Open Letter to the Ambassador of the US in Venezuela Regarding the People’s Right to Self-Determination

Venezuela's most important human rights group directs an open letter to the U.S. government, criticizing its use of human rights in the pursuit of political interest. According to Provea, "the existing democratic deficits in Venezuela, structural and current, are far from converting the current political regime into a dictatorship and a political danger to the region."

By Venezuelan Program of Education–Action (Provea)
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Caracas, 25 May 2005

Honorable Mister
William Brownfield
Ambassadorof the United States of America

Dear Ambassador Brownfield:

Lately we have observed, with concern, the unfolding of the George W. Bush administration’s policy toward the government of Venezuela, which shows signs of threatening the human right of the Venezuelan people to self-determination. In the lines that follow below we detail some reflections on this theme that we invite you to personally discuss with us in a meeting that we feel is appropriate for you to grant us.

The human right of self-determination of a people is a fundamental element in the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and of the Charter of the Organization of United Nations (UN), co-written by our governments in representation of our citizenry. The Charter of the OAS consecrates it in various articles. Among them, articles 3,e; 19 & 20:

“Every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it, and has the duty to abstain from intervening in the affairs of another State. Subject to the foregoing, the American States shall cooperate fully among themselves, independently of the nature of their political, economic, and social systems”.

“No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements”.

“No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind”.

The International Pact of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is a fundamental labor orientation tool that Provea implements for the benefit of the entire Venezuelan citizenry, co-written and ratified by the Venezuelan State and co-written but not ratified by the USA, calls for in article 1 (shared by the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights), the following:

1. All peoples have the right of free determination. By virtue of this right they establish freely their political condition and likewise pursue their cultural, social, and economic development.  

2. To achieve these ends, all peoples can make free use of there wealth and natural resources, without affecting obligations that are derived from international economic cooperation based on the principal of reciprocal benefit, as well as on international law. In no case can a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.

3
. The States Party to the present Pact, including those that have the responsibility to administer non-autonomous territories and territories in trust, will promote the implementation of the right of free determination, and will respect this right according to the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

The UN Committee on Human Rights, the highest entity competent to interpret the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights, co-written and ratified by the Venezuelan State and by the USA, indicates in its general Observation No. 12, regarding the right of free determination (article 1, common to both pacts), the following:

This right takes on special importance, since its implementation is an essential condition for the efficient guarantee and observance of individual human rights and for the promotion and strengthen of these rights […]

The States Party to the present Pact must adopt positive means to facilitate the implementation of and the respect of the people’s right to free determination. These positive measures must be compatible with the obligations required by the States by virtue of the Charter of the United Nations and by international rights; in particular, the States must not interfere in the internal matters of other States, negatively affecting the exercise of the right to free determination.

The Committee considers that history has shown that the exercise of and the respect for the right to free determination of nations contributes to the establishment of friendships and cooperation between States and strengthens peace and international understanding”.

It is a question, as these texts demonstrate, of a right that compels the governments of our countries and that has great relevance due to its influence on other rights. Its contents have a dimension of internal politics, involving democratic rights to elect representatives and to an establishment that guarantees the expression of popular sovereignty; and a dimension of exterior politics, entailing respectful relations and prohibiting arbitrary intervention between States, in the context of the international community. 

In political debate an indubitable tension exists within the dialogues on sovereignty and the dialogues on human rights. On occasion, the first is used by many States to attempt to hide from public debate and from the view of the international community threats or grave violations of human rights against their own people. But it is no less certain that, in other occasions, the greater visibility of human rights violations of a particular country, induced by a greater diffusion of information from central interested powers, helps to construct a criminalizing dialogue that becomes an excuse for arbitrary international intervention that threatens the principal of sovereignty.

An analysis centered on the perspective of human rights, will no doubt underline that, if it is true that sovereignty cannot be an impassable limit for the international protection of the dignity of individuals and nations, then human rights can neither be an excuse to threaten sovereignty and the right of nation to decide its own destiny, to provide itself, as indicated in the Charter of the OAS, with the “political, economic and social system and organizational structure most agreeable to them”.

From this perspective, Provea questions the Venezuelan government, when its functionaries use the discourse of sovereignty to confront criticisms from international human rights institutions, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR). A government, including its citizenry or a part of it, can be in agreement or not with the diagnosis, proposals and demands of these entities, but their legitimacy to act in regards to human rights was not in question and was accepted, independently, by most States, in representation of their citizenry. Equally, from this same perspective, Provea questioned the United States when, with the invasion of Iraq, it threatened the international Right of State, carrying forth an armed action, marginalized by the UN, in a clear act of aggression that increased world insecurity and, in particular, that of the citizens of the United States.

From this same perspective, we want to express to you and your government, our concern over the tone, the frequency and the possible implications of the declarations by high representatives of the current administration of the United States of America, regarding Venezuela. In this dialogue, shared by important Thinks Tanks of your country and by congresspersons of the government’s party, Venezuela and its government have been declared a danger to the region.

