In rare visit, UN expert pleads with Venezuela

An independent expert for the U.N.'s top human rights body said Tuesday that he pleaded with Venezuela's government to release more than 20 people in custody and is optimistic other U.N. experts will be let in.

Alfred de Zayas said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and "victims of repression" during what he called the first visit by a U.N. rights expert to Venezuela since 1996.

"I have succeeded in opening the door," de Zayas told a news conference. "After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a U.N. expert to spend eight days there."

He said the government didn't give him any "problems."

De Zayas said he gave six pages of recommendations to the government, and it had already met one — by agreeing to cooperate with some U.N. agencies. He did not specify which ones.

President Nicolas Maduro's government has faced charges of undermining Venezuelan democracy by jailing dissidents and usurping powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The country has faced runaway inflation and shortages of food and medicine.

"One thing I did plead with the government for was for the release of more than 20 persons, who are currently under detention," De Zayas said.

"I am optimistic that they are going to invite other rapporteurs, and I think it is in their own interest to do so," he added.

De Zayas acknowledged facing criticism from some advocacy groups, including UN Watch, which alleged that he was carrying out a "fake" investigation during his trip to Venezuela.

His visit came during a Nov. 26-Dec. 9 trip to Latin America.

De Zayas said he has "always been very skeptical about naming and shaming" governments. He said allegations of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela were "hyperbole" and "an exaggeration."

He was named as an expert on "the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order" by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, and is to report to it next year about his visit.