Caracas, June 18, 2004—In response to a new report by Human Rights Watch, Vice-President José Vicente Rangel said that the organization’s Americas Director, José Miguel Vivanco, is a “permanent provocateur.” Vivanco is visiting Venezuela, where he presented a report on Venezuela’s new Supreme Court law, which Human Rights Watch believes threatens to both “pack and purge the country’s highest court.”
Rangel said, “For the national government these declarations of José Miguel Vivanco have no validity and we absolutely reject them and interpret them once again as part of a preoccupation with the government of the President of the Republic, Hugo Chavez Frias.”
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which was released yesterday during a Caracas press conference, argues that the new Supreme Court law threatens the country’s constitutional order as much as the April 2002 coup attempt did. It specifies that the increase of court judges from 20 to 32 judges would allow Chavez and his supporters to increase their majority on the court. Also, provisions that, under special circumstances, would allow for the dismissal of Supreme Court judges will enable Chavez-supporters to purge existing members of the court who are sympathetic with the opposition.
The report concludes by recommending that the Organization of American States ought to get involved and apply its Democratic Charter. HRW suggests that the new secretary general of the OAS, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, should initiate an investigation, which requires Chavez government approval, to “find a collective response …in the face of the constitutional crisis that could seriously affect [Venezuela’s] already fragile democracy.”
Rangel responded also by saying that “in Venezuela there is an absolute independence of powers and the sovereign actions of the powers is respected.” According to Rangel, “Vivanco is speaking as a spokesperson of the Venezuelan opposition, of the Bush administration, and of the worst expression of imperial policies in Latin America.”
The 24-page report, titled, “Venezuela: Judicial Independence under Siege,” also recommends that the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank should condition future loans on the government’s implementation of the recommendations contained in the HRW report. One of the main recommendations is the suspension of the new Supreme Court law.
Vivanco later responded to Rangel’s comments by saying that they were “very regrettable” and make it “very difficult to imagine that the government will act responsibly in this matter.”
Pro-Chavez members of the National Assembly, the legislature, suggested in response to Vivanco’s declarations that they would pass a resolution to declare him “persona non grata” and ask the executive to immediately remove him from the country. The President of the National Assembly, Francisco Ameliach, said that the report “lacks any juridical substance” because it shows a complete ignorance of the Supreme Court law.
For background info on the new Supreme Court law, see: