Please see the following articles listed below:
Venezuela: The Imperfect Revolution
In Support to Venezuelan Organizations Against Discrimination
10 Years of Chavez: American University Hosts Two Conflicting Views on the Progress of the Bolivarian Revolution
Human Rights Watch in Venezuela: Lies, Crime and Cover-ups
After INTERPOL’s Report, Questions Remain
The War Machine: Or How to Manipulate Reality
If you come to Venezuela with glistening eyes, expecting to see the revolution of a romantic and passionate novel, don’t be disappointed when the complexities of reality burst your bubble. While revolution does withhold a sense of romanticism, it’s also full of human error and the grit of everyday life in a society – a nation – undertaking the difficult and tumultuous process of total transformation.
Nothing is perfect here, in the country sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves. But everything is fascinating and intriguing, and the changes from past to present become more visible and tangible every day.
After 100 years of abandonment, as President Hugo Chavez puts it, the Venezuelan people have awoken and begun the gargantuan task of taking power and building a system of social and economic justice. But it’s easier said than done in a culture embedded with corrupt values, resulting from the nation’s vast oil wealth, combined with an overall feeling of entitlement. The bureaucracy is massive and often intimidating, as the people, including the President himself, struggle to eradicate it every day, and replace it with a more horizontal political and economic model.
From the outside, it’s easy to criticize Venezuela. Inflation is high, the economy is in a difficult place, although growing, and relations with countries such as Russia, China and Iran are often painful for foreigners to comprehend. Media portrays much of the power in the nation as concentrated in the hands of one man, Hugo Chavez, and rarely highlights the thousands of positive achievements and successes his government has obtained during the past ten years. Distortion and manipulation reign amongst international public opinion regarding human rights, freedom of expression and political views opposing those of President Chavez, and few media outlets portray a balanced vision of Venezuela today.
While it’s true that there is awful inflation in Venezuela, much of it has been caused by business owners, large-scale private distributors and producers, import-exporters and the economic elite that seek to destabilize and overthrow the Chavez administration. They sell dollars on the black market at pumped up rates and speculate and hike the prices of regular consumer products to provoke panic and desperation among the public, all with the goal of forcing Chavez’s ouster. And despite ongoing economic sabotage, the economy has still grown substantially in comparison to other nations in the region. In fact, according to the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF), Venezuela is the only South American nation to forecast economic growth this year.
How do you build a socialist revolution in an oil economy? It’s not easy. The Chavez government promotes a green agenda, but at the same time, the streets of Caracas – the capital – are still littered with stinky garbage and the air is contaiminated with black smoke emissions from cars and make-shift buses that go uncontrolled and unregulated. Part of the problem is government regulation, but most of the problem is social consciousness. Revolution is impossible if the people aren’t on board.
So, the government gives out millions of free, cold-energy saving lightbulbs, to replace the over-consuming yellow ones, and programs are underway to allow a free trade-in of diesel consuming cars for new natural gas vehicles. The Chavez administration is funding solar energy exploration and research institutes, building wind energy units along the northern Caribbean coast and has implemented a major environmental conservation campaign nationwide. Part of this incredible effort resulted from a horrific six-month long drought that pushed the nation to energy and water rationing, causing countrywide blackouts that weren’t well received. Ironically, one of the world’s largest oil producers is more than 70% dependent on hydroelectric power for internal energy consumption, thanks to the governments past, which only were interested in selling the oil abroad and not using it to improve the lives of their own citizens.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The foremost achievement of the Bolivarian Revolution, as it is called in Venezuela, taking the namesake of liberator Simon Bolivar, has been the inclusion of a mass majority, previously excluded and invisible, in the nation’s politics and economic decisions. What does this mean? It means that today, millions of Venezuelans have a visible identity and role in nation-making. It means that community members – without regard to class, education or status – are actively encouraged to participate in policy decisions on local and even national matters. Community members, organized in councils, make decisions on how local resources are allocated. They decide if monies are spent on schools, roads, water systems, transportation or housing. They have oversight of spending, can determine if projects are advancing adequately, and even can determine where the workforce should come from; i.e. local workers vs. outside contractors. In essence, this is a true example of an empowered people – or how power is transferred from a “government” to the people.
For the first time in Venezuela’s history, every voice is valued, every voice has the possibility of being heard. And because of this, people actually want to participate. Community media outlets have sprung up by the hundreds, after previously being illegal and shunned by prior governments. New newspapers, magazines, radio programs and even television shows reflect a reality and color of Venezuela that formerly, the elite chose to ignore and exclude. Still, a majority of mass media remains in the hands of a powerful economic elite that uses its capacity to distort and manipulate reality and promote ongoing attempts to undermine the Chavez government. Lest we not forget the mass media’s role in the April 2002 coup d’etat that briefly ousted President Chavez from power, and a subsequent economic sabotage in December of that same year, that imposed a media blackout on information nationwide.
Despite claims by private media outlets alleging violations of freedom of expression, Venezuela remains a nation with one of the world’s most thriving free and independent press. Here, almost anything goes, even plots and plans to kill the President or bring the nation’s economy to its knees; all broadcast live on television, radio, or in print.
The contradictions of building a socialist revolution in a capitalist world are evident here every day. The same self-proclaimed revolutionary, bearing a red shirt, wants to buy your dollars on the black market at an elevated rate. You can get killed in the streets of Caracas for a Blackberry; don’t even think of whipping out an iPhone in public. Even President Chavez himself now fashions a Blackberry to keep his Twitter account up to date. Chavez has “politicized” Twitter, and turned it into a social tool. His account, the most followed in Venezuela, receives thousands of requests and messages daily for everything from jobs, to housing to complaints about bureaucracy and inefficient governance. He even set up a special team of 200 people dedicated to processing the tweets, and he himself responds to as many as he can. Ironically, Chavez has found a way to reconnect with his people in a virtual world.
Deals with Russia, China, Iran, India, European nations and even US corporations are diversifying Venezuela’s trade partners, ensuring technological transfer to aid in national development and progress, and opening up Venezuela’s oil-focused economy. Some question Chavez’s deals with certain countries or companies, but the truth is, today, Venezuela’s economy is stronger and more diverse than ever before. Satellites have been launched, automobile factories built and even the agricultural industry has been revived thanks to Chavez’s vision of foreign policy. When beforehand, relations with foreign nations were based on oil supply and dollar input, today they are founded on the principles of integration, solidarity and cooperation, and most importantly, the transfer of technology to ensure Venezuela’s development.
Revolution is not an easy task. What is happening in Venezuela is possibly one of the most socially and politically compelling and challenging experiences in history. Massive changes are taking place on every level of society – economic, political, cultural and social – and everyone is involved. There have been no national curfews, states of emergencies, killings, disappearances, persecutions, political prisoners or other forms of repression imposed under Chavez’s reign, despite the coup d’etat, economic sabotages, electoral interventions, assassination attempts and other forms of subversion and destabilization that have attempted to overthrow his government during the past ten years. This is an inclusionary revolution, whether or not everyone wants to accept that fact.
Washington’s continued efforts to undermine Venezuela’s democracy through funding opposition campaigns and actions with over $50 million USD during the past seven years, or supporting coups and assassination plots against President Chavez, while at the same time pumping up military forces in the region, have all failed; so far. But, they will continue. Venezuela – like it or not – is on an irrevocable path to revolution. The people have awoken and power is being redistributed. The task at hand now is to prevent corrupt forces within from destroying the new revolutionary model being built.
So while things may not be perfect in Venezuela, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and see revolution for what it is: the trying, alluring, arduous, demanding and thrilling task of forging a just humanity. That’s the Venezuela of today.
In Support to Venezuelan Organizations Against Discrimination
US-based organizations in solidarity with Venezuela, support the Law for Gender Equality and the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Please see Aporrea’s compilation of recent news and articles about this subject.
July 17, 2009.- In recent days, after the Venezuelan Catholic Church Hierarchy’s controversial statement against the discussion of the second draft of the Organic Law of Gender Equality at the National Assembly, and within the framework of the worldwide celebration of the Gay Pride Month, an important number of progressive activists and organizations that fight in the United States against discrimination, congratulated the Venezuelan people and government for their brave decision of taking steps to eliminate discrimination against women and segregated minorities based on their sexual orientation.
The International Action Center, funded by the former US General Attorney Ramsey Clark, the National Lawyers Guild and the Gay Liberation Network, published on their websites or forwarded to ours, letters directed to the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, congratulating the progressive decision of discussing this Law, which they see as a strong symbol of the values of justice and equity that are part of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.
This international support in favor of the approval of the Law and against the Catholic Church Hierarchy statement complemented the position of Venezuelan organizations in recent days, such as the United Socialist Front of Homosexual Liberation (Bloque Socialista Unido de Liberacion Homosexual), part of the United Venezuelan United Socialist Party, Zulian Action for Life (Accion Zuliana por la vida), A Free Country for my Children Foundation (Fundacion un Pais Libre para mis hijos), Margarita University Center for Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad de Margarita), StopVIH Organization (Organizacion StopVIH), Diverse Venezuela (Venezuela Diversa, AC), Affirmative Action (Union Afirmativa), Diverse Venezuela Zulia Chapter (Venezuela Diversa Capitulo Zulia), Reflections of Venezuela Foundation (Fundacion Reflejos de Venezuela), HR Women’s Observatory (Observatorio DDHH de las Mujeres), the Josefa Camejo Lesbian Women Collective (Colectivo de Mujeres Lesbianas Josefa Camejo), among others.
The US organizations also congratulated and thanked the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry for their gesture of solidarity with the sexual minorities in the US, reflected by the participation of the Consulate of Venezuela in Chicago in the Gay Pride Parade held in that city last June, with the participation of more than 400.000 people, including representatives of the Office of the Mayor of Chicago, the Illinois Governor, Universities, Unions and Human Rights organizations.
“We in the Gay Liberation Network do not share the hostility of some politicians against the Venezuelan Government,” says a letter from the Gay Liberation Network, sent after the recent participation of the personnel of the Venezuelan Consulate in Chicago in the Gay Pride Parade.
Activists for sexual minorities rights in the US, participate on a regular basis in activities of solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution and acknowledge the the fact that the Venezuelan government is matching words with action.
The first draft of the Venezuelan Law for Gender Equality was approved in its first discussion at the National Assembly and has been strongly opposed by Venezuelan right-wing conservatives, such as the Catholic Church, which released a statement against the possibility of putting an end to the discrimination against some Venezuelans based in their sexual orientation and against the right of women to make decisions about their bodies, including abortion.
Unfortunately, since its first draft, the Law has been modified, eliminating some of the most progressive articles, maybe as a response to the pressure of some right-wing groups, and some lawmakers which, while being supportive of the Bolivarian Revolution, also support some conservative views influenced by the religious conservatism.
