Venezuelan Government and its Allies Respond to Human Rights Watch Report

Over the past week, Venezuelan government officials, labor union leaders, and journalists criticized what they say are inaccuracies in the report on Venezuela that the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) published last Thursday.

Mérida, September 25, 2008 (– Over the past week, Venezuelan government officials, labor union leaders, and journalists criticized what they say are inaccuracies in the report on Venezuela that the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) published last Thursday. They also accused HRW's Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco, who was expelled from the Venezuela, of being an agent of imperialism.

According to a statement from the Venezuelan National Assembly last Friday, the HRW report "aims to promote a national and international matrix of opinion that favors a climate of instability, anxiety, and precariousness in the population in order to justify a coup d'etat."

A communiqué from the Ministry of Communication and Information (MINCI) said the HRW report is biased because it focuses on specific cases regarding labor, the media, and the judicial system while ignoring that "the majority of the guarantees in the Constitution of 1999 have been implemented, particularly in relation to the fundamental needs of citizens, such as the right to food, health, education, housing, social security, work, and political participation."

The MINCI communiqué emphasized that Venezuela's progress on all of these fronts has been recognized by various international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Responding to HRW's assertion that the Venezuelan government has violated labor union autonomy, Labor Minister Roberto Hernández emphasized the historical context, saying that past governments "divided the labor movement by way of murder, torture, and jailing. There are fifty years of division that we are trying to reconstruct."  

At a rally of labor organizations and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), PSUV leader Alberto Muller Rojas said the current administration of President Hugo Chávez has a clear policy of promoting free union organization. He accused HRW of serving the interests of its funders, transnational businesses and their allies who oppose the Chávez administration's alliance with leftist labor organizations.

In contrast, Orlando Chirino, a coordinator of Venezuela's largest union federation, the National Workers Union (UNT), which critically supports the Chávez administration, told the Independent Media Center Tuesday that "in Venezuela labor rights are violated in the private and public sectors," and concluded that "this is the norm in capitalist countries, and Venezuela is no exception."

Nonetheless, Chirino rejected the HRW report and said HRW is an organization of "mercenaries of the imperialism of North America and multinational companies." He grouped HRW together with the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and the South American free trade organization MERCOSUR.

"To avoid any misunderstanding, I'll add that the workers should never team up with imperialists or private owners in order to defend our rights… I am not going to be used as a weapon against the revolutionary process," said Chirino. The HRW report featured a labor dispute Chirino was involved in as one of its examples of labor rights violations in Venezuela.

In response to HRW's assertion that judicial independence is threatened in Venezuela, the president of the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Luisa Estela Morales, said the laws governing the judicial system establish more stringent prerequisites for judgeship than in the past and guarantee transparency in the process of judge selection,  which is consummated by a National Assembly vote.

"We have an autonomous judicial branch and the majority of those who are in it were judges and had judicial careers. There are no politicians here," said Morales.

After studying the HRW report, Morales said "I think it is not necessary to give it more relevance. There is a large quantity of inexactitudes that make us think that this report does not reflect enough serious and profound investigation to give it importance."

A group of journalists named the Necessary Journalism Movement, who sympathize with the Chávez government, rejected HRW's allegation that there is a lack of freedom of expression in Venezuela. The journalists pointed out that the private opposition media still operates in the majority of the airwaves, and has not been censored despite its numerous offenses of journalistic norms of decency, accuracy, and respect for democratic order.

The report "appears to us to be an act of provocation and evident falsification of the facts, an act waged by HRW against a government and a people enveloped in a process of deepening democracy," said the journalists.

Echoing this, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton, said the HRW report is a "propaganda device" with electoral intentions.

"Vivanco has repeated his routine of visiting Venezuela two months prior to each electoral process, obeying a strategy when the polls indicate an advantage for the political currents that support Presidetn Hugo Chávez," Chaderton explained.

Meanwhile, five leaders of the Chilean Socialist Party called on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to denounce the HRW report, and said that the fact that Vivanco is of Chilean nationality should not be used to foment division between Chile and Venezuela.

In a formal statement, the party leaders expressed solidarity with Venezuela with regard to the recently foiled plot to assassinate President Chávez and overthrow the government, of which the HRW is suspected to be a part. "The aggression and provocation that [the Venezuelan] government suffers today are the same they sought to impose 35 years ago on the process of democratic transformation… led by Salvador Allende," they said.