In a desperate move to preserve the Chavista regime, president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro has been resorting to extreme and desperate measures to prevent his government from collapsing. Maduro's struggle to preserve his power is alarming, and the situation is quickly deteriorating.
As a result of the ever increasing authoritarian practices being employed, Venezuelans are suffering further restrictions on their freedom of expression, greater censorship over the media, police brutality - especially against protestors - and the arrest and detention of the political opposition.
The recent arrest of opposition leader and former national assembly deputy Maria Corina Machado on 3 December for allegedly plotting to assassinate president Maduro signalled the continuation of the government's desperation to silence and punish opposition.
"Now that former president Hugo Chavez has died, it should be time that Venezuela moves closer to true democracy, towards a system based on the rule of law, and an economy governed by common sense instead of failed ideologies from the past"
This is why I, together with my colleague Fernando Maura Barandiarán, have initiated a resolution on behalf of ALDE for the European parliament to address the persecution of democratic opposition in Venezuela as a matter of urgency for the last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg.
The attempts to neutralise political dissidence highlight one element of significant deterioration in the past year for Venezuela. Venezuela, recently listed as the most corrupt country in Latin America by Transparency International, has been marked by nationwide anti-government protests since February 2014, to which police and members of the national guard have responded with systematic violence.
The economy is in deep recession under hyperinflation, with the price of oil dropping from €80 a barrel to €55 since June. Venezuelans are increasingly finding themselves queuing for basic goods in light of severe shortages. In this context, it is no wonder that citizens are disillusioned and demanding reform, and it is deplorable that they and the political opposition are punished for expressing their concerns.
Now that former president Hugo Chavez has died, it should be time that Venezuela moves closer to true democracy, towards a system based on the rule of law, and an economy governed by common sense instead of failed ideologies from the past.
The EU can no longer accept opposition figures being targeted and intimidated. We cannot keep pretending that there is a functioning judicial system in Venezuela that could impartially investigate and pass fair judgements on any allegations.
Since 2004, the judiciary has essentially stopped functioning as an independent branch of government, after Chavez and his supporters in the national assembly conducted a political takeover of the supreme court.
I call on the immediate release of all political prisoners that have been arbitrarily detained, noting that any conviction would be tainted by the fact that the justice system in Venezuela has been corrupted since Chavez's interference. In addition to notable political opposition figures, including Maria Machado, Leonardo Lopez, and former opposition mayor Daniel Ceballos, over 69 protesters remain in prison, and over 1700 protesters are awaiting trial.
It may be time for the EU to consider applying targeted sanctions and other measures against the Venezuelan government. The EU must condemn this abuse and demonstrate our commitment to standing up to those who undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms.