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Venezuela blocks entry of human rights investigators

February 4, 2020 GMT
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stands inside the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Maduro is at the court to give his annual presidential address. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stands inside the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Maduro is at the court to give his annual presidential address. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stands inside the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Maduro is at the court to give his annual presidential address. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — An international human rights commission criticized the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday for blocking its members from boarding a plane for Venezuela, where they planned to investigate alleged abuses.

Paulo Abrão, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said the delegation will press ahead with its work, instead meeting victims and civil rights groups on the Colombian border with Venezuela.

“This attitude demonstrates the government’s fear of exposing itself to international scrutiny and an attempt to hide abuses,” Abrão told The Associated Press by telephone from Panama City.

The rejection had been expected in large part because the commission had been invited by the country’s congress. The legislature and Maduro mutually consider one another illegitimate.

The three members of the group posted a picture on Twitter holding their boarding passes at the airport gate in Panama. They said Maduro’s government told the Panama-based Copa Airlines not to allow them on the flight to Caracas.

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Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly had invited the group, which is a branch of the Organization of American States, the Washington-based body representing more than 30 nations in the Western Hemisphere, whose leaders have been among the fiercest critics of Maduro.

Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted Friday that they would be blocked.

“Venezuela has not invited or accepted a delegation visit from the IACHR,” Arreaza said, adding that the visit “is not authorized.”

Maduro’s government in 2017 started a two-year process to leave the OAS, saying that it is a pawn of the United States, which is also a member.

The OAS itself has joined the U.S. and more than 50 other nations in withdrawing recognition of Maduro on grounds his reelection in 2018 was illegitimate. It recognized congressional leader Juan Guaidó as acting president.

Maduro, however, controls all the mechanisms of government, including the military and courts, and he recognizes an alternative version of the National Assembly led by a minority of lawmakers allied with him.

The delegation had planned to make a five-day visit inside Venezuela. Abrão said that instead, the investigators will talk with anyone who wants to meet them in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.

They will also hold teleconference meeting so people elsewhere have access to them, Abrão said, adding that the findings will be part of a report on human rights in Venezuela published in March.

Maduro’s government did not immediately respond to Abrão’s comments.

Guaidó has yet to return to Venezuela following an international tour rallying support to oust Venezuela’s socialist government.

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Castillo reported from Mexico City.