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Venezuela: The Interrupted Hunger Strike of Franklin Brito

Franklin Brito, a farmer from the state of Bolívar in southeastern Venezuela had been on a hunger strike since July 2009 outside of the offices of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the capital city of Caracas. In December 2009, the Public Prosecutor's Office requested a court order to place him in a hospital, which was granted. Brito has been in a military hospital since December 10, a decision that he and his family contested. They are demanding that he be treated by a doctor of his choice, but the appeal against the court order was rejected on December 21. (Watch video of the moment in which Franklin Brito was taken from OAS to the Military Hospital )

On January 9, hospital staff told Brito’s daughter, who was visiting him, that he was being taken for therapy. She says that they sedated him before taking him away. His family was not allowed to visit him the following days. Two days later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the Venezuelan government to allow him visits as well as access and treatment from a doctor of his choice [es], or one provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross. That request was not granted by Venezuelan government. A similar request from the Caracas Psychology Bar was also ignored [es].

(Watch video of the press conference conducted by relatives of Brito and human rights organizations calling for his release from the military custody / Spanish )

Brito began his protest in 2006 against a decision by the Insituto Nacional de Tierras (National Land Institute), a national government office, which said that his lands were unproductive, a charge that Brito denied. The Institute ordered the confiscation of his lands. Some believe that the decision was a reprisal for corruption allegations he made against the Mayor of the nearby city of Sucre. His protests since then have included several hunger strikes. Even though the central government eventually returned ownership of the disputed lands and offered him compensation, the authorities failed to evict a group of people who have been occupying his land, leading Brito to begin his most recent hunger strike.

Brito's hunger strike has been a topic of discussion Twitter, under the hashtag #FranklinBrito. An orthodontist, Eloy Bustamante @eloybc, who examined Brito in the military hospital on January 19 tweeted:

Odontológicamente muy comprometido. Sistemicamente esta un poco mejor. Es un señor con mucha entereza. No tiene rastros de enfermedad mental

His teeth are damaged. Systemically he is a little better. He is a gentleman with great integrity. No signs of mental illness.

The Twitter user @radardebarrios also wrote about and took a photograph of the protests outside the hospital where Brito was being attended to:

Hace minutos. Dirigentes d barrios de Caracas protestan frente al Hospital Militar en solidaridad con Franklin Brito! http://tweetphoto.com/9214426

A few minutes ago. Leaders from Caracas neighborhoods protested in front of the Military Hospital in solidarity with Franklin Brito! http://tweetphoto.com/9214426

On January 16, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action for Brito urging the authorities to reveal his whereabouts and to guarantees his safety, as well as to respect his wishes to be attended to by a doctor his choice.

Since then, Brito's wife Elena started her own hunger striker and took part in a demonstration on January 23, while seated in a wheelchair.

Photo of Elena Brito at demonstration courtesy of Brito and Habla Venezuela.

Photo of Elena Brito at demonstration courtesy of Brito and Habla Venezuela.

Documents about Brito's case can be found on the blog Prohibido Olvidar [es] (Forbidden to Forget).

In another twist to the story, the Public Prosecutor's Office stated that Brito was mentally ill and unable to make his own decisions. The case is regarded as an application of a popular doctrine among some government supporters, who label those who are strongly critical of the administration of Hugo Chavez, as psychotic (“disociados”) [es].

The matter is openly stated in Colofon [es], a blog written by Rodolfo, a journalist and human rights activist:

Rondaba por allí de vez en cuando cuando algunos inistían en llamarlos disociados pero con el caso de Franklin Brito que fue capturado de su huelga de hambre y trasladado a un hospital militar para luego ser llevado al área de siquiatría la tendencia se ha confirmado. Ahora el gobierno al que proteste, al que se le oponga lo considera un enfermo mental.

It was around every now and then when some people insist in calling them psychotic [to people against Chavez government] but it is in the case of Franklin Brito, when he is taken from his hunger strike under police custody to a military hospital and put into the psychiatric ward when the trend is confirmed. Now, the government would consider those who protest and those who are dissidents, as mental patients

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