There are already 67 countries worldwide that recognize gay rights by law, among them Spain and Mexico, countries where the Catholic Church traditionally had had a strong influence.
After 10 years of Bolivarian Revolution, many Socialists hope that finally Venezuela can take the steps to make illegal this type of discrimination, as the Bolshevists did after the 1917 Revolution, in which they abolished the laws that criminalized homosexuals, legalized abortion and made it free and safe. It wasn’t after Joseph Stalin had consolidated himself in power, that all these rights were taken away from the Soviet working class.
On February 24th, Marc Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and H. E. Diego Arria, the former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations who was firmly against Chavez, were asked to sit on a panel to discuss issues relating to Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, with a special emphasis on the implications of the referendum that removed term limits for elected officials in Venezuela and where Venezuela seems to be heading.
Dr. Weisbrot claimed he was “not an expert on revolutions” but an economist. He said that there has been “quite a campaign against Chavez and Venezuela” in the US media, and the “press often uses words like “dictatorship”” to describe the democratically elected government of Venezuela. He said that there was too much emphasis on Chavez and not enough on the whole government and economy. He said that the most important changes in the last 10 years involved bringing PDVSA, a state-owned oil company, under the control of the government. PDVSA, which was nationalized in 1976, had been controlled by the country’s elites for their own enrichment. These same elites attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela in 2002 and paralyzed the company in 2002-2003.
Since PDVSA was brought under the control of Chavez’ government, GDP and real income have doubled. Some of this is a recovery from the oil strike, but most of the growth is in the non-oil sector and the private sector is growing faster than the public sector. Dr. Weisbrot pointed out that that there is less state control of the economy than in France. Under Chavez, the poverty rate has been cut in half and extreme poverty has been reduced by 72%, there has been a significant redistribution in income, the gross enrollment rate in education has doubled and unemployment has fallen by half.
Dr. Weisbrot did point to some challenges facing the Chavez administration. The rate of inflation is as high as it was before Chavez took office, over 10%, however, it is still lower than Venezuela’s historical annual inflation, above 20%. A major fall in oil prices would be a major challenge for Venezuela, however, Venezuela has amassed huge reserves, around 25% of GDP. Oil prices are very low right now, however, the futures market sees it going back up by the end of the year and even if they don’t, there won’t be a balance of payments problem. Dr. Weisbrot said that Venezuela needed to diversify away from oil. Manufacturing has doubled in the last ten years, however the country should focus on increasing this further. Venezuela has an over-valued exchange rate, a problem which will need to be solved and it needs to refocus on law and order as the crime rate has gone up substantially.
Dr. Weisbrot claimed that US news outlets have created a fiction about “control” of the media by Chavez. RCTV has the largest television audience in the country, is privately owned and is certainly not pro-Chavez. Many of the radio stations and newspapers are against Chavez, and are more extreme and anti-government than FOX News in the US. Dr. Weisbrot accused US media of intentionally ignoring the progress in Venezuela: There are 12 times as many primary care physicians in Venezuela under Chavez, giving millions more access to health care. He pointed out the US government has “singled out [Venezuela] as an enemy state” and the press reflects this in their reporting.
Ambassador Arrias began by comparing the Bolivarian revolution to the French Revolution. He called the Venezuelan government a “Piñata”, a “barrel of oil” and a “military regime.” He said that Chavez attempted to overthrow the Venezuelan government and was then elected president, which demonstrates that Venezuela “used to be an open society,” where anyone could come to power. He claimed that the government of Venezuela was very weak before Chavez and it didn’t take care of the population and that other nations in the region have benefitted hugely from subsidized financing of oil which has taken place under ALBA.
He claimed that Chavez has made “enemies” of his political opponents, and described the Venezuelan system as one where the way to benefit one’s self is to “wear a red shirt, march, get benefits.” Arrias said that “poverty is on the front burner of the Venezuelan government” and that Chavez sensed that it was the most important issue in the country and has developed an emotional connection to the people. However, he claimed that handouts have damaged the population because the poor have become dependent on the state and on hand-outs and that the poor are divided for and against Chavez.
Law and order has become an issue in Venezuela and Arrias pointed out that “Caracas has double the homicides of Bogotá.” He said that Chavez has a very effective communication system to the public and compared Chavez to those who gave orders by radio to the Hutus in the Rwandan genocide. He claimed that Chavez has incited hatred and resentment in the population. He claimed that those who ran PDVSA before Chavez took over were the “best people in the country” and that mismanagement at PDVSA since the takeover has meant production of one million fewer barrels of oil per year. He concluded by saying that the students in Venezuela are against Chavez, Chavez wants to “steal their future,” and that the students educated under Chavez are the most brilliant that the country has ever seen.
September 27, 2008-Human Rights Watch, a US-based group claiming to be a non-governmental organization, but which is in fact funded by government-linked quasi-private foundations and a Congressional funded political propaganda organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, has issued a report “A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela” (9/21/2008 hrw.org). The publication of the “Report” directed by Jose Miguel Vivanco and sub-director Daniel Walkinson led to their expulsion from Venezuela for repeated political-partisan intervention in the internal affairs of the country.
A close reading of the “Report” reveals an astonishing number of blatant falsifications and outright fabrications, glaring deletions of essential facts, deliberate omissions of key contextual and comparative considerations and especially a cover-up of systematic long-term, large-scale security threats to Venezuelan democracy posed by Washington.
