Friday, April 23, 2010

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chavez marks Venezuela independence, foes unhappy

Chavez marks Venezuela independence, foes unhappy

By Andrew Cawthorne
Sunday, April 18, 2010; 2:43 PM
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez kicked off a national party on Sunday for the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence, but critics used the date to accuse him of turning the nation into a Cuban-style dictatorship.

The socialist leader -- who casts himself as the heir to 19th century South American independence leader Simon Bolivar -- was due to welcome fellow leftist heads of state, including Cuba's Raul Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales, during the day.

On Monday, exactly 200 years after Venezuela's initial declaration of independence from Spain, the leaders of the Chavez-led ALBA alliance of nations are to hold a summit in Caracas amid celebrations across the nation.

"We are just a few hours away from the great party," Chavez wrote. "Happy commemoration of 200 years of struggle. Fatherland, Socialism or Death! We will overcome!"

As well as adopting the language of his friend and mentor Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, Chavez has likewise presented his 11-year rule as a chance for Venezuela to finally achieve true independence after decades of capitalist rule.

The Venezuelan socialist, who came to prominence in a failed 1992 coup and then won power at the ballot-box six years later, has taken over Fidel Castro's role as the continent's leading critic of U.S. power.

Street-parties and special events were beginning all over Venezuela on Sunday. Armies of workers and volunteers -- dressed in the red T-shirts and caps of Chavez supporters -- swarmed over Caracas, sprucing up streets and buildings ahead of a military parade and other events planned for Monday.

Opponents, who have only beaten Chavez once in about a dozen votes since 1998, fumed as they saw him turn the anniversary into a massive show of support for his government.

Some supporters of the "First Justice" party rallied at a Caracas square for an alternative "independence declaration".

"After 200 years, we are again under an odious foreign domination," its leader Julio Borges said, accusing Chavez of an "indignant submission" to the Castro brothers. "The freedom fighters 200 years ago did not fight for ... dictatorship."


Thousands of Cubans are working with the Chavez government, deployed in shanty-town medical clinics and sports training centers and delicate areas such as security agencies and energy projects.

Chavez supporters view that as a model of international cooperation, while critics say it breaches sovereignty.

Former Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez, whom Chavez failed to oust in 1992, also weighed in.

"It is not possible to celebrate when a militarized, authoritarian and pro-Communist regime, headed by a murderous coup-monger, has kidnapped the nation," he said.

Perez even compared Chavez to Hitler in his buildup of a pro-government militia. The training of teenage "communications guerrillas" -- to counter the anti-Chavez push of private media -- has divided Venezuelan opinion this week.

Chavez and his critics are building up to a September assembly vote, where opposition parties hope to cut into the government's majority and show his popularity is waning.

Though opinion polls are difficult to follow in Venezuela, due to accusations of political bias, it is clear Chavez's popularity has fallen in the last year, from more than 60 percent to about 50 percent or less.

That, however, is still a relatively high rating and enough to help him win in September, analysts say. Venezuela's poor majority give Chavez high marks for social policies including free clinics and schools, and subsidized food networks.

"This idea that Chavez is losing approval and is on the way out is absolute rubbish," said pensioner Edith Valencia, eating at a state-run "socialist pancake" shop in Caracas.

"We admit not everything is perfect and it is a tough year, we even admit he has made some mistakes. But will we vote for him? You bet! I am a Chavista to the core."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko -- both recent visitors to Venezuela -- sent congratulations for the 200th anniversary.

Chavez is seeking to strengthen global ties that work against U.S. dominance and would have been hosting Chinese President Hu Jintao this weekend were it not for a major earthquake in western China.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Press Freedom In Venezuela

spite the many advances we have witnessed among countries in our region, democracy is still threatened in the Western Hemisphere.

Authorities cannot let political concerns undermine the freedom of expression.
Despite the many advances we have witnessed among countries in our region, democracy is still threatened in the Western Hemisphere. The rights of free speech, a free press and individual expression are essential to the functioning of our institutional democracies. Nevertheless, authorities in Venezuela have recently taken actions against press critics and others who engage in peaceful dissent.

