Human Rights Watch: Venezuela is Basically Democratic

By Pablo Bachelet - Miami Herald
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The New
York-based group's position also runs contrary to allegations by many
opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that he is undermining
democracy at home and around Latin America.

Chávez and his
government have long argued that Venezuela is fully democratic, with
regular elections, a free news media and an organized opposition. The
president accepted his defeat in a close vote on constitutional
revisions last year.

''We did not include Venezuela in the list
of closed countries because it is not,'' Human Rights Watch executive
director Kenneth Roth said, unveiling the organization's 2008 World
Report, which highlighted leaders who claim to be democratic but take
autocratic measures.

Roth acknowledged that ''the trends were
negative in Venezuela,'' saying Chávez stacked the Supreme Court and
denied an opposition station a broadcast license, among other excesses.

''There
are serious problems in Venezuela, but we shouldn't pretend that
Venezuela is a closed society,'' he said. ``There still is significant
political competition, and indeed the best evidence of that was the
fact that Chávez just lost his referendum.''

Roth also said
Cuba's announcement in December that it will ratify two U.N. treaties
that protect civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of
citizens was ``good news.''

The report also criticizes Cuba as ``one country in Latin America that represses nearly all forms of political dissent.''

The
report identified Kenya, Pakistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and
Thailand as nations where rulers claim democracy but violate basic
rights.

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