We will proceed by providing some key background facts about HRW and Vivanco in order to highlight their role and relations to US imperial power. We will then comment on their methods, data collection and exposition. We will analyze each of HRW charges and finally proceed to evaluate their truth and propaganda value.
Background on Vivanco and HRW
Jose Miguel Vivanco served as a diplomatic functionary under the bloody Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1986-1989, serving no less as the butcher’s rabid apologist before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. His behavior was particularly egregious during the regime’s brutal repression of a mass popular uprising in the squatter settlements of Santiago in 1986-1987. With the return of electoral politics (democracy) in Chile, Vivanco took off to Washington where he set up his own NGO, the Center for Justice and International Law, disguising his right-wing
affinities and passing himself off as a ‘human rights’ advocate. In 1994 he was recruited by former US federal prosecutor, Kenneth Roth, to head up the Americas Division’ of Human Rights Watch. HRW demonstrated a real capacity to provide a ‘human rights’ gloss to President Clinton’s policy of ‘humanitarian imperialism’. Roth promoted and supported Clinton’s two-month bombing, destruction and dismemberment of Yugoslavia. HRW covered up the ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo by the notorious Albanian terrorists and gangsters of the Kosovo Liberation Army and the unprecedented brutal transfer of over 200,000 ethnic Serbs from the Krajina region of Croatia. HRW backed Clinton’s sanctions against Iraq leading to the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. Nowhere did the word ‘genocide’ ever appear in reference to the US Administrations massive destruction of Iraq causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.
HRW supported the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan where Kenneth Roth advised the US generals on how to secure the colonial occupation by avoiding massive civilian deaths. In words and deeds, HRW has played an insidious role as backer and adviser of US imperial intervention, providing the humanitarian ideological cover while issuing harmless and inconsequential reports criticizing ‘ineffective’ excesses, which
‘undermine’ imperial dominance.
HRW most notorious intervention was its claim that Israel’s murderous destruction of the Palestinian city of Jenin was ‘not genocidal’ and thus provided the key argument for the US and Israeli blocking of a UN humanitarian mission and investigative report. As in all of its ‘research’ their report was deeply colored by selective interviews and observations which understated the brutality and killings of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli state – even while the fanatics who run the major pro-Israel organizations accused HRW of bias for even mentioning a single murdered Palestinian.
HRW currently makes a big play of its widespread interviews of a broad cross section of Venezuelan political and civic society government and opposition groups, as well as its consultation of most available documents. Yet the Report on Venezuela does not reflect anything of the sort. There is no careful, straightforward presentation of the government’s elaboration and justification for its actions, no academic critiques of the anti-democratic actions of anti-Chavez mass media; no discussion of the numerous
journalists’ accounts which expose systematic US intervention. The Report simply records and reproduces uncritically the claims, arguments and charges of the principle publicists of the opposition while dismissing out of hand any documented counter-claims. In other words, Vivanco and company act as lawyers for the opposition rather than as serious and objective investigators pursuing a balanced and convincing evaluation of the status of democracy in Venezuela.
The political propaganda intent of Vivanco-HRW is evident in the timing of their ‘investigations’ and the publication of their propaganda screeds. Each and every previous HRW hostile ‘report’ has been publicized just prior to major conflicts threatening Venezuelan democratic institutions. In February 2002, barely two months before the US backed military coup against Chavez, HRW joined the chorus of coup planners in condemning the Chavez regimes for undermining the ’separation of powers’ and calling for the intervention of the Organization of American States. After the coup was defeated through the actions of millions of Venezuelan citizens and loyalists military officers, HRW moved quickly to cover its tracks by denouncing the coup – but subsequently defended the media moguls, trade union bureaucrats and business elites who promoted the coup from prosecution, claiming the coup promoters were merely exercising their ‘human rights’. HRW provides a novel meaning to ‘human rights’ when it includes the right to violently overthrow a democratic government by a military coup d’etat.
Following the military coup in 2002 and the bosses’ lockout of 2003, HRW published a report condemning efforts to impose constitutional constraints on the mass media’s direct involvement in promoting violent actions by opposition groups or terrorists. President Chavez’ “Law for Social Responsibility in Radio and Television” provided greater constitutional guarantee for freedom of speech than most Western European capitalist democracies and was far less restrictive than the measures approved and implemented in Bush’s US Patriot Act, which HRW has never challenged, let alone mounted any campaign against.
Just prior to the political referenda in 2004 and 2007, HRW issued further propaganda broadsides which were almost identical in wording to the opposition (in fact HRW ‘Reports’ were widely published and circulated by all the leading opposition mass media). HRW defended the ‘right’ of the US National Endowment for Democracy to pour millions of dollars to fund opposition ‘NGO’s’, such as SUMATE, accusing the Chavez government of undermining ‘civil society’ organizations. Needless to say, similar activity in the US by an NGO on behalf of any foreign government (with the unique exception of Israel) would require the NGO to register as a foreign agent under very strict US Federal laws; failure to do so would lead to federal prosecution and a jail term of up to 5 years. Apparently, HRW’s self-promoted ‘credibility’ as an international ‘humanitarian’ organization protects it from being invidiously compared to an agent of imperialist propaganda.
HRW: Five Dimensional Propaganda
The HRW Report on Venezuela focuses on five areas of politics and society to make its case that democracy in Venezuela is being undermined by the Presidency of Hugo Chavez: political discrimination, the courts, the media, organized labor and civil society.
The Report charges that the government has fired and blacklisted political opponents from some state agencies and from the national oil company.
Citizen access to social programs is denied based on their political opinions.
