International News

Eligio Cedeño Slams Hugo Chávez's Bid to Join UN Human Rights Council

Read the incredible story of how Eligio Cedeño cheated death and Chávez's security forces to flee Venezuela and start a second life in Miami.

Eligio Cedeño finally got his day in court -- or as close to it as he can get while Hugo Chávez is still alive. The Venezuelan banker was imprisoned for three years by his nation's firebrand socialist president, until fleeing the country on a motorized glider and fishing boat. Yesterday, three years after his death-defying escape, Cedeño appeared before the United Nation's Human Rights Council in Geneva to deliver an impassioned speech. His message was simple: don't let Venezuela join.

"It would be an act of immortality to allow Venezuela into this council, if they do not commit to change their behavior."

Of course, Venezuela and Cuba promptly lost their shit.

A Venezuelan delegate responded by calling Cedeño a "terrorist and criminal who fled justice." He then called Cedeño -- who was awarded political asylum here in Miami last year -- a "lackey" of the U.S. brought to Geneva "to smear the reputation of my country."

After a Venezuelan-born human rights activist slammed both Venezuela's bid and Cuba's current spot on the council, a Cuban delegate angrily banged on the table and knocked over his chair, according to UN Watch.

"You cannot say that my country does not have a right to be a member of this council," the Cuban delegate said before demanding that the activist's speech be struck from the record.

Nations serve rotating three-year terms on the UNHRC. Each region is awarded a certain number of slots. But since no other Latin American country has yet to nominate itself, Venezuela seems a shoe-in.

Nonetheless, Cedeño argued that his own imprisonment for funding Chávez's political opposition was just one of countless cases of human rights abuses in Venezuela that should preclude it from the council.

Cedeño was arrested in 2007 on charges of circumventing currency controls. He was thrown into prison for three years without ever being convicted of a crime. When Judge Maria Afiuni finally released him on parole in late 2009, he fled the country. Chávez's then went on national TV to call the judge a "bandit" and demand her detention. She remains under house arrest today, despite treatment for cancer.

In an email, Afiuni told Riptide that she was barred from delivering any opinion to the press. Her lawyer declined to comment.

In his comments to the UN, Cedeño cited both his and Afiuni's detention as examples of clear human rights abuses under Hugo Chávez:

Venezuela is a nation with a profound human rights crisis: Judicial independence is non-existent, with judges publicly declaring loyalty oaths to the president and chanting his praises at the Supreme Court.

The consequences of a politicized judiciary are made much worse by the critical state of Venezuela's prisons, which are among the most dangerous in the world....

I am only one victim. Judge Afiuni is another. Let us not forget that millions of Venezuelans are targets of a government that does not respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It would be a disaster to include the state of Venezuela if it does not follow the rulings of this body.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.