So as not to spend too much time on quotations, we only present a few extracts of speeches by your government’s spokespersons, the government’s party in Congress and one private institute.Although we understand clearly that the administration of President Bush is not responsible for the opinions of private institutions or of congresspersons, it seems relevant to cite them together due to the coincidences found among them.

A recent report by the Center for Security Policy, that would have no importance if it didn’t contain, as we pointed out, substantial similarities to the discourse of the current administration of the United States of America, states:

"the dictatorship in Venezuela, increasingly repressive and aggressive, must change or be changed […] has made common cause with  terrorists and the regimes that support them and has developed a revolutionary ideology that has begun to plunge the Americas again into violence and chaos[…] the regime in Caracas presents a clear and present danger to peace and democracy in the hemisphere [...] It can change on its own, or it can invite hemispheric forces with the help of Venezuela’s broad democratic opposition, to impose the changes. Either way U.S. strategy must be to help Venezuela accomplish peaceful change by next year." ( http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/ Underlining ours).

The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not say that in Venezuela there is a “dictatorship”, but instead an un-democratic government. (“those who are democratically elected have to govern democratically”), she didn’t say that Venezuela would “plunge the Americas again into violence and chaos”, but instead “he should not interfere in the affairs of his neighbors ” (Interview in Univisión, 9 March 2005). Although the wording of the administration’s functionary is milder, the discourse of the current administration is very similar to the text cited above. In march 2005, Sub-secretary Roger Noriega exposed the general goal of President Bush’s foreign policy ("the expansion of freedom") before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He stated that:

“Hugo Chavez’s very personal agenda may undermine democratic institutions at home and among his neighbors […] his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region […] are causes of major concern to the Bush Administration […] we will increase awareness among Venezuela’s neighbors of President Chavez’s destabilizing acts with the expectation that they will join us in defending regional stability, security, and prosperity […] We will support democratic elements in Venezuela " (La Jornada, 4 March 2005. Underlining ours).  http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/rm/2005/q1/42885.htm

Representative Connie Mack (republican of Florida), who although is not a part of the administration, is a congressperson for the party of the government, stated in a recent event celebrated by the House of Representatives Sub-commission on Latin America, that ”Chávez is a threat to anyone who believes in freedom and democracy. " (www.cadenaglobal.com, underlining ours). According to these analyses, the Venezuelan government is a threat to its people and to the stability, security, freedom, democracy and prosperity of the entire region. This would therefore result in the legitimization of some type of specific policy developed by the United States of America to repel this danger. Provea, as you know, has monitored and documented the human rights situation in the country for the past 17 years through our Annual Report. (www.derechos.org.ve). The criticisms that Provea has formulated against the current Venezuelan government are not few, nor are the demands and recommendations that accompany them. This has lead to repeated disqualifications of the highest authorities of the Venezuelan Government. Nevertheless, according to our diagnosis, the existing democratic deficits in Venezuela, structural and current, are far from converting the current political regime into a dictatorship and a political danger to the region. Any analysis in this direction is, without a doubt, either honestly in error is part of an ulterior agenda.

It is evident to Provea that the discourse of the Venezuelan government irritates the current administration of the United States of America, even though it has not stopped supplying petroleum (including offering to sell petroleum for its reserves) and it maintains good relations with transnational north American oil companies, both matters of special significance in the relations between the two countries. Themes such as socialism, multilateralism, the criticism of neoliberalism, the FTAA, and the Plan Colombia, the strengthening of OPEC, the deepening of relations with Arab associates of OPEC, the support for Cuba, and the discourse that points out class conflict, are, without a doubt, significant model discrepancies between these administrations.

It is worrisome to Provea that the discourse of the current administration of the United States of America regarding Venezuela could be more motivated by these discrepancies than by the human rights situation of the country. The way in which President Bush’s administration and his political associates express the current official line regarding Venezuela amounts to a criminalization of the Venezuelan government and, at the same time, to the legitimization of interventions that compromise the rights of the Venezuelan people.

Provea recognizes that in the past, this and other administrations of the United States of America, have created a milieu of opinion in attempt to legitimize direct interventions in countries with which the US has had some economic or political conflict, using democracy and human rights to justify itself, while being less critical of countries with which it is allied, disregarding their performance deficiencies in the areas of human rights and democracy. Equally, Provea does not forget the unilateral interventions of the United States of America in the region as well as in the world.

All this, honorable Mr. Ambassador, makes us fear for the respect for the Venezuelan people’s right to self determination and obliges us to demand that your government strictly abide by its international obligations in relation to this right.

The conflicts between our governments should be addressed through diplomatic channels and by sincerely adhering to the democratic principals of international rights, which would reduce the belligerant rhetoric of both governments’ microphone diplomacy.  Both governments, for the sake of fulfilling their obligations in the promotion of peace and international security, established in the Charters of the UN and the OAS, must adopt methods to strengthen these international institutions and, within them, the autonomy and quality of human rights bodies.

In the expectation of conversing with you on these themes in a meeting soon,

Sincerely,

Carlos Correa
General Coordinator

Isamar Escalona
Education Sector Coordinator

Marino Alvardo
Defense Sector Coordinator

Antonio J. González Plessmann
Research Coordinador

Translated by Dawn Gable

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