There is discrimination against media outlets, labor unions and civil society in response to legitimate criticism or political activity.
Between December 2002 and 2003, following the failure of the military coup of the previous April, the major business organizations, senior executives of the state oil company and sectors of the trade union bureaucracy organized a political lockout shutting down the oil industry, paralyzing production through sabotage of its computer-run operations and distribution outlets in a publicly stated effort to deny government revenues (80% of which come from oil exports) and overthrow the democratically elected government. After 3 months and over $20 billion dollars in lost revenues and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to machinery, with the aid of
the majority of production workers and technicians, the bosses ‘lockout’ was defeated. Those officials and employees engaged in the political lockout and destruction of equipment and computers were fired. The government followed normal procedures backed by the majority of oil workers, who opposed the lockout, and dismissed the executives and their supporters in order to defend the national patrimony and social and investment programs from the self-declared enemies of an elected government. No sane, competent, constitutional lawyer, international human rights lawyer, UN
commissioner or the International Court official considered the action of the Venezuelan government in this matter to constitute ‘political discrimination’. Even the US State Department, at that time, did not object to the firing of their allies engaged in economic sabotage. HRW, on the other hand, is more Pope than the Pope.
Nothing captures the ludicrous extremism of the HRW than its charge that citizens are denied access to social programs. Every international organization involved in assessing and developing large social programs, including UNESCO, the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, have praised the extent and quality of the coverage of the social programs instituted by the Chavez government covering 60% of the population and almost 100% of the poor. Since approximately between 20-30% of the poor still vote for the opposition, it is clear that needy citizens critical of the government have equal access to social programs, including food subsidies, free health care and education. This social safety net is more inclusive than ever before in the history of Venezuela. In fact some of the poor suburbs of Caracas, like Catia, which voted down the 2007 referendum, are major recipients of large-scale, long-term social assistance programs.
Only scoundrels or the ill informed could be convinced of the HRW charge of discrimination against mass media outlets, labor unions and civil society groups. The opposition controls 95% of the newspapers, a majority of the television and radio outlets and frequencies, with the widest national circulation. The government has ‘broken’ the ruling class monopoly on information by funding two major TV stations and a growing number of community based radio stations.
There are more trade union members and greater trade union participation in enterprises, internal debates and free elections than ever before under previous regimes. Rival lists and intense competition for office between pro and anti-government lists are common in the trade unions confederation (UNT). The entire HRW ‘Report’ is based on complaints from the authoritarian CTV(Confederation of Venezuelan Workers/Confederacion de Trabajadores de Venezuela) bureaucrats who have lost most of their supporters and are discredited because of their role in supporting the bloody April 2002 coup. They are universally disdained; militant workers have not forgotten their corruption and gangster tactics when they collaborated with previous rightwing regimes and employers.
2. The Courts
HWR claims that President Chavez has “effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government”. The claim that the judiciary was ‘independent’ is a new argument for HRW – because a decade earlier when Chavez’ 1999 constitution was approved by referendum, HRW decried the ‘venality, corruption and bias of the entire judicial system’. After years of releasing the leaders of the 2002 coup, postponing rulings and undermining positive legislation by elected legislative bodies and after revelations of high and lower court bribe taking, the Government finally implemented a series of democratically approved reforms, expanding and renewing the judicial system. The fact that the new court appointees do not follow the past practices of the opposition-appointed judges has evoked hysterical cries by HRW that the new reformed courts ‘threaten fundamental rights’. The most bizarre claim by HRM is that the Supreme Court did not ‘counter’ a 2007 constitutional reform package. In fact the Supreme Court approved the placing of constitutional reforms to a popular referendum in which the Chavez government was narrowly defeated. The Venezuelan Supreme Court subsequently respected the popular verdict – unlike US Supreme Court, which overturned the popular vote in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential
elections, a constitutional crime against the popular will, which Kenneth Roth, Vivanco and the rest of HRW have yet to condemn.
3. The Media
Every outside media specialist has been highly critical of the advocacy of violent action (leading up to the coup) and gross falsifications and libelous ‘reports’ (including racist epithets against Hugo Chavez) propagated by the ruling class-dominated mass media. A single opposition television network just had one of its many outlets suspended for openly backing the opposition military seizure of power, an action that any Western
capitalist democracy would have taken in the wake of a violent uprising. HRW did not, has not and will not condemn the arrest of dozens of US and international journalists, some brutally beaten, covering the Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions. Nothing even remotely resembling the extraordinary powers of ‘preventive detention’ of journalists by the US Homeland Security/local and state police forces exists in Venezuela. The wanton destruction of journalists’ cameras and tape recorders by the police at the US Republican Party Convention would be un-imaginable in Venezuela today. In contrast the only offense prosecuted in Venezuela against the media is the act of supporting and advocating violence aimed at overthrowing democratic institutions. Like all countries, Venezuela has laws dealing with libel and slander; these are far weaker than any comparable statutes in the countries upholding the tradition of the Magna Carta. HRW blatantly falsifies reality by claiming state control of the print media: All one needs to do is peruse any newsstand in Venezuela to see a multiplicity of lurid anti-government headlines, or tune into the radio or television stations and view news accounts that compete for the worst anti-Chavez propaganda found in the US Fox News or CNN.
