A victim of Maduro’s brutality speaks in support of Venezuela talks

As Venezuela’s dueling governments continue Norway-brokered negotiations in Barbados, allies of opposition leader Juan Guaidó have urged him to walk away. Citing a recent United Nations report on human rights violations committed by the regime of Nicolás Maduro, those against the talks argue that it is immoral to negotiate with torturers and murderers.

One might expect Meudy Osío, of all people, to endorse this logic. Instead, she convinced me during a recent interview that it is wrong.

Thirty-five years ago, Meudy fell in love. She was 17. Fernando Albán, a cashier at the Caracas bank where she worked as an intern, was 22. Chocolates appeared on her desk. There was a weeknight movie, a stolen kiss. Two blushing faces at work the next morning.

Six years later, Meudy and Fernando married. They were still in college — a first in both their families — working two jobs each to pay tuition.

Five years after the wedding, Meudy gave birth to their first child, a son. Fernando exulted. He joked that he wanted four sons. Two years later, he went to pieces over their daughter.

Meudy and Fernando founded an accounting-and-law firm together, Audi-Con , which Meudy calls “their second marriage” and “their third child”.

Their business thrived. Their family thrived.

The trouble started in 2013, when Albán ran for city council. A longtime friend of the family told me that he was a natural candidate. “He had charisma but not big-stage charisma”, the friend said. “He would take you by the arm and speak quietly but intensely, intimately, like a priest, or a lover”.

Albán won the election. That made him an opposition city councilman in a mayoralty controlled by Maduro’s party. He was given what others saw as an undesirable assignment: religious outreach. Albán, a devout Catholic, relished it. He made friends with priests, ministers, rabbis, imams. He worked alongside Meudy to cook a monthly soup dinner for the poor.

He was beloved, so he was a target. Albán’s son was recognized at school (“the son of that councilman”) and threatened, so he left for New York, to study English on a scholarship. Albán’s daughter also left for New York, also on scholarship, after she and Meudy were spotted at a political protest. They had taken refuge in the nearby house of a stranger, hiding there for 11 hours.

In September 2017, Meudy reluctantly followed her children to New York. Albán arrived with her, and the church helped settle them in foundation-subsidized housing in the Bronx. But Albán traveled back and forth to Venezuela. He wanted to wrap up his term as councilman before moving to New York for good.

In the months they were apart, Albán and Meudy spoke for two or three hours every day. It was the 33rd year of their romance.

In August of last year, Albán arrived in New York for a long stay with his family. It was a joyous visit; they celebrated his birthday and talked of new business ideas, plans for their life in New York. But they also needed money. As it happened, the janitor in the home where they lived had just been fired. Albán took his place. He washed floors and cleaned the bathroom they shared with other tenants.

On Oct, 4, 2018, the eve of Albán’s return to Caracas, Meudy asked him whether he really needed to go. Why risk another trip? But he insisted that he had unfinished business in Caracas. He wanted to help resettle his employees. There are people there who depend on me, he told her. Besides, he asked, what would the government want with me, a lowly city councilman?

Three days later, he was dead. He had been arrested at the airport and accused of conspiring in a drone attack perpetrated earlier that year. The government declared his death a suicide, saying he jumped from the 10th-floor bathroom of the prison. Journalists noted that the bathrooms had no windows and that guards escort inmates to the bathrooms. An autopsy reportedly found water in Albán’s lungs. The United Nations called for an investigation into his death.

Meudy wonders why Fernando was killed. Perhaps the government meant merely to torture him — possibly to extract a statement incriminating Julio Borges, the head of Fernando’s political party, Primero Justicia — and things got out of hand. Perhaps the government felt threatened by his ties with the community. Perhaps it was alarmed by the energy and specificity of his plan for his legal defense, which he was allowed to present to lawyers the day before his death. Perhaps his sister’s prison visit rankled his jailers. Meudy may never know.

Some in the Venezuelan political opposition have used Albán’s death and other human rights violations to argue against ongoing negotiations with the government of Maduro. Former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma cited the recent torture and death of a navy captain in captivity as a reason to end the talks in Barbados. And in May, Ledezma even tweeted that the best homage to Albán would be international military intervention. Others have invoked Meudy directly, implying that Guaidó’s decision to negotiate with Maduro would disappoint her. The logic of these arguments is straightforward: We cannot sit down with the monsters who murdered a good man such as Fernando Albán.

But Meudy told me that Fernando would have disagreed. He would have supported the talks, she said, even under these circumstances. As a committed democrat, Fernando believed that dialogue is essential to politics. As a man of faith, he fought for a peaceful political transition. And as a family man, he could not countenance the alternative: more love stories cut short.

Dorothy Kronick is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

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