The arrest of the owner of a local television channel for allegedly making offensive remarks toward the Venezuelan government sends a strong message that citizens there are not free to express their opinions and engage in an open dialogue. Without that freedom, all other rights are in jeopardy. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press must be respected for all individuals and media organizations, regardless of their political philosophies.

It is easy to look at anyone who criticizes you as being out of bounds, but authorities cannot let political concerns undermine the freedom of expression. In the end, whoever is elected needs constructive criticism.

It also is the responsibility of democratic countries to expose attacks on democratic principles wherever they may occur. In so doing, they ensure that future generations will enjoy the same rights that we demand for ourselves. Along with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the United States has expressed its concerns about the willingness of the Venezuelan government to honor its commitment under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to uphold this principle.

In this regard, it is also hoped that the Organization of American States will enforce the charter within the hemisphere to protect democratic principles and individual liberties.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

IACHR report on Venezuela: and you really thought Venezuela was a democracy?


Full Report:

IACHR report on Venezuela: And you really thought Venezuela was a democracy?
February 24, 2010

Since the report is long, I wanted to summarize the highlights from the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela. Despite the Venezuelan Government’s refusal to allow a visit since 2002, the Commission felt it could still analyze the Venezuelan situation in order to comply with its mandate.

Here are some highlights, for those that still want to believe or defend that Venezuela is a democracy:

  • The Commission also finds that in Venezuela, not all persons are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of the positions they hold vis-à-vis the government’s policies.
  • The Commission also finds that the State’s punitive power is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions.
  • The Commission’s report establishes that Venezuela lacks the conditions necessary for human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work freely.
  • The IACHR also detects the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous peoples, and women.
  • The IACHR’s report indicates that mechanisms have been created in Venezuela that restrict the possibilities of candidates opposed to the government for securing access to power. That has taken place through administrative resolutions of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, whereby 260 individuals, mostly opposed to the government, were disqualified from standing for election. The Commission notes that these disqualifications from holding public office were not the result of criminal convictions and were ordered in the absence of prior proceedings, in contravention of the American Convention’s standards.
  • The Commission also notes how the State has taken action to limit some powers of popularly‐elected authorities in order to reduce the scope of public functions in the hands of members of the opposition.
  • The IACHR also notes a troubling trend of punishments, intimidation, and attacks on individuals in reprisal for expressing their dissent with official policy.
  • The Commission notes a trend toward the use of criminal charges to punish people exercising their right to demonstrate or protest against government policies.
  • The IACHR considers that the right to demonstrate in Venezuela is being restricted through the imposition of sanctions contained in provisions enacted by President Chávez’s government.
  • The Commission describes cases of people facing criminal charges for which they could be sentenced to prison terms of over twenty years in connection with their participation in antigovernment demonstrations.
  • In the Commission’s view, this practice constitutes a restriction of the rights of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed in the American Convention, the free exercise of which is necessary for the correct functioning of a democratic system that includes all sectors of society.
  • The rules for the appointment, removal, and suspension of justices set out in the Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice lack the safeguards necessary to prevent other branches of government from undermining the Supreme Court’s independence and to keep narrow or temporary majorities from determining its composition.
  • Since judges are not appointed through public competitions, judges and prosecutors are freely appointed and removable, which seriously affects their independence in making decisions.
  • The Commission also describes how large numbers of judges have been removed or their appointments voided without the applicable administrative proceedings.
  • The numerous violent acts of intimidation carried out by private groups against journalists and media outlets, together with the discrediting declarations made by high‐ranking public officials against the media and journalists on account of their editorial lines and the systematic opening of administrative proceedings based on legal provisions that allow a high level of discretion in their application and enable drastic sanctions to be imposed, along with other elements, make for a climate of restriction that hampers the free exercise of freedom of expression as a prerequisite for a vigorous democracy based on pluralism and public debate.
  • The Commission observes with particular concern that there have been very serious violations of the rights to life and humane treatment in Venezuela as a result of the victims’ exercise of free expression.
  • The IACHR notes that recent months have seen an increase in administrative proceedings sanctioning media that criticize the government.
  • The Commission has also verified the existence of cases of prior censorship as a prototype of extreme and radical violations of freedom of expression in Venezuela.
  • The report also analyzes the impact on the right of free expression of the proceedings initiated in July 2009 toward the possible cancellation of 240 radio stations’ broadcasting concessions, and of the decision to order 32 stations to cease transmissions.
  • The Commission calls the attention of the Venezuelan State to the incompatibility between the current legal framework governing freedom of expression and its obligations under the American Convention.
  • The Commission also stresses that the offenses of desacato (disrespect) and viipendio (contempt) contained in the amendments to the Penal Code in force since 2005 are incompatible with the American Convention in that they restrict the possibilities of free, open, plural, and uninhibited discussion on matters of public importance.
  • The Commission also deals with the major obstacles faced by human rights defenders in their work in Venezuela. It also notes with concern that witnesses and relatives of the victims of human rights violations are frequently targeted by threats, harassment, and intimidation for denouncing violations.
  • The IACHR also finds that inadequate access to public information has hindered the work of defending human rights in Venezuela.
  • One of the issues relating to human rights in Venezuela of gravest concern to the Inter‐American Commission is that of public insecurity.
  • The IACHR’s report identifies certain provisions in the Venezuelan legal framework that are incompatible with a democratic approach to the defense and security of the State.
    During 2008, the Ombudsman’s Office recorded a total of 134 complaints involving arbitrary killings arising from the alleged actions of officers from different state security agencies. It also recorded a total of 2,197 complaints related to violations of humane treatment by state security officials. In addition, it reports receiving 87 allegations of torture and claims it is following up on 33 cases of alleged forced disappearances reported during 2008 and 34 reported during 2007.
  • Homicides, kidnappings, contract killings, and rural violence are the phenomena that most frequently affect the security of Venezuela’s citizens.
  • Information made available to the Commission indicates that in 2008, there were a total of 13,780 homicides in Venezuela, which averages out to 1,148 murders a month and 38 every day. The victims of these killings include an alarming number of children and adolescents.
  • The Commission’s report also notes with extreme concern that in Venezuela, violent groups such as the Movimiento Tupamaro, Colectivo La Piedrita, Colectivo Alexis Vive, Unidad Popular Venezolana, and Grupo Carapaica are perpetrating acts of violence with the involvement or acquiescence of state agents.
  • The Commission also continues with its observations on the alarmingly violent conditions within Venezuelan prisons.
  • The laws and policies pursued by the State have not been effective in guaranteeing the rights of women, particularly their right to a life free of violence.
  • The Commission notes in its report that impunity is a common characteristic that equally affects cases of reprisals against dissent, attacks on human rights defenders and on journalists, excessive use of force in response to peaceful protests, abuses of state force, common and organized crime, violence in prisons, violence against women, and other serious human rights violations.
  • On the other hand, in this report the Commission highlights the Venezuelan State’s major achievements in the fields of economic, social, and cultural rights, through legally recognizing the enforceability of the rights to education, to health, to housing, to universal social security, and other rights, as well as by implementing policies and measures aimed at remedying the shortcomings that affect vast sectors of the Venezuelan population.
  • The IACHR notes that the Missions have succeeded in improving the poverty situation and access to education and health among the traditionally‐excluded sectors of Venezuela’s population. Nevertheless, the Commission expresses concern at certain issues relating to the Missions as an axis of the government’s social policies.
  • The Commission notes that Venezuela is still characterized by constant intervention in the functioning of its trade unions, through actions of the State that hinder the activities of union leaders and that point to political control over the organized labor movement, as well as through rules that allow government agencies to interfere in the election of union leaders.
  • There you have it, the IACHR demonstrates that Venezuela is no longer a functioning democracy through the neglect and intimidation of a Government that discriminates its citizens even when they are in agreement with its policies. And, despite the Dictator’s claims, most of his policies show atotal disregard for the “people” that he claims to love so much.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Cuba invades Venezuela

