Club de Madrid letter to Pope Francis. For the liberation of political prisoners and the defence of democracy in Venezuela

His Holimess;

Democracy, human rights and the freedom of all men above religious, political, social or economic conditions are inalienable values that Your Holiness’ ministry is defending with commendable energy and determination. It is your defence of human dignity, which has filled every corner of the earth with hope, and your constant commitment to dialogue and the common good which have led me to write to Your Holiness in the name of 107 former heads of state and of democratic governments on every continent, to ask for your mediation to promote reconciliation, democracy and justice in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Holy Father, we ask you therefore, to use your good offices in your meeting this Sunday 7th June to ask President Nicolás Maduro to free political prisoners, to respect the rights of social participation and freedom of expression and to hold fair, transparent elections in with the possible participation of election monitors from legitimate institutions: the European Union and the Organisation of American States.

The situation is critical from every point of view. The striking collapse of the economic system is causing enormous suffering among the people, especially the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the pressure exerted by the government on society and the lack of respect for the basic rules of democracy have led to the collapse of bridges of understanding, have threatened freedoms, weakened democratic institutions, besieged the freedom of the press, and severely limited guarantees of equality and justice.

Your meeting with President Maduro is a historic opportunity that could facilitate the removal of the obstacles that stand in the way of the country’s democratic progress and full exercise of human rights. Opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma have been on a hunger strike for several days to protest their status as political prisoners, in jail for exercising their legitimate right to respectfully dissent. They are in prisons where their conditions make us seriously fear for their lives. Independent humanitarian organisations such as the International Red Cross are not permitted to enter in order to verify the treatment they are receiving and their true state of health. The liberation of these political prisoners is, in many cases, a matter of urgency in order to keep them alive, and in all cases, necessary in order to rebuild national dialogue in Venezuela.

The right of all citizens to participate in political life without fear of retaliation is not the only right being threatened. Freedom of expression and of the press are also in danger. Prison sentences have been handed down for directors of media outlets, who perform their work among threats and pressure from political powers. Venezuela is due to call upon its citizens to vote in parliamentary elections in the last quarter of this year, but a date still has not been announced. However, many of these citizens are in jail, and the majority of media outlets are subjected to relentless bullying.

We know of the Holy Father’s passion for dialogue and we have heard your repeated calls to world leaders to make a commitment to peace, human rights, justice and the common good. These values are shared by the members of the Club de Madrid, an organisation that has worked for over a decade to promote democracy. On 29 September 2014 we wrote to Your Holiness for the first time regarding our Annual Conference in Florence under the theme “Democracy and Human Rights in Decline? A call to action.” We asked for your guidance and advice in order to better direct our efforts and achieve higher-quality democracies around the world. Your meeting with President Maduro will be a unique opportunity to promote spaces for dialogue and political understanding that will allow for the peaceful, dignified future of progress that Venezuela deserves and needs.


Vaira Vike-Freiberga

President of the Club de Madrid