From the Spring 2012 Speaking in Tongues issue
By Marco Aponte-Moreno and Lance Lattig
CARACAS—Last July, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was being treated for an undisclosed type of cancer, he announced on his 57th birthday that he had changed the slogan defining his Bolivarian Revolution. Until then, soldiers were required to salute their superiors with “Motherland, socialism, or death.” Standing next to his daughters on the balcony of the Miraflores Palace, the president’s official workplace in Caracas, and wearing a yellow shirt instead of his trademark red, he proclaimed, “We have to live, and we have to come out victorious. That’s why I propose a new slogan. There’s no death here. There’s life.” Then thrusting his left fist into the air, he shouted, “Socialist motherland and victory, we will live, and we will come out victorious.” His followers responded to the new salute with a mass ovation.
Chávez’s decision to change this slogan as a result of his cancer diagnosis reveals the depth of his regime’s personal nature. He is the champion of his own political movement, a superhero, capable of emerging victorious from any battle, even against cancer. He is the charismatic leader whose personality and words define the revolution itself—regarded by his followers as endowed with heroic, even supernatural, powers and qualities. The ubiquitous display of his image, on television and billboards across the country, fosters a cult of personality. Chávez is the revolution.
In this respect, Chávez draws heavily from his friend and mentor Fidel Castro, whose image is often displayed in public places and official events in Cuba. In fact, Chávez’s original slogan “Motherland, socialism, or death” combines Fidel Castro’s 1960s motto “Motherland or death” with Che Guevara’s “Socialism or death.” Chávez has openly acknowledged Castro’s influence on him several times. The relationship between the two leaders dates back to 1994, when Chávez was a lieutenant colonel who had just been released from prison following a failed coup d’état in 1992 against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
On December 14 1994, five years before becoming president of Venezuela, Chávez was invited to Cuba and was greeted on the tarmac by Castro himself. In an emotional speech at the University of Havana, Chávez spoke about having been influenced by the writings from the Cuban revolution, several of which he had re-read while in prison: “Cuba is a bastion of Latin American dignity, so as such we have to look at it, as such we have to follow it, as such we have to feed it.” In the same speech, he also made a clear reference to his lifelong commitment to the revolutionary route: “This is the first time that I physically come here … because we have been here many times in our dreams, we soldiers of the Bolivarian army, who decided years ago to give our lives to a revolutionary and transformational project.”
Castro’s influence on Chávez’s discourse is evident in their similar rhetorical strategies. Both use expressions which connote grandeur when talking about their revolutions; they use words and phrases that give their rhetoric a tone of familiarity; and both refer often to historical figures to legitimize their projects. Both leaders are masters of military metaphors. Chávez and Castro are messianic leaders with extraordinary rhetorical abilities, capable of speaking nonstop for hours on end without losing their enthusiasm. For decades, before becoming ill, Castro delivered marathon speeches, sometimes for up to seven hours. Early this year, in his annual speech before the National Assembly, Chávez delivered the longest address in that venue by any Venezuelan president—a mind-numbing nine hours and 27 minutes, interrupted only by a handful of comments and questions, largely from the few opposition deputies.
Like Castro, who was once called “politics’ latest superstar” by former Le Monde Diplomatique editor Ignacio Ramonet, Chávez presents himself not only as a revolutionary, but also as an international celebrity. He has his own television and radio show, Hello President, which airs every Sunday, often lasting six hours or more, depending on his mood. He discusses current events, politics, and history; tells stories; interacts with a live audience; and takes phone calls. He speaks in colloquial language, sings popular tunes, and even dances.
His star status also involves meeting with celebrities attracted by his leftist, anti-American stance. Chávez has hosted Hollywood actors like Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, and Danny Glover and was interviewed by supermodel Naomi Campbell. Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone featured him in his 2009 film South of the Border, a documentary examining Chávez’s portrayal in the media. The Venezuelan president has walked the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival and is followed by nearly 2.7 million people on Twitter.
