Saturday, October 29, 2005

Oct 30/05 - On a Washington Post Editorial on Human Rights in Venezuela: the moral imperative of leadership

PMBComments: today's Washington Post editorial echoes my previous post as it focuses the attention of its readers on Human Rights as the fundamental issue of Venezuela. In 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Today almost every one of these inalienable Rights is being violated by a government that has chosen to drag our nation down the alleyway of corruption, lies, neglect, discrimination and intimidation in a sure-to-eventually-fail effort to hold on to power in spite of both the glaring contradictions between "revolutionary" mantra and "revolutionary" deeds, and the mounting impatience of the citizenry.

Venezuela 's Democratic façade is made of papier-mâché. It pretends to convey legitimacy, but it is simply a sham that allows many around the World to continue dealing with the regime without remorse (France comes effortlessly to mind and makes me wonder – once more - what on earth they teach at ENA), or ignoring its consequences without shame or forethought – the preferred stance of many Latin "leaders".

Domestically, the present stratum of self-proclaimed leaders of Venezuela's so-called opposition continue to play along –callously turning a blind eye to abuses of all sorts - because they only aspire to bits and pieces of power appreciatively ceded by the abusive regime to those that tag along. They – the self proclaimed - know perfectly well that any real, principled and popular solution necessarily excludes them because of their undeniable role as the root cause of a deep and tragic involution. Keep in mind that Hugo Chavez and cronies may be dangerously dangerous and ineptly inept, but above all they are ill-willed consequences unable and unwilling to distinguish Rights from wrongs, and therefore justifiably afraid to cede an ounce of power to anyone not tainted like them.

It is for this reason that all eyes – and much hope - must be placed on those that maintain a moral high ground – fighting not for ephemeral power – but for Rights that are universally proclaimed and therefore never negotiable or surrenderable. PMB

Washington Post

Venezuela's Conscience
Sunday, October 30, 2005; Page B06

ONE OF THE BEST measures of freedom in any country is the existence, independence and effectiveness of human rights groups. They are something of a bellwether: In autocratic states, their appearance can be an early sign that a political liberalization, or democratic revolution, is on the way. That's why the recent sprouting of human rights groups in places such as Egypt and Jordan is encouraging. Conversely, the intimidation or elimination of such organizations is a sure sign that political rights are being constricted; that is what has happened in Russia, for example. Now, according to testimony presented this month before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Venezuela's human rights community is under siege. Its troubles ought to send a message to anyone who still wonders whether President Hugo Chavez intends to preserve the democratic system that brought him to power.

Unlike most of its neighbors, Venezuela maintained a real if imperfect democracy for 40 years before Mr. Chavez's election, and so its human rights community is well-developed. The seven organizations that testified before the commission, an arm of the Organization of American States, have been active for many years. It's not new for them to be at odds with Venezuela's government. What is new, under Mr. Chavez's regime, is the targeting of the groups themselves. Not only are their reports on such problems as government manipulation of the Venezuelan judiciary, police brutality and intimidation of the press dismissed or ignored; they themselves are labeled traitors and coup plotters for having spoken out.

One conspicuous victim of this phenomenon is Carlos Ayala, who testified before the commission about the growing threat to journalists and press freedom. One of the most respected human rights lawyers in Latin America, Mr. Ayala is a former president of the Inter-American Commission as well as the Andean Commission of Jurists. When dissident military leaders tried to stage a coup against Mr. Chavez in April 2002, Mr. Ayala not only denounced the plot, which eventually failed, but intervened with police to free a militant pro-Chavez legislator. Yet, last April, after he brought human rights cases against the Chavez government, prosecutors announced that they had opened a criminal investigation against Mr. Ayala for allegedly supporting the coup. Charges are still pending.

Such attacks are widespread. Government representatives and supportive media, including an "information office" in Washington that has spent millions in an attempt to influence U.S. opinion, routinely refer to human rights groups leaders and other civil society activists as coup plotters. The Venezuelan government has meanwhile rejected the judgments of the Inter-American Commission as a violation of its sovereignty. The commission has already issued a couple of critical reports of Mr. Chavez's human rights record; its members could only have been sobered by what they heard from the veteran Venezuelan activists. The question is whether the OAS leadership, and the governments that stand behind it, will have the courage to recognize Mr. Chavez's campaign against human rights monitors for what it is -- and for what it portends.