4. Organized Labor
HRW claims that the Venezuelan government has violated ‘basic principles of freedom of association’ because it requires state oversight and certification of union elections and that by denying the right to bargain collectively to non-certified unions, it undermines workers’ rights to freely join the union of their choosing and to strike. Practically every government in the West has rules and regulations regarding oversight and certification of union elections, none more onerous than the US starting
with the Taft-Hartley Act of the 1940’s and the ‘Right to Work’ Laws current in many states, which have reduced the percentage of unionized workers in the private sector to less than 3%. In contrast, during the Chavez Presidency, the number of unionized workers has more than doubled, in large part because new labor legislation and labor officials have reduced employer prerogatives to arbitrarily fire unionized workers. The only union officials who have been ‘decertified’ are those who were involved in the violent coup of April 2002 and the employers lockout intended to overthrow the government, suspend the constitution and undermine the very existence of free unions. Former Pinochet official Jose Miguel Vivanco delicately overlooks the gangsterism, thuggery and fraudulent election procedures, which ran rampant under the previous rightwing Venezuelan labor confederation, CTV. It was precisely to democratize voting procedures and to break the stranglehold of the old-guard trade union bosses that the government monitors oversaw union elections, many of which had multi-tendency candidates, unfettered debates and free voting for the first
I attended union meetings and interviewed high level CTV trade unions officials in 1970, 1976 and 1978 and found high levels of open vote buying, government and employer interference and co-optation, collaboration with the CIA-funded American Institute of Free Labor Development and large-scale pilfering of union pension funds, none of which was denounced by HRW. I attended the founding of the new Venezuelan union confederation, Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) in 2003 and a subsequent national congress. I have witness a totally different unionism, a shift from government-run corporate’ business unionism to independent social movement unionism with a decidedly class oriented approach. The UNT is a multi-tendency confederation in which diverse currents compete, with varying degrees of support and opposition to the Chavez Government. There are few impediments to strikes and there is a high degree of independent political action with no inhibition to workers resorting to strikes in order to demand the ouster of pro-employer labor officials.
For example, this year, steel workers in the Argentine-owned firm SIDOR, went on strike several times protesting private sector firings (HRW, of course never discussed private sector violations of workers rights). Because the Venezuelan Labor Minister tended to take the side of the employers, the steelworkers marched into a meeting where Chavez was speaking and demanded the dismissal of his Minister. After conferring with the workers’ leaders, Chavez fired the Labor Minister, expropriated the steel plant and accepted workers demands for trade union co-management. Never in Venezuelan labor history have workers exercised this degree of labor influence in nationalized plants. There is no doubt that there are government officials who would like to ‘integrate’ labor unions closer to the state; the new unionists do spend too much time in internal debates and internecine struggles instead of organizing the informal and temporary worker sectors. But one fact stands out: Unionized and non-unionized Venezuelan workers have experienced greater social welfare payments, rising living standards, greater job protection and greater free choice in union affiliation than any previous period in their history. It is ironic that Vivanco, who never raised a word against Pinochet’s anti-labor policies, an uncritical apologist of the AFL-CIO (the declining and least effective labor confederation in the industrialized West), should launch a full-scale attack on the fastest growing, independent and militant trade union movement in the Western hemisphere. Needless to say, Vivanco avoids any comparative analysis, least of all between Venezuelan and US labor over the spread of union organizing, internal democracy and labor representation in industry, social benefits and influence over government policy. Nor does HRW refer to the positive assessment by independent international labor organizations regarding union and labor advances under the Chavez Presidency.
5. Civil Society and HRW: The Mother of All Perversities
Jose Miguel Vivanco, who kept quiet during his years as a state functionary serving the Chilean dictator Pinochet, while thousands of protestors were beaten, jailed and even tortured and killed and courageous human rights groups were routinely assaulted, shamelessly claims that President Chavez has adopted “an aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organization.”
President Chavez has actively promoted a multitude of independent, democratically elected community councils with over 3 million affiliated members, mostly from the poorest half of the population. He has devolved decision-making power to the councils, bypassing the party-dominated municipal and state officials, unlike previous regimes and US AID programs, which channeled funds through loyal local bosses and clients. Never has Venezuela witnessed more intense sustained organization, mobilization and
activity of civil society movements. This cuts across the political spectrum, from pro-Chavez to pro-oligarch neighborhood, civic, working class and upper class groups. Nowhere in the world are US-funded groups, engaged in overt extra-parliamentary and even violent confrontations with elected officials, tolerated to the degree that they enjoy freedom of action as in Venezuela. In the US, foreign-funded organizations (with the exception of Israeli-funded groups) are required to register and refrain from engaging in electoral campaigning, let alone in efforts to destabilize legitimately constitutional government agencies. In contrast, Venezuela asked the minimum of foreign government-funded self-styled NGOs in requiring them to register their source of funding and comply with the rules of their constitution, that is, to stay out of virulent partisan political action.
Today, as yesterday, all the ‘civil society’ organizations, including these funded by the US, which routinely attack the Chavez government, can operate freely, publish, assemble and demonstrate unimpeded. Their fundamental complaint, echoed by HRW, is that the Chavez government and its supporters criticize them: According to the new HRW definition of civil society freedom,the opposition has the right to attack the government – but not the other way around; some countries can register foreign-funded organizations – but not Venezuela; and some government can jail terrorists and coup-makers and identify and criticize their accomplices – but not Venezuela. The
grotesque double-standard, practiced by Human Rights Watch, reveals their political allegiances: Blind to the vices of the US as it descends into a police state and equally blind to the virtues of a growing participatory democracy in Venezuela.
