US State Department Releases Critical Report on Venezuela’s Human Rights

A State Department Report on its efforts to support human rights around the world contains critical comments on the state of human rights in Venezuela. Vice-President Rangel and President Chavez rejected the report, saying it was baseless and represented more interference in Venezuela's affairs.

By Venezuelanalysis.com
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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary Kozak

Caracas, Venezuela, March 29, 2005—US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Kozak released the State Department’s report Supporting Democracy and Human Rights: The US Record 2004-2005, yesterday.  The report contains strong criticisms of Venezuela’s human rights record and U.S. strategies towards Venezuela. While presenting the report Kozak said that Venezuela was “backsliding” with regard to human rights. Responding to the report, Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel, argued that the report was “obsessive and without foundation.”

The State Department report details the US government’s strategy in “supporting democratic movements in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

According to the report, Venezuela’s human rights record continues to be poor.  In 2004-2005 “freedom-loving” Venezuelan citizens were forced to confront the “government’s increasingly authoritarian rule.”  “Over the past six years,” the report says, “Chávez increasingly has consolidated power within the executive branch, extending its control over the country’s other branches of government.”  Recent laws passed by the National Assembly—in which pro-Chávez legislators have a slim majority—reforming the Supreme Court, legislating social responsibility in the public and private Media, and reforming of the country’s Penal Code were responsible for what the report identifies as a general deterioration in human rights in 2004.  Allegations of police and military executions and torture—no examples are given—are also cited as justification for US involvement in the country.

The report makes no reference to documents recently obtained by www.venezuelafoia.com, a website dedicated to monitoring US intervention in Venezuela, that reveal that the CIA had advance notice of the 2002 April coup that briefly removed President Chávez from power. Though the CIA distributed a report on the expected coup to 200 high-level US officials, they made no effort to warn the Venezuelan government.  In its only reference to the coup, the report perhaps over-cautiously refers to it as a “brief interruption of the constitutional order.”

In a recent interview with Venezuelanalysis.com, ex-CIA agent Philip Agee drew a parallel between the activities of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (along with the other two “core foundations” of the National Endowment for Democracy) in Nicaragua leading up to the elections of 1990, and the current juncture in Venezuela.  According to Agee, the NED openly funneled money from Congress to opposition groups, which provided cover from illicit CIA funds and bribes towards the end of defeating the governing Sandinistas.

During a briefing after the release of the report, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), Michael Kozak, took a moment to explain US actions to strengthen democracy in two possible scenarios:  with, "a government in power that shares our values" and with "governments that are very reluctant." In the former, explained Kozak, the United States aids in "technical assistance and so on to improve their structures," whereas in the latter, "we try to reach out to people in opposition parties, in independent media, in nongovernmental organizations in the country."

According to Kozak, in spite of its inability to resolve decades of violence and attain control over its territory, Colombia is a "good case of a government where we feel that the elected official in the senate, in the local, in the municipalities, at the presidential level, are all striving to, you know, strengthen the institutions of democracy and to suppress people who are doing gross violations of human rights.” 

Kozak's tone with respect to Venezuela was considerably harsher, describing the situation as "not on a positive trend right now," due to "severe backsliding in areas like press freedom, judicial independence and so on."  Kozak described Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a "democratically elected president, but who came in after having tried to make a coup against a previous government," and classified Venezuelan political parties as discredited, corrupt and populist.

The State Department official affirmed that the US is ready and willing to work with Chávez, however, Kozak stipulated that if Chávez "wants to have a decent relation with us, [he] needs to move those aspects back in the right direction."

Vice-President Rangel Responds

Venezuela’s Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, released a statement in response to the State Department report today, saying that U.S, policy towards Venezuela is contradictory and that “I have the impression that this is a game where the intention is to maintain Venezuela on the front page.”

Rangel went on to say that Kozak’s declarations were “obsessive and without any foundation, based in the almost daily repetition of assessments that do not bear any relation to Venezuelan reality.”

Addressing the issue of Human Rights, Rangel argued that Venezuela does not need to receive lessons in Human Rights from anyone and that Venezuela’s record in this regard “has passed through the corrosive test of coup d’états, terrorism, oil industry sabotage, insolent media excesses,” without affecting Venezuela’s conception of human rights.

Rangel also compared Venezuela’s record to that of the U.S., where he said that the U.S. has not recognized many international mechanisms that would assure human rights, such as the principles of international law, the International Criminal Court, the Geneva Conventions, and has tortured prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.

Rangel concluded by saying that Venezuela wants good relations with the U.S., but only on the basis of the respect of a country’s sovereignty.

Presidents Uribe of Colombia, Zapatero of Spain, Chavez of Venezuela, and Lula of Brazil during a press conference following their summit in Venezuela.
Credit: Globovision

Chavez Rejects State Department Report and Lula Defends Chavez

President Chavez, during a press conference with the presidents of Colombia, Brazil, and Spain, issued a similar statement when asked about Venezuela’s relation to the U.S. “We want normal relations with the whole world, including the U.S.,” said Chavez. He also praised recent comments of Condoleezza Rice’s, who softened her statements towards Venezuela. “Hopefully the war of words will end,” between The U.S. and Venezuela, said Chavez.

Chavez rejected the report, though, saying that “many people have believed the lies because they have been tricked” and which have been released in order to disparage him internationally and to connect his government with the Colombian guerilla.

Chavez reiterated that Venezuela does not support any insurgent groups or movements in Latin America, nor drug trafficking. He went on to thank President Lula of Brazil for his support in combating these lies.

During the press conference, President Lula stated his support for Chavez, saying that “we do not accept defamations and insinuations against compañeros,” such as the Venezuelan President.

Referring to Chavez, Lula added, “I believe that Venezuela has the right to be a sovereign country, of making its own decisions and, at the same time, Venezuela does not need to be accused of things that those who are with you know that this is not part of your thought nor of your behavior.”
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