The Latest Howlers From Human Rights Watch on Venezuela

Predictably, election season in Venezuela has come with yet another voluminous report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that mostly rehashes the debunked claims of its 2008 report.


Predictably, election season in Venezuela has come with yet another voluminous report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that mostly rehashes the debunked claims of its 2008 report. Over a hundred scholars, including Noam Chomsky, signed a letter to HRW protesting the shoddiness of that 2008 report.   


HRW’s response to that letter was   underwhelming:


HRW bowed out of the debate after the devastating reply to its   response


One need not even wade through that debate (though everyone should) to know that HRW is ridiculously biased against the Chavez government. Ken Roth, HRW’s executive director, very recently used his Twitter account to call Venezuela and a few other ALBA bloc countries (specifically Bolivia and Ecuador) “the most abusive” in Latin America.[1]

If Ken Roth is familiar with his own organization’s reports about Colombia then he should know that his remark borders on ludicrous. US officials privately estimated 257,089 people murdered by right wing death squads in Colombia and that 34 indigenous groups have been pushed to near extinction  (i.e. genocide) [2]

I sent an email to HRW asking them if they now rank countries by “abuse” levels and if they could explain Roth’s criteria. I don’t expect a reply. It takes petitions signed by scholars with stature to get any response from HRW about its work on Venezuela. Nevertheless, HRW has padded its Venezuela reports with complaints that the Chavez government doesn’t respond to criticism:


I picked out three things from the 2012 report that are indicative of its quality.

Dismissing Venezuela’s Print Media

The report includes a very dumb attempt to dismiss the importance of print media in Venezuela. Apparently realizing that its claims of “censorship” and “intimidation” are especially feeble in the case of the print media, HRW resorts to stating that

“…,only a limited number of Venezuela’s more than 27 million people read them. In 2009, the most recent year for which we were able to obtain data, Últimas Noticias, the newspaper with greatest circulation, printed 260,000 copies per day. The circulation of the most critical papers was even smaller: El Nacional   printed 120,000 copies per day; El Universal, 110,000; and Tal Cual,   40,000”

The circulation of the four newspapers mentioned divided by Venezuela’s population indeed works out to a mere 2%. However, the circulation of the four top newspapers in the USA divided by the total US population works out to even less – 1.7%. Does 1.7% represent the impact of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and the LA Times on the US reading public as HRW’s   logic suggests?  According to a recent study by Pew Research, 30% of US citizens read print newspapers – vastly more than 1.7%. That’s partly because   the circulation of all newspapers, other than the top four, adds up significantly, but another obvious reason is that people in households   typically share the same copy of a newspaper. Does that not happen in the households of HRW officials? [3]

Hundreds of Peasant Murders Ignored

HRW’s 2012 report goes back as far as 1998 to cite cases of political violence and impunity. It insinuates that the Chavez government is responsible for the impunity the perpetrators have enjoyed. However, the worst political violence in the country since 2001 has victimized hundreds of peasant activists murdered by hired gunmen. The crimes strongly implicate wealthy landowners who vehemently oppose land reform. The impunity enjoyed by the gunmen and their wealthy bosses contradicts HRW’s relentless depiction of the judiciary and police as being under the thumb of Chavez. It is disgraceful that these crimes and their implications would be ignored. [4]

Imaginary Purity of Venezuela’s Foreign Funded NGOs

HRW makes the laughable claim that, despite receiving US funding, there is “no credible evidence that the independence and integrity” of any Venezuelan human rights NGOs has been compromised. The head of Sumate, one of HRW’s favorite Venezuelan NGOs (and also the US government’s) signed the infamous Carmona Decree which abolished all democratic institutions in Venezuela after a short lived coup in 2002.That fact alone makes a bad joke of HRW’s words.


While HRW can’t see signing off on dictatorship as evidence of compromised integrity that comes with foreign funds, it regards Chavez government funding of community media as dangerous:

“Today the majority of community radio stations relies on the Chávez government for funding and has an editorial line that is favorable to the government”

It appears, from the abject quality of HRW’s latest report, that it was written by people anticipating that it will be accepted at face value by the corporate media. Hopefully more people will start taking   into account HRW’s proven bias when reading or citing its work.



[2] http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/23/slaughter-in-colombia/

[3] List of US newspaper by   circulation


Pew   research found 25% read only print newspapers. Another 5% read newspapers both   in print and online.


[4] Impunity for Venezuela’s big landowners