The ‘Report’ contains egregious omissions. It fails to mention that Venezuela, under President Chavez, has experienced twelve internationally supervised and approved elections, including several presidential, congressional and municipal elections, referenda and recall elections. These have been the cleanest elections in Venezuelan history and certainly with more honest vote counting than one would find in the US presidential contests.
The ‘Report’ fails to report on the serious security threats including the recording of phone conversations of active and retired high military officials planning to violently seize power and assassinate President Chavez. Under the extraordinary degree of tolerance in Venezuela, not a single constitutional right has been suspended. In the US, similar terrorist actions and plans would have led to a state of emergency and the probable pre-emptive mass incarceration of thousands of government critics and activists. HRW ignores and downplays security threats to Venezuelan democracy – whether it involves armed incursions from Colombian paramilitary groups allied with the pro-US Venezuelan opposition, the assassination of the chief federal prosecutor Danilo Anderson who was investigating the role of the opposition in the bloody coup of April 2002, the US-backed secessionist movement in the state of Zulia, the collusion of the mass media with violent student mobs in assaulting Chavez supporters on campus or the economic sabotage and panic caused by the private sector’s hoarding of
essential food and other commodities in the lead-up to the 2007 referendum.
One of Vivanco’s most glaring omissions is the contrast between Venezuela’s open society approach to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant workers from Colombia and the US authoritarian practice of criminalizing its undocumented laborers. While the US Homeland Security and Immigration police have implemented arbitrary mass arrests, assaults and deportation of working heads of immigrant families – leaving their wives and children vulnerable to destitution, Chavez has awarded over a million undocumented Colombian immigrant workers and family members with residency papers and the opportunity for citizenship.
HRW has yet to protest Washington’s brutal denial of human rights to its Latin American and Asian immigrant workers in recent months. HRW did not issue a single protest when US-backed local oligarch politicians, local government officials and racist gangs in Bolivia went on a rampage and slaughtered three dozen unarmed Indian peasant workers. Vivanco’s squalid selective slandering of Venezuela is only exceeded by his systematic silence when there are abuses involving US collaboraters!
The Human Rights Watch Report on Venezuela is a crude propaganda document that, even in its own terms, lacks the minimum veneer of ‘balance’, which the more sophisticated ‘humanitarian’ imperialists have put out in the past. The omissions are monumental: No mention of President Chavez’ programs which have reduced poverty over the past decade from more than 60% to less than 30%; no recognition of the universal health system which has provided health care to 16 million Venezuelan citizens and residents who were previously denied even minimal access; and no acknowledgment of the subsidized state-run grocery stores which supply the needs of 60% of the population who can now purchase food at 40% of the private retail price.
HRW’s systematic failure to mention the advances experienced by the majority of Venezuelan citizens, while peddling outright lies about civic repression, is characteristic of this mouthpiece of Empire. Its gross distortion about labor rights makes this report a model for any high school or college class on political propaganda.
The widespread coverage and uncritical promotion and citation of the ‘Report’ (and the expulsion of its US-based authors for gross intervention on behalf of the opposition) by all the major newspapers from the New York Times, to Le Monde in France, the London Times, La Stampa in Italy and El Pais in Spain gives substance to the charge that the Report was meant to bolster the US effort to isolate Venezuela rather than pursue legitimate humanitarian goals in Venezuela.
The major purpose of the HRW ‘Report’ was to intervene in the forthcoming November municipal and state elections on the side of the far-right opposition. The ‘Report’ echoes verbatim the unfounded charges and hysterical claims of the candidates supported by the far right and the Bush Administration. HRW always manages to pick the right time to issue their propaganda bromides. Their reports mysteriously coincide with US intervention in electoral processes and destabilization campaigns. In Venezuela today the Report has become one of the most widely promoted propaganda documents of the leading rightist anti-Chavez candidates.
For the partisans of democracy, human rights and self-determination, every effort should be made to expose the insidious role of HRW and its Pinochetista propagandist, Vivanco, for what they are – publicists and promoters of US-backed clients who have given ‘human rights’ a dirty name.
After the presentation of the Interpol report on May 15, 2008, several articles have been published with serious inconsistencies and misleading conclusions linking Venezuela to the FARC. Hence, some analysts seemed to have ignored key points in the report. Some of these points clearly state that “the accuracy and source of the user files contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits are and always have been outside the scope of INTERPOL’s computer forensic examination.” Moreover, the doubtful assertion that the computers were not tampered is taken for granted, even when the report reassures that more than FORTY THOUSAND files were manipulated between the 1st and the 3rd of March 2008. Nothing is said in the report about the life of these computers and hard drives before the Colombian government handed them over to Interpol. By clicking the above link you will find a Fact Sheet that analyzes and contrasts carefully the findings of the technicians with the declarations of some Colombian authorities and the General Secretary of Interpol, Ronald Noble. I hope you will find it useful. Many questions remain to be answered, such as:
1. How it is possible that, within hours of the violation of Ecuadorian territory, the head of Colombia’s National Police could unequivocally announce that they had found computers with information that linked the government of Venezuela with FARC, if the Interpol report stated that it would take more than 1,000 years to go through all the files? How did they manage to find those alleged documents among millions of them and establish such connections?
2. Why do the declarations of the General Secretary of Interpol, Ronald Noble, contradict findings of the Interpol technicians, such as the reference to the source of the computers, hard drivers and USB?
