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Venezuelan asylum seeker has "slam dunk" case

Marco Coello was arrested by ICE in Miami this week, then quickly released. Lawyers believe he has a watertight case for political asylum after he was tortured in Venezuela.
28 Abr 2017 – 05:23 PM EDT
Marco Coello detenido en Venezuela. 2014

A young Venezuelan asylum seeker who was arrested this week in Miami by immigration officials, before being released the next day, has a well-documented case of political persecution in his home country, according to lawyers and public records.

Marco Coello, 21, was arrested by police in Venezuela Feb 12, 2014 and held in prison where he was allegedly tortured by agents seeking to get him to implicate a prominent opposition leader Leopoldo López in violence that took place during the demonstrations.

His case has been documented by various human rights groups and was cited in the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report on Venezuela in 2015.

"His asylum case is one of the strongest that I have known," said his lawyer, Elizabeth Blandon.

Coello alleges that he was beaten by plain clothes agents and told to sign a document that he was part of a group of protesters who vandalized government vehicles on the orders of López, who was later arrested and accused of fomenting violence. López remains in jail.

Coello says that during his detention he had a gun pointed at his head, was given electric shocks and had a lighter held close after being soaked in gasoline.

He was released in July 2014 and fled to Miami Sept 3, 2015 shortly before his case was due to be decided in court, and his case remains open in Venezuela.

Officials in Venezuela have denied his allegations of torture.

His case has been highlighted by international groups along with five others arrested the same day as Coello accused of violent incidents, including the burning of several official vehicles. A report by Human Rights Watch about the Feb 12, 2014 detentions found "a pattern of serious abuse" including torture and denial of due process.

"Coello said he had been running away from where violent confrontations had erupted between protesters and security forces when a teargas canister hit his leg. He fell to the street and was engulfed in teargas," according to the report.

"As he was struggling to breathe, a group of about eight men in plainclothes assaulted him, beating him as he lay on the ground. They then grabbed him and took him to the nearby CICPC [police] station, where three police officers took him to a bathroom, pointed a gun at his head, and doused his shirt and body with gasoline."

It went on: "They wrapped a thin mat around his body, tied it with tape, and approximately 10 officers kicked him and beat him with sticks, a golf club, and a fire extinguisher on his ribs and upper body. When they took off the mat, they gave him three electric shocks on his chest, he said. Throughout the whole time, the police officers told him he should confess he had burned official vehicles that day. Coello said he did not confess because he had not done it."

If Coello is sent back to Venezuela he could face serious jail time for having fled before a judge ruled on his case. Despite stricter immigration enforcement under the Trump administration experts say it's unlikely he would be deported. His case has attracted political interest in Washington from powerful Republicans, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio who intervened this week on behalf of Coello to get his release.

The fact that his arrest in Venezuela was highlighted in the U.S. government's own human rights report on Venezuela would likely weigh heavily on an immigration judge.

"The few times I have had a client mentioned in a U.S. State Department report it's been a slam dunk case. This asylum should be granted without a doubt," said Wilfredo Allen, a prominent immigration lawyer in Miami.

In 2016, the State Department found that human rights abuses in Venezuela included "indiscriminate police action against civilians leading to widespread arbitrary detentions, unlawful deprivation of life, and torture.”

It went on: “The government arrested and imprisoned opposition figures and showed little respect for judicial independence or generally did not permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation.”

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