BOGOTA — Venezuelan protesters have been trying for weeks to march to the offices of Tarek Saab, the government’s human rights ombudsman, and each time, their path has been blocked by riot police and tear gas.
But a new messenger took up their cause this week: Saab’s son.
In a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday evening, law student Yibram Saab made a direct appeal to his father for the nation to see. “Dad, in this moment you have the power to end the injustice that has sunk this country,” he said. “I ask you as your son, and in the name of Venezuela, which you represent, that you reflect and do what you must do.”
Venezuela’s political crisis has left many families and neighborhoods sharply divided, but the younger Saab’s appeal showed that some of the government’s most powerful figures are facing rebellions in their homes as well as on the streets. The video circulated widely on social media.
The South American country's economy has virtually collapsed because of low oil prices and economic mismanagement by the socialist-oriented government. Protesters are seeking early elections and an end to what they say are undemocratic practices by the authorities. At least 29 Venezuelans have died in this month’s unrest, including protesters, pro-government activists, police and others swept up in the chaotic violence.
Tarek Saab is a former governor and one of the leading figures of the long-ruling United Socialist party. As the country’s human rights ombudsman, he is supposed to be a neutral defender of ordinary Venezuelans. But he has become a target of opposition anger because of his timid statements following protester deaths, and is viewed as an apologist for the unpopular government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Yibram, his eldest son, said in the video that he had not been forced into making the statement, deciding on his own to take a stand “for the principles that my father taught me.”
Yibram Saab said he had joined an antigovernment march Wednesday whose objective, once more, was to arrive at his father’s downtown offices. Instead the protesters were bombarded with tear gas, and another student, Juan Pablo Pernalete, 20, died after being struck in the chest with a canister.
“That could have been me,” Yibram Saab said in the video, staring into the camera.
“You could have done something else with your 3 minutes of fame,” Maduro wrote. “You could have picked up the phone and talked to your father, telling him of your concerns in a loving way and listening to him.”
“Those who you’re marching with are using your love for your father to manipulate the country,” he wrote, saying the opposition wanted to use Saab as a “trophy of war.”
“Always willing to talk and debate with you,” Maduro signed off. “A big hug!!! Say hi to your mom.”