While Latin American leaders meet in Panama City to discuss cooperation in the region, young critics of the Venezuelan and Cuban governments will be across town raging against those countries’ human rights record.
The youth wing of the Vente Venezuela opposition party and the Cuban anti-Castro Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana will take part this week in the IV Young Americas Forum, a parallel summit to the official VII Summit of the Americas.
Vente Venezuela youth coordinator José Javier Martínez and Mesa de Diálogo coordinator Kirenia Núñez see the forum as a unique opportunity to publicly expose what they describe as grave human rights violations perpetrated by their governments. Martínez and Nuñez spoke to The Tico Times during a recent visit to Costa Rica.
The forum, which takes place April 8 and 9, is officially focused on entrepreneurship and economic opportunities for Latin America’s youth. But Martínez and Núñez have a separate agenda.
Martínez hopes the forum will provide the opportunity to “try and make the world wake up to our cause, first of all, by making visible the issue of torture (which) for us is fundamental,” he said.
Martínez and his group allege that opposition leaders jailed by the Nicolás Maduro government have been tortured.
Amnesty International issued a report last year saying it had received dozens of reports of torture suffered by jailed protestors.
Martínez’s group also wants a repeal of a Venezuelan law known by opponents as the “killer resolution.” The law, issued earlier this year, allows Venezuelan security forces to use deadly force against demonstrators.
Martínez hopes to make his country’s human rights situation a key focal point of the youth summit, along with the new chapter in Cuba-U.S relations.
The Cuban Mesa de Diálogo group is pushing its demands for a Youth Ministry in Cuba, independent of the communist party, group coordinator Nuñez said. She said her group also wants assured access to higher education regardless of political convictions. Now, she said “if you break the revolution’s precepts, they begin to harass you, they begin to try and kick you out of the university.”
The youth group also wants unrestricted access to the Internet, a common gripe in Cuba, among other liberties.
Opposition leaders have already made an impact on the Summit of the Americas, at least in the news cycle. Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá — daughter of deceased Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá — was detained for several hours at Panama City’s “Tocumen” International Airport when she arrived in the country on April 5. She said she was warned by Panamanian authorities that she would be deported if she caused “trouble.”
Panamanian officials said the incident was a bureaucratic mistake.
The IV Young Americas Forum is organized by the Young Americas Business Trust, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 that works in cooperation with the OAS to create job opportunities and foment entrepreneurship among young people.
The forum will produce a document to be presented to the country leaders taking part in the Summit of the Americas.
The official youth agenda includes debates on topics such as “Learning from experience: The Importance of reinventing yourself,” and “The Role of Technology and Innovation enabling Entrepreneurship.” The issues are linked to the Summit’s main topic: “Prosperity with Equity: the Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas.”