All this is accompanied, however, by an all but total control over the media that he has used to cement his hold on power and smother any serious opposition during his 13-year reign. In 2007, RCTV, a network that ranked among the most critical of Chávez’s administration, was taken off the air as the government refused to renew the channel’s terrestrial license. In 2009, 34 radio stations critical of Chávez’s administration were silenced for “failing to hand in their registration papers on time.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Venezuela’s airwaves between 1999 and 2010 were interrupted by 1,300 hours of cadenas—presidential speeches and propaganda messages that by law all national radio and TV channels must broadcast. In 2010, six cable TV channels were taken off the air for refusing to transmit cadenas, which often last several hours and showcase Chávez proclaiming the achievements of his government. Last year, Globovision, the last Venezuelan television broadcaster openly critical of Chávez’s administration, was fined $2.2 million (7.5 percent of its gross income) for alleged violations of Venezuela’s new “media responsibility” laws, passed by presidential decree in 2010.
As well as using the media as a vehicle for his formidable rhetorical skills, Chávez has followed in Castro’s footsteps by seeking direct control over the airwaves. In 2007, after shuttering RCTV, Chávez launched an $800 million partnership with Cuba to develop RCTV’s broadcast spectrum under state control and to develop more state media outlets supportive of Chávez’s revolution. Today, the government controls over 60 percent of the radio and TV spectrum in Venezuela, including several state stations and government-financed community stations. The propaganda apparatus Chávez has created, financed with the revenues from high oil prices, allows him to campaign constantly, placing any electoral opponents at a clear disadvantage. The total number of hours the president has spoken in the cadenas and in his weekly TV and radio show since his arrival to power in 1999 adds up to one whole year of nonstop broadcasting.
Under Chávez’s reform of Venezuela’s media laws, dissident journalists face the threat of prison for vaguely worded offenses deemed contrary to “social responsibility.” In Cuba, prison sentences for similar offenses, such as insulting officials, have been handed down to journalists during Castro’s regime. Last year, Chávez’s government shuttered the magazine Sexto Poder after it published a montage showing influential women in Chávez’s government as cabaret dancers. The magazine was accused of “instigating hatred,” and its editor-in-chief was imprisoned. The magazine is now published from exile, where its current editor, investigative reporter Patricia Poleo, fled in the face of politically motivated charges of homicide after exposing the murder of a prosecutor.
The case of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and his relationship with Ecuador’s media, is a prime example of Chávez’s regional influence. Correa, who a Washington Post editorial earlier this year called “an autocratic acolyte of Hugo Chávez,” has managed to increase his government’s control of the media from one radio station in 2007 when he took office, to four radio stations, five television channels, two newspapers, and four magazines today. Correa also attacked Ecuador’s leading daily newspaper, El Universo, which published an article critical of his handling of a police
uprising, which left eight people dead. After Correa responded with a criminal defamation suit, opinion editor Emilio Palacio and three directors of the newspaper were sentenced to three years in prison. The newspaper was fined a crippling $40 million. Following international condemnation, however, Correa reversed the sentences with a presidential pardon in February.
Intimidation of journalists is a trademark of dictatorships, including Castro’s Cuba. However, in the case of Chávez and Correa, these assaults on freedom of the press are perpetrated in nations that are perceived as “democracies” by their citizens. In contrast to the Cuban dictator, Chávez and Correa came to power through the ballot box rather than armed insurrection. But upon taking office, both Chávez and Correa launched a process of drafting new constitutions, adopting a polarizing rhetoric, re-defining national symbols to break with the past, and gradually passing laws that concentrate power in the presidency. Both leaders have responded to public dissent by tightening control of the media. Chávez’s Venezuela and Correa’s Ecuador represent a new form of Latin American dictatorship—a type of illiberal democracy (as in Putin’s Russia or Berlusconi’s Italy) where media control, coupled with divisive and authoritarian rhetoric, have become central elements enabling their authors to remain in power.
Chávez burst on the national stage in February 1992, when he led the first of two failed coup d’états that year. After his surrender, he addressed his co-conspirators national television. “For now, the objectives that we have planned were not achieved,” he said. “That is to say, in Caracas, we were not able to take power.” Although the speech described a military defeat, it was a political victory for Chávez, gaining him widespread sympathy in a country hit by political and economic turmoil. After his release from prison in an amnesty two years later, Chávez chose the electoral route to power rather than the military one. In 1999, he was elected president with 56 percent of the vote.
