," per a United Nations report.
  • Security forces are repressing dissent with torture and sexual violence, according to the report.

Venezuelan asylum seekers — like those recently flown to Martha's Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — are fleeing a government that has engaged in "crimes against humanity," including the use of torture and sexual violence to repress dissent, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

Based on interviews with nearly 250 people, including victims and former members of the security forces, the UN's independent fact-finding mission for Venezuela determined that crimes against real and perceived opponents of the government were orchestrated by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other high-ranking officials.

"Our investigations and analysis show that the Venezuelan State relies on the intelligence services and its agents to repress dissent in the country," Marta Valiñas, chair of the UN mission, said in a statement. "In doing so, grave crimes and human rights violations are being committed, including acts of torture and sexual violence."

Venezuela has been mired in a political and economic crisis since the death of former leader Hugo Chavez. Maduro, his hand-picked successor, in 2016 sought to circumvent the opposition-held legislature by creating a new, legally dubious "constituent assembly," prompting the resignation of the country's attorney general. In 2018, he won a six-year presidential term in the face of an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging, a victory that the United States and allied nations have refused to recognize.

Although nominally socialist, the Maduro government has sought to weather an economic collapse sparked by a fall in oil prices and widespread corruption — and exacerbated by US sanctions imposed during the Trump administration — by privatizing state-held sectors of the economy. It has also relied on repression, including of left-wing parties and labor unions, to maintain its grip on power.


UN researchers documented 122 cases where real and perceived opponents of the Maduro government were tortured, raped, or otherwise ill-treated by members of Venezuela's military counter-intelligence service. Dozens more cases of torture or degrading treatment were carried out by agents of the national intelligence service too, the report said.

"The human rights violations by state intelligence agencies, orchestrated at the highest political levels, have taken place in a climate of almost complete impunity," Francisco Cox, a member of the UN mission, said in a statement.

Venezuela's economic collapse and democratic erosion have prompted a mass exodus. Since 2014, nearly 7 million people have fled the country — around 1/5th of its population. Most have remained in South America but thousands have also continued north, hoping to find refuge in the United States, where they recently have become objects in a partisan battle over border policies.

In the fiscal year 2020, Venezuelans accounted for 24% of all asylum applications in the US, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly half of migrants encountered at the southwest US-Mexico border are now from Venezuela and other "[f]ailing communist regimes," Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said Monday, identifying the others as Nicaragua and Cuba.

Over the weekend, dozens of Venezuelan asylum-seekers were lured by Florida's Republican governor onto flights that took them to Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts.


The administration of President Joe Biden also continues to expel Venezuelan asylum seekers, putting those who previously resided there on flights to Colombia without processing their claims for protection. Venezuelans already in the US, however, have been granted temporary protection from deportation.

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