The venezuelans have never agree to this....we don't want to be like Cuba ..... we are tired of Chavez...... please help us.
Cuba Invades Venezuela
Mac Margolis

Cuba may be a fading star in the socialist firmament and run by a sclerotic dynasty, but don't tell Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan president is giving the Castro franchise a second life by farming out more and more of his crisis-battered government to Havana. A growing number of corner offices in Chávez's bureaucracy--including defense, national security, police, immigration control, and now energy--are occupied by Castrocrats. Ramiro Valdés, Fidel's former comrade in arms and an ex-interior minister, was recently picked to coordinate Venezuela's response to an energy emergency causing widespread blackouts. (Critics note that Cuba has long been afflicted by power failures.) Chávez's foes suspect that Valdés, famed for policing the Internet in Cuba, was hired to spy on Venezuelan dissidents. Other Havanians are serving as key advisers in the Defense Ministry and the newly reformed Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, and dealing on Caracas's behalf with trade unions, coffee growers, and hospitals (apparently the final straw for the health minister, who quit on Feb. 10). Chávez argues that no one is better prepared to handle domestic crises than the Cubans. Most Venezuelans shudder for the same reason.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chávez Is Losing His Grip

Chávez Is Losing His Grip
The end is near for his revolution.
By Mac Margolis
Published Jan 29, 2010
From the magazine issue dated Feb 8, 2010

In his 11-year rule, Venezuelan strong-man Hugo Chávez has outlasted all manner of angry foes, conspirators, and mounting chaos. Until now. As he loses control of a shrinking economy, his Teflon is wearing thin. Chronic blackouts and water shortages are darkening industries and forcing homes to ration electricity and baths. Inflation is 30 percent a year, the worst rate in Latin America, and despite an official price freeze, economists say it could double this year. Crime is soaring, with the murder rate tripling under Chávez. Discontent is rising, too.

Once hailed as a redeemer by the poor, Chávez has seen his approval ratings plunge below 50 percent. A year ago, two thirds of Venezuelans were upbeat about their country. Now the same number see the country in decline, says pollster Luis Vicente León. That may not be enough to topple Chávez, whose mandate ends in 2012. Like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe or Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, he has twisted the rules of democracy—and controls enough cash, media, guns, and institutional clout to cling to power and crush any perceived threat, no matter how absurd. (Chávez recently banned Sony PlayStations and Barbie dolls as imperialist tools, and denounced Twitter as a vehicle for terrorists.) But the gathering turmoil in this nation of 29 million is like nothing the Bolivarian Republic has ever seen. Chávez's controversial project to build and spread 21st-century socialism may already be over.

The end is unlikely to be pretty. After independent channel RCTV declined to air a presidential speech late last month, Chávez ordered cable operators to drop the popular station's programming. Immediately, protests erupted nationwide, killing two and injuring dozens. Tear gas choked downtown Caracas. Undaunted protestors vowed to keep marching. "Keep this up and you will force me to take radical measures," warned Chávez in a nationwide broadcast.

This was not how the Bolivarian revolution was to play out. When Chávez launched it in 1999, he promised to wrest Venezuela's vast oil wealth from gringos and the rapacious elite to fuel 21st-century socialism, which would turn power over to indigenous people and the forgotten poor. And Venezuela would be just the beginning. With mythic Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar as his patron saint, Chávez set out to export the "Bolivarian alternative"—rejecting neoliberalism and the long shadow of the United States—throughout the hemisphere, and perhaps beyond. For a time, the new bolívarianismo stirred hearts across the Andes and in Central America.
Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua formally signed on to the Chávez pact. Cuba and a few more islands in the Caribbean followed.

Now the ballyhooed Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean has stalled. The first blow was the world economic crisis, which gutted oil prices and depleted the Chávista war chest that proved so useful in showering money on the slums, keeping cronies happy, and buying sympathy abroad. Then Chávez allies began angling to extend their terms in power, as he had. A turning point came in Honduras, where efforts by a Chávez ally, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, to hold an illegal referendum in the hope of extending his mandate ran afoul of the Supreme Court, the Congress, and finally the armed forces, which ousted him at gunpoint. At first the world diplomatic community joined Chávez in decrying what looked like an old-fashioned coup d'état—but most Hondurans wanted no part of Chávismo. Last November they elected a new anti-Chávez president, Porfirio Lobo.

Now a handful of nations, including the U.S. and Costa Rica, have recognized the new government in Honduras, while Zelaya has quietly departed for voluntary exile in the Dominican Republic. Chávez is increasingly isolated in the hemisphere. Even card-carrying lefties like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Peru's Alan García have snubbed Chávez's vision and embraced what Chilean President-elect Sebastián Piñera, a conservative, has called "democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, alternation of power without caudillismo."

Don't count Chávez out yet. Oil prices are rising, and his opposition is in disarray. But 21st-century socialism has lost its allure. WHOEVER WORKS FOR A REVOLUTION IS PLOWING THE SEA, reads Bolívar's gravestone, reflecting the liberator's despair over his ultimately failed mission. It's a lesson Chávez might keep in mind.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

"Terrorist" Twitter Threatens Hugo Chavez's Stranglehold on Media

By Joseph Abrams

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is tightening his grip on the country's media. The greatest threat to Hugo Chavez's future just might be the World Wide Web.

Fierce and growing protests over media freedom have left at least two students dead in Venezuela, and graphic images depicting violent tactics employed by the police there have started to flood the Internet.

Police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets have left students bloodied and battered in Caracas and other cities during a week of protests over President Hugo Chavez's tightening gag on the opposition press.

On Sunday, Chavez ordered five cable stations shut down for refusing to broadcast his frequent speeches, setting off nationwide demonstrations in a country already wracked by water shortages, electricity rationing, alarming crime rates and the plummeting value of its currency, the Bolivar.

Student protesters have organized their efforts by planning their demonstrations on Twitter, which is serving as both a public message-board for activists and a storing house for images of the worst of the violence.

Follow news of the protests on Twitter.
#Venezuela #Estudiantes #FreeVenezuela

Elsewhere online, more than 80,000 people have joined a Facebook group, "Chavez estas PONCHAO!" taunting the increasingly unpopular president with a slang term meaning "Chavez, you struck out."

Chavez has fought back by declaring that "using Twitter, the Internet (and) text messaging" to criticize or oppose his increasingly authoritarian regime "is terrorism," a comment that recalls the looming threats of his allies in Iran, whose bloody crackdown on physical and electronic dissent may be blazing a trail for the Latin strongman.

Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda told El Nuevo Herald that the government has launched an army of Twitter users to bring down online networks and try to infiltrate student groups.

"They are scared by Twitter,'' he told the paper, noting that Chavez fears that the social networking system will allow students to follow the model of Iran and spread their protests by coordinating them online.

As the opposition seethes, Chavez has threatened a "radical" response to student activity, promising to "deepen the revolution" and "impose authority" wherever flashpoints occur.

"There are some attempting to set fire to the country," Chavez said in a televised address on Thursday. "What are they seeking? Death."

University students began their protests on Sunday after government pressure led cable TV services to drop Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which has long been critical of Chavez's socialist policies.

"We are not going to allow continued shutdowns of media outlets that tell the truth, and we are not going to allow ineptitude and inefficiency to continue," said Nizar El Sakih, a student leader.

Chavez's attempt to silence RCTV set off similar protests in 2007, when it was barred from network broadcasts and put on cable. But that has not deterred viewers, said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

"If he kicks (RCTV) off the regular station and puts them on cable (Venezuelans) are going to watch cable.... If he kicks them off cable they'll find another medium," he said, adding that Chavez has underestimated the thirst for information in his country.

Internet analysts say Twitter, which blossomed before the protests but has exploded since they began, could change the face of politics in Venezuela, where hotly contested elections are approaching in September.

Using Twitter as an example, tech consultant Doug Hanchard wrote on Jan. 12: "The Internet might be what changes ... the political landscape in Venezuela.

"Make no mistake," wrote Hanchard, an adviser who covers the intersection of information technology and government, " Latin American cyberspace will be a busy place this year.

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Twitter photo venezuelan protest