True to his military roots, however, Chávez tends to frame his political project as “war,” employing military metaphors when referring to aspects of his “revolution.” Social programs are referred to as “missions,” elections as “battles,” and electoral recruiters from his party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as “patrols.” To prepare for the 2010 legislative elections, the PSUV’s 220 candidates, all dressed in red and raising their left fists, were sworn in by the president in a public act under the name of National Commando of Campaign Bolívar 200, referring to the bicentennial of the Venezuelan independence process which Simón Bolívar began in 1810.
Other than the April 2002 failed coup d’état against Chávez, which touched off nationwide unrest lasting two days, leaving 19 dead and more than 200 wounded, his regime has existed in an environment of relative peace despite the deepening polarization between government supporters and opponents. Given the absence of violent change characteristic of revolutions in other countries, it can be argued that the use of military language in Chávez’s discourses responds to the need to build a genuine revolution, but with violence kept purely at the level of discourse. Rhetoric in Venezuela has become a safety valve for revolutionary sentiments. It is a lesson to be studied closely in cases throughout the Western hemisphere and beyond. After all, Chávez the proselytizer has followers far from his Bolivarian republic.
Castro’s support has been essential in legitimizing Chávez’s project as the Cuban leader embodies the spirit of revolution in Latin America and many parts of the world. In 2010, Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech that when he asked Castro how to organize the revolution and the guerrillas, Castro replied that he had to follow Chávez’s example of “a democratic revolution, a revolution with the people.” Castro’s legitimization of Chávez’s revolution has not come without a cost. Venezuela ships some 115,000 barrels of oil at preferential rates to Cuba every day, representing 60 percent of Cuba’s oil needs. In return, Cuba provides strategic expertise in national security, intelligence, health, and sports. Beyond the important ideological rationales, Cuba needs this alliance to sustain an economy that shrank 35 percent after Cuba lost Soviet economic support in 1991.
In office, the language of Venezuela’s president tends to be aggressive and authoritarian—his speeches littered with insults, profanities, and threats. He makes fun of his opponents, even intimidates them. In this year’s speech at the National Assembly, Maria Corina Machado, a deputy and then-aspiring presidential candidate, pointed out the shortage of milk, rampant crime, and government expropriations. The president mocked her by implying that before debating him, she should win primary elections for the opposition. “You don’t have the rank to debate with me” he said, adding “eagles don’t chase flies,” using a colloquial expression to belittle her further.
Chávez’s discourse is not only authoritarian, but can be dictatorial in the literal sense. What he says—no matter how ill conceived or unthinkingly expressed—is quickly implemented, even if it violates basic democratic principles such as the separation of powers. In 2009, Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni freed on bail a Venezuelan banker accused of disregarding the country’s currency controls, since his waiting period for trial had expired after almost three years in jail. A furious Chávez appeared on television and thundered, “That judge needs to be put in prison for 30 years.” Judge Afiuni was immediately detained and imprisoned. Afiuni’s case caught the attention of the international media and human rights organizations. In a letter to The New York Times last year, drafted with the assistance of the Carr Center at Harvard, Noam Chomsky urged Chávez to show compassion for Afiuni and free her. The judge had undergone an abdominal hysterectomy at a cancer hospital in Caracas. Chávez replied in this year’s allocution at the National Assembly, with an air of cynicism, that it was not within his powers to intervene. “I could only ask as head of state that the case be studied in the courts,” he huffed. More than two years later, she remains in “pre-trial detention.”
There have been other occasions when the president’s words on national television have translated into immediate action. In 2002, several managers of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) the national oil company, expressed their disagreement with the appointing of a new executive committee closely linked to Chávez’s administration.
In a live television address, the president announced the dismissal of seven top managers. He also ordered that anyone going on strike be immediately fired without dialogue. The crisis ended with a general strike in the oil industry, resulting in more than 18,000 illegal dismissals.
