Thursday, June 11, 2009

Human Rights Beyond Ideology and Mr. Morales false indegenous icon

"Some voices at the Oslo meeting are seldom heard in the West. Victor Hugo Cardenas of Bolivia prides himself on his indigenous background but is an implacable opponent of leftist President Evo Morales, a protégé of Hugo Chavez. Mr. Cardenas, a former vice president of Bolivia, called Mr. Morales a "false indigenous icon" who was deploying "shock troops" to silence critics. Indeed, he said that some of Mr. Morales's thugs had recently attacked his house and beaten members of his family. "But you will hear little of this from our media, much of which is bought by the Venezuelan money of Hugo Chavez," he thundered. "
The wall street journal
Human Rights Beyond Ideology


By JOHN FUND
Oslo

Twenty years ago, as Soviet communism was collapsing and new democracies were springing up everywhere, there were bright hopes for the spread of human rights. But while this year marks the anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling, yesterday was also the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in China, a reminder of just how unyielding authoritarian governments can be.

Tiananmen was very much on the minds of the 200 human-rights activists who gathered in this tidy capital city where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year. But the Oslo Freedom Forum, organized by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, was unlike any human-rights conference I've ever attended. As at other such gatherings, racism and gender discrimination were on the minds of plenty of participants. But there was no desire to blame such problems on the U.S. or other Western nations. The emphasis was on promoting basic rights in all nations at all times.

"It's pretty simple," says Thor Halvorssen, a human-rights activist and the conference's 33-year-old founder. "We all should want freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from torture, freedom to travel, due process and freedom to keep what belongs to you." Unfortunately, he explains, "the human-rights establishment at the United Nations is limited to pretty words because so many member countries kill or imprison or torture their opponents."

Indeed, the U.N. Human Rights Conference held in Geneva last month was a disgrace, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denouncing Israel as a "racist regime" and saying that "Zionism" was dominating the media and financial systems of the West. The U.S. didn't send a delegation to Geneva, and a number of the European representatives walked out during Mr. Ahmadinejad's rant.

The Oslo Freedom Forum, by contrast, was a serious gathering of grown-ups. Even Oslo's leftist newspaper Klassekampen (Class Struggle) overcame its initial skepticism, declaring the forum "an impressive assembly of people."

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, former Czech president Vaclav Havel and Yelena Bonner, the widow of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, couldn't attend due to ill health, but all sent videotaped statements. Ms. Bonner challenged delegates to combat the "anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment growing throughout Europe" since she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize here on behalf of her husband in 1975. Vladimir Bukovsky, a scientist who was tortured by the KGB for years, warned that many of Russia's old oppressors were "safely in power again" in new guises.

The conference also brought together activists from far-flung corners of the world. Palden Gyatso, a diminutive Tibetan monk, told horrifying tales of being imprisoned for 33 years and being tortured by Chinese captors who wedged electric batons into his mouth and destroyed all of his teeth. After his talk, he was embraced by Harry Wu, a survivor of 19 years in China's network of labor camps, which still contain untold numbers of prisoners.

Although quiet and reserved, Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane kept his audience riveted as he told of how he'd been raised in an elite Mauritanian family that kept slaves even after the practice was officially abolished in his land in 1981. While living in Paris as an adult, he became infuriated at the world's indifference to slavery and teamed up with a former slave from Mauritania to provide legal help to escapees and also conduct covert rescue operations of those still in bondage. Mr. Ethmane's talk was followed by presentations from two powerful speakers from Kurdistan and Uzbekistan, both women who had served time for democratic activism.

Some voices at the Oslo meeting are seldom heard in the West. Victor Hugo Cardenas of Bolivia prides himself on his indigenous background but is an implacable opponent of leftist President Evo Morales, a protégé of Hugo Chavez. Mr. Cardenas, a former vice president of Bolivia, called Mr. Morales a "false indigenous icon" who was deploying "shock troops" to silence critics. Indeed, he said that some of Mr. Morales's thugs had recently attacked his house and beaten members of his family. "But you will hear little of this from our media, much of which is bought by the Venezuelan money of Hugo Chavez," he thundered.

The Norwegian hosts seem keen on repeating the event next year. The forum certainly attracted the right enemies. During the conference, Norwegian papers reported that the Cuban Embassy had emailed a lengthy denunciation of the forum, accusing Mr. Halvorssen and former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares of being CIA agents. The embassy also wrote that Mr. Valladares was a "terrorist," and it accused the Human Rights Foundation's Bolivian representative of "providing the bulk of the funds for the terrorist gang" that had supposedly plotted to assassinate President Morales.

Mr. Halvorssen expressed both amusement and exasperation at the charges. "They accuse me of working for the CIA in countries I've never visited," he told me. "As for Ambassador Valladares, he was Amnesty International's first prisoner of conscience from Cuba. Amnesty doesn't usually protect CIA agents."

Mr. Fund is a columnist for WSJ.com.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W13

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chavez will celebrate anniversary with summit


Waste money, why don't you?

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will celebrate 10 years in power next week by holding a rare summit with some of his closest leftist allies in Latin America.

Venezuelans will be asked in February whether or not Hugo Chavze should be allowed to run for a third term.

Attending will be leaders or representatives from a group called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas, better known as ALBA. Chavez and his allies started the group a few years ago in attempt, they said, to counterbalance United States influence in Latin America.

Chavez announced the gathering Monday on state-run Radio Nacional de Venezuela, commonly called RNV. He called it "an extraordinary summit of ALBA ."

Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and Dominican Republic Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will attend, RNV said on its Web site.

Cuban President Raul Castro will not be there because he is on a trip to Asia, El Universal newspaper said.

At ALBA's latest meeting in Caracas in November, the leaders began discussion on the creation of common currency throughout the region, El Universal said. Officials talked about creating a currency called a "Sucre," a Spanish acronym for "Unified System of Regional Compensation." Sucre is also the constitutional capital of Bolivia, where the Supreme Court meets, and the main currency in Ecuador.

A meeting scheduled for mid-December to discuss regional economic integration was canceled, the newspaper said.

Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, six years after a failed coup attempt to depose then-President Carlos Andres Perez. He was sworn in on February 2, 1999.

He was re-elected in a special election in July 2000 after a new constitution was adopted and again in 2006.

The new constitution limits him to two consecutive six-year terms, but the Venezuelan congress recently approved a referendum for February 15 that would allow Chavez to run for a third term in 2012. Venezuelans narrowly rejected a similar measure in a December 2007 referendum.

Chavez has been campaigning hard in favor of the referendum.

Bolivians approved a new constitution Sunday that will allow that nation's president, Morales, to run for another five-year term in December

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