Venezuela Fires Back at Human Rights Commission, Cites Extreme Press Freedoms

Venezuela writer and intellectual Luis Britto defended the Chavez government against accusations of clamping down on press freedoms during a session held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Iachr) in Washington last Thursday.


Britto called the continual claims of violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela as baseless and without merit, citing the fact that not a single proven case of repression has been brought before the commission.

“It is said that there are a quantity of violations, of detentions, but this needs to be substantiated and proved, not just merely alleged and affirmed”, Britto said.

“In all of these [accusations], what we are talking about are ghosts. There has not been mention of a concrete case… The Inter-American Commission requires that charges be substantiated, that they not be ethereal without names”, the intellectual imputed.

The hearing on Thursday was held in response to a complaint lodged by opposition NGOs who argued that the nation’s President Hugo Chavez misused his legal right to transmit messages on television and radio before the country’s October 7 elections.

The transmissions, called “cadenas”, require all public-licensed broadcast channels on national airwaves to carry presidential addresses related to the work of the government. They are strictly prohibited from transmitting any electoral advertising or activity through this mechanism.

The cadenas have been used by the Venezuelan executive for years to fight the media blackout that has been employed against the government by the private television and radio stations that continue to make up the vast majority the country’s media landscape.

Without the use of the transmissions, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said on numerous occasions, news of the government’s achievements would never reach the majority of the people.

Testifying at last week’s session, Britto pointed out that in the discussions of the government’s use of the broadcasts, there has been no reference to another type of cadena that was used by the private media during the failed 2002 coup d’etat against Chavez.

On April 12 and 13, 2002, television stations aligned with the nation’s subversive opposition refused to transmit news that the presidential palace, occupied by the perpetrators of the coup, had been surrounded by residents demanding the return of President Hugo Chavez to power. Instead of reporting on the failing coup, the private media broadcast a series of cartoons.

Britto charged that similar conduct was employed by the opposition- led media during the three month long management lockout of the state oil company Pdvsa at the end of 2002 – beginning of 2003 also with the purpose of bringing down the Chavez government.

“How can you say that there is overuse of the presidential cadenas if there is a permanent cadena from the media that has proclaimed itself to be owned by private political parties?” the writer asked the commission.

Holding up examples of particularly sordid press clippings, the intellectual pointed out the vituperative nature of the media in Venezuela and the continual denigration of public officials that occurs with impunity.

“In what country are there headlines of this kind? Insults, affronts, threats coming from the private media. They say that the president is a dictator, a tyrant. I repeat: In what country where there is restriction on the freedom of expression can you say this without consequences?’ Britto interrogated.

Dubious Legitimacy

The Iachr belongs to the Organization of American States (OAS) as does the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Last Thursday’s session was part of four plenaries held on Venezuela, two of which covered general matters, one that addressed free speech and another that dealt with the question of the nation’s penitentiary system.

Both the Iachr and the Court have been denounced on numerous occasions by the Venezuela government as having exercised double standards in its criticism of the Chavez administration.

That criticism has been extended by other leftist governments including Ecuador and Nicaragua, members of the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas (ALBA) bloc, who have decried the bias and partiality of the OAS in its dealings with countries who represent a challenge to the United States in the region.

Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico have also advocated for fundamental reforms to the Iachr. Venezuela’s official representative to the body, German Saltron, said last Thursday that the human rights institutions tied to the OAS “lack validity and applicability”, affirming that his country plans on leaving the Inter- American Human Rights Court in the near future.

“Our country is obligated to distance itself from the current perverted conduct of the institutions belonging to the Inter-American human rights system that has repeatedly been discredited”, Saltron declared.

This does not mean that Venezuela will formally leave the Iachr as such a move would require the South American country to voluntarily break from the OAS, something that it has not publicly declared.

“We will continue to defend ourselves when you attack us because we have the historical truth on our side. That’s something that you can’t steal from us”, Saltron asserted.

Notwithstanding the barrage of denunciations, the president of the OEA Emilio Alvarez underscored the Chavez’s administration’s willingness to participate in last week’s hearings, noting the democratic nature of the government’s disposition to debate.

“We are highlighting the fact that the [Venezuelan] state has listened and has given this space for dialogue. There are themes that we do not agree on but we are open to dialogue. It seems positive to us that Venezuelan civil society has presented its arguments and so have the representatives of the state”, Alvarez said.