In February 2010, in a live broadcast of his weekly TV and radio show, Chávez ordered the expropriation of several buildings around Plaza Bolívar in the center of Caracas, where several small stores had operated for decades. These unexpected and arbitrary orders set the tone for a wave of unjustified expropriations, including several companies, pieces of land, workshops, parks, warehouses, and residential complexes. However, several of these expropriations have not been compensated by the government, nor have they been transformed into projects of collective interest. These presidential orders show how Chávez uses authoritarian pronouncements to rule by diktat.
A BOLIVARIAN LEGACY
The legacy of Simón Bolívar, the revolutionary liberator of Venezuela, has been used for political purposes in the nation’s history since his death in 1830. Bolívar symbolizes the country’s emancipation and is commonly referred to as the Liberator for having led the independence movement in Venezuela and four other South American nations. His story has evolved throughout the years into a national cult.
Chávez has appropriated Bolívar and its adjective Bolivarian in unprecedented fashions. The country has been renamed the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” and his political movement has been called the “Bolivarian Revolution.” In all official documents, the government is referred to as the “Bolivarian Government.” A system of new universities was named “Bolivarian Universities,” while the Venezuelan army is now called the “Bolivarian Army.” The president even sends “Bolivarian hugs” to followers and friends. In doing so, the president links its own personal political ideology, Chavismo, with the legacy of Bolívar.
Chávez’s use of the Bolivarian cult and his own created vocabulary of Bolívar has gone far beyond discursive levels. Contrary to the widely held historical view that Bolívar died of tuberculosis, Chávez claims instead that Colombian oligarchs killed him. So, in July 2010, as relations between Colombia and Venezuela reached one of the tensest moments in recent history after the Colombian government produced evidence that Chávez was harboring anti-government rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Chávez severed diplomatic ties with Colombia. Moreover, he ordered that Bolívar’s body be exhumed to prove his contoversial thesis. Although the one-year forensic investigation was inconclusive, Chávez continued defending his view. “I think they murdered him,” he said. “I assume my humble responsibility before the people and before history. I don’t have proof, I don’t know if we will ever have it, but those are the circumstances.” Through this spectacle, Chávez was able to detract attention from the political crisis his rhetoric had created with neighboring Colombia.
By invoking his revolution as the continuation of Bolívar’s wars of independence, Chávez cleverly frames his opponents as enemies of the nation. This strategy fits well with Chávez’s anti-American rhetoric, often representing his political opponents as allies of the United States. Similar rhetoric has also been used for decades by Fidel Castro to legitimize his own revolution, but with the legacy of José Martí, the 19th century Cuban patriot he describes as “the apostle of our independence.”
In May 2004, a group of 112 Colombians dressed in Venezuelan army uniforms were captured at a hacienda in El Hatillo, a suburb of the Venezuelan capital. While Chávez’s government accused the group of being paramilitaries involved in an armed rebellion aimed at overthrowing his mandate, the opposition claimed that they were Colombian immigrants in search of work, who were set up by officials of the Chávez regime. The opposition described the operation as a maneuver to shape public opinion and distract attention from a recall referendum on Chávez’s presidency, scheduled for later that year. The incident, which concluded with the sentencing to six years in prison of 27 of the 112 men, marked the beginning of Chávez’s anti-American rhetoric. Colombian paramilitaries have often been associated with the Colombian military, which receives substantial funding from the U.S. government.
Such anti-American rhetoric became increasingly strident as Venezuela’s political and economic ties with Cuba developed. Chávez’s discourse became a replica of Castro’s, whose main characteristic has been its long-winded anti-American dimension. The Bolivarian Revolution stopped being framed as a war against Venezuela’s traditional political parties and began to be represented as a war against the United States and its Venezuelan allies. In his speeches Chávez started to characterize the United States, Venezuela’s most important trade partner, as “a bad person,” “an assassin,” “a violent invader,” and “a usurper.” At the same time, Chávez portrayed his political opponents as “traitors to the nation” and “lackeys of the empire.”
Chávez’s anti-American rhetoric has continued and intensified. Like in Castro’s discourse, anti-American rhetoric is often used by Chávez as a way to distract attention from unpopular issues. In December 2011, when the government was closing a multi-billion-dollar deal with Russia for the purchase of arms, Chávez created an international controversy by suggesting that the United States may have caused the cancer of several leftist Latin American presidents, including himself, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Dilma Rouseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina (whose diagnosis was later reversed), and ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. After it was announced that Argentine President Kirchner might have thyroid cancer, Chávez posed the question, “Is it possible that the U.S. developed a new technology to induce cancer that nobody knows about, a technology that will be uncovered in 50 years? I don’t know, I’m just pointing it out to make you think about it.” To support this idea, Chávez cited experiments conducted in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948, when U.S. health officers tested antibiotics by deliberately infecting thousands of Guatemalans with syphilis.
Chávez’s anti-American rhetoric has also been marked by a pattern of crude insults against American political leaders. When he took the podium a day after George W. Bush at the UN General Assembly, Chávez referred to Bush as the devil, saying “the devil came here yesterday, and it still smells of sulfur today.” The incident, which caused international controversy, torpedoed Venezuela’s bid for a Security Council seat. On other occasions, he called Bush “a drunk,” “a terrorist,” “genocidal,” and (using the English word) “a donkey.” In 2007, after Condoleezza Rice said that Venezuela was a threat to regional security, he said, “Don’t mess with me, girl” as he blew a kiss to the screen. Chávez also suggested that Rice suffered from sexual frustration—and offered himself as a remedy. Last December, President Obama said in an interview with Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that he was worried that the actions of the Chávez’s government restricted the rights of the Venezuelan people and threatened basic democratic values. Immediately after the Obama interview was published, Chávez responded, “I feel sorry for you. Ask the black community in your country what you are: the biggest frustration.”
Anti-American rhetoric has existed in Latin America since the 19th century, and has usually been associated with the Spanish-American War and American support of dictatorships in the region. In the 20th century, before Chávez’s arrival on the political stage, revolutionaries like Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua and Fidel Castro in Cuba were among the most outspoken anti-American leaders. In recent years, populist politicians have adopted this rhetoric to mobilize electoral support in their countries. This is the case of Chávez and his allies—Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.
Chávez has also cultivated political allies beyond Latin America who share his anti-American rhetoric. In 2000, Chávez became the first head of state to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein since the Gulf War. During the Libyan crisis last year, he supported “his friend” Muammar Gaddafi against “imperialist aggressions,” saying, “the Yankee empire cannot dominate the world.” Today, Chávez continues to cement Venezuela’s relations with another anti-American ally, Iran. In his visit to Caracas in January, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad observed that “the culture of the people in this region as well as their historical demands are very similar to those of the Iranian people,” adding that “people from Latin America have had an anti- colonial way of thinking. Now that they have risen up, they resist the excess of the oppressive regime,” referring to U.S. influence in the region. Like in Venezuela, anti-American vitriol in Iran is used to distract attention and mobilize popular support. Last year, during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy, the government’s anti-American rhetoric escalated ahead of the release of a UN report on Iran’s nuclear program.
The coming presidential elections of October 7 could prove the most challenging of Chávez’s political career. Although he remains the single most popular politician in Venezuela, his odds of losing the election are increasing. The opposition has now united and will participate in the balloting behind a single candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 39-year-old center-left politician elected with an unusually high turnout in the February primary held by the coalition of opposition parties. Moreover, Chávez’s party, the PSUV, failed to win a majority of the popular vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections, the last nationwide election held in the country.
Thirteen years after Chávez took power, Venezuelans suffer from among the world’s highest inflation (nearly 30 percent). Homicide rates are higher in Caracas than in Baghdad, and according to figures from Transparency International, Venezuela has the worst corruption rating of any large-scale economy—172nd most corrupt out of 182 nations measured, and on a comparable level with North Korea, Myanmar, Haiti, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Iraq. These factors, coupled with the president’s battle with cancer, offer a compelling motive for a change in leadership. However, oil prices remain near historical highs, and the budget provides the president with billions of dollars in discretionary spending. The current surge in public spending ahead of the election coupled with his all but unerring grasp of how to use language to “sell” his accomplishments will likely increase Chávez’s popularity. A survey by Hinterlaces, one of Venezuela’s leading pollsters, revealed that at the end of January, 64 percent of Venezuelans thought Chávez’s administration has been positive, while 59 percent believed the Bolivarian Revolution has helped the development of the country.
Judging from recent speeches, and given current circumstances in Venezuela, Chávez’s pre-election rhetoric might be less incendiary and authoritarian than in the past. Years of extreme polarization of the country would appear to cry out for a period of reconciliation, at least at a rhetorical level. In his address before the National Assembly in January, the president adopted a more conciliatory and tolerant tone—at least at times. Near the end of his nine-and-a-half hour speech, the then-aspiring presidential candidate Machado raised the issue of illegal land seizures, saying, “expropriating without paying is stealing.” One of Chávez’s deputies, María León took the floor and (in a way reminiscent of Stalinism) called for Machado to be sanctioned for having “disrespected” the president with this comment, even though Chávez had already insulted Machado for being an insignificant “fly.”
But this time, with almost regal calm, the president replied, “María Corina is a candidate, and she is trying to score points. Rather than a sanction on my part, we have to wait for the sanction of the people.” A few days later, in his article “The Genius of Chávez,” Castro validated his protégé’s rhetorical strategy, declaiming “as usual, the Bolivarian leader was gracious and respectful to all those present.” Then, the Cuban leader turned to the incident with María Corina Machado. “What surprised me,” Castro said, “was the extreme harshness of the rebuke launched against the president with words that put to test Chávez’s gentlemanliness and sangfroid.”
The following month, however, clearly affected by Radonski’s overwhelming victory in the opposition primary elections. Chávez lost any Castro-like gentlemanliness and said to his rival, “it doesn’t matter how many times you change your costume, low-life. Your pig’s tail still shows behind you as well as your pig’s ears. You snort like a pig. Well, what I am saying? You are a pig. Don’t try and hide it.”
In his erratic efforts to adopt a conciliatory electoral rhetoric, Chávez insists he will accept the results of the election, even if he loses. He recently told the National Assembly, “I reiterate to all opposition candidates that if any of them wins the election, I am going to hand over power.” However, considering his traditional authoritarian language, anti-democratic practices, and increasing concentration of control, such a scenario is difficult to envision. Moreover, the current high levels of dependency of Cuba’s economy on Venezuela suggest that Havana will continue providing its self-indulgent support and expertise so that Chávez remains in power. According to diplomatic cables from the American Embassy in Venezuela obtained by Wikileaks and published by the widely read Madrid newspaper El País, Cuban officials have a strong presence, embedded quietly in all sectors of Chávez’s government, including passport control, airports, food distribution, and imports. The cables also say that Cuban intelligence is orchestrating Venezuelan espionage efforts against American targets, and that Cuban agents have “direct access” to Chávez.
Since the disclosure of Chávez’s cancer, many Venezuelans have been waiting for a “coup from heaven,” similar to the one in 1998 that ended Sani Abacha’s dictatorship in Nigeria, another OPEC nation. Meanwhile, and considering the circumstances, they may have to resign themselves to the words of their president. “Hasta el 2021,” he often says, meaning that he will be in power for 22 years, until the bicentennial of the Battle of Carabobo, when Simón Bolívar secured Venezuela’s independence. One of Chávez’s most frequent catch phrases when referring to the possibility of a different government in Venezuela is “no volverán, no volverán,” they will never come back.
Still, in the interim, any international, or especially American, response to Chávez’s rhetoric or the actions that flow from it must take on substantially different forms than what historically has been meted out to Castro’s Cuba. Venezuela is a far more substantial economic and political player in Latin America—indeed the U.S. economy is highly dependant on imports of Venezuelan oil. Until cancer, or more remotely, a disenchanted electorate removes him from the political scene, Chávez will continue to use his rhetoric and oil wealth to build anti-American alliances, as is already the case with Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia, and Ortega in Nicaragua.
Marco Aponte-Moreno is a Venezuelan academic and actor. His research focuses on leadership and political discourse analysis. He teaches at University College London. Lance Lattig is a human rights researcher and writer based in London.
Photo: Nick Ditmore