3. Why were thousands of system files manipulated in most of the exhibits, as described in pages 30 to 33 of the report?
If you have any questions about this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
in the United States of America
Political Economy Section
1099 30th St., N.W.,
Washington D.C. 20007
Tel: 202 342 6808
Since 2002, the Pentagon has been seeking evidence that intimately relates President Chávez and his government with the FARC. Top secret documents from the Department of Defense (that we have desclassifed under FOIA) evidence that the Pentagon has been unable to find proof of a clandestine, subversive relationship between the Venezuelan government and the FARC. The sources used in some Pentagon documents that attempt to show such a relationship are completely unreliable, since they are mass media outlets from Venezuela and Colombia, such as Globovisión, Caracol, El Universal and El Nacional – all of whom are aligned with the opposition to Chávez.
When the Colombian government bombed the FARC camp in Ecuador on March 1, killing two dozen people in an illegal incursion onto Ecuatorian territory that was condemned by the Organization of American States (OEA) and only supported by the United States (suprise!), it was all they could do to produce evidence they had been seeking for six years. Just hours after the illegal invasion and massacre (during which 5 innocent Mexican visiting students were killed), the head of Colombia’s National Police, General Naranjo, was announcing they had “found” a “laptop” that belonged to Raul Reyes, the FARC commander killed in the bombing, and that the computer contained information that showed a link between President Chávez and several members of his government, and the handover (or offering) of weapons and money to the FARC. (Now we would have to ask how the Colombian police found that key information so quickly amongst the more than 39,000 word files and several million documents contained on the computers that the INTERPOL report says it would take 1,000 years to read). All of sudden, evidence was found that not even the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency or the world’s top spies could encounter during years of secret missions, agent recruiting and handling and psychological operations; that Chávez was going to sell uranium to the FARC to make dirty bombs; that Chávez promised somewhere between $250-$300 million to the FARC; that he gave them weapons; and that together they sought to overthrow Uribe’s government and install a FARC marxist state.
That mysterious machine contained anything the Empire could ever have dreamed up to bury the Venezuelan government and declare it over and done with.
But, there was a big problem: since the machine had been in the hands of the Colombian government – confessed adversary of its Venezuelan neighbor – and the “Documents” that evidenced the relationship with President Chávez were actually just texts written in Word, without signature or seal, there was little faith in their credibility. How easy it is to just write a document in Word on some computer and say it was written by someone else! Word documents don’t have original signature. If they had found – say – a diary or a journal written by the hand of Raul Reyes, then the situation would be quite different, but a bunch of texts in Word? Emails? In today’s world, electronic information is unreliable. Computers can been manipulated from a remote source. Any decent hacker or computer techie can enter into a system and alter whatever, without leaving fingerprints.
So, Colombia did the intelligent thing. They said – lets let an uninvolved third party evaluate the computers to determine whether they have been manipulated or not by us. And that’s when Interpol came along.
The Secretary General of the International Police (INTERPOL), Ronald Kenneth Noble, is an ex US Government employee, and he was First Undersecretary of the Department of Treasury in charge of the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms, the Center for Federal Law Enforcement Training, the Network of Financial Crimes Control and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (which, by the way, is the entity in charge of enforcing the blockade against Cuba and the prohibition of US citizens to travel there). Noble has been Secretary General of INTERPOL for 8 years (two terms), and it was he who was in charge of supervising the authentication of the “evidence” obtained by the Colombian government in the FARC camp.
INTERPOL was charged with a pretty limited and subjective mision, that was to “Examine the user files on the eight seized FARC computers and to determine whether any of the user files had been newly created, modified or deleted on or after 1 March 2008.” INTERPOL did not occupy itself with verifying the origen, accuracy or source of those files or computers, which means that reasonable doubt still remains regarding the true authorship of that data. INTERPOL took for granted that the machines and the evidence pertained to Raul Reyes and the FARC, which in legal terms prejudices the entire investigation because it shows that from the beginning, INTERPOL had already taken the side of the Colombian government.
INTERPOL’s report states specifically that the scope of their forensic examination was limited to a) determining the actual data contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits, b) verifying whether the user files had been modified in any way on or after 1 March 2008, and c) determining whether Colombian law enforcement authorities had handled and examined the eight seized FARC computer exhibits in conformity with internationally recognized principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement.” [Interpol Report, page 7].
Subsequently, INTERPOL’s report confirms that the “verification of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits by INTERPOL does not imply the validation of the accuracy of the user files, the validation of any country’s interpretation of the user files or the validation of the source of the user files.” [Interpol Report, page 9].
So, INTERPOL only examined and verified whether the data contained on the computers had been created, modified or deleted after March 1 when it was publicly in the hands of the Colombian government. And although in their own report, INTERPOL concludes that access to the machines between March 1 and March 3 by the Grupo Investigativo de Delitos Informáticos of the Colombian Judicial Police (DIJIN) “did not conform to internationally recognized principles for handling electronic evidence by law enforcement” [Page 31], Secretary General Noble justifies that violation and the modifications made by the DIJIN as part of the difficulties encountered by those law enforcement who “are first on the scene”.
INTERPOL says its role was “exclusively technical” yet Secretary General Noble began his press conference on May 15 with a very partialized political discourse in favor of the Colombian government and condemning the FARC as drug traffickers and terrorists. When asked by a journalist from TELESUR whether he could confirm the source of the evidence, Noble blurted our “I can say with certainty that the computers came from a FARC terrorist camp…” The journalist asked if they belonged to any person in particular, and Noble responded “yes, the now dead Reyes…”
If we return to page 9 of the INTERPOL report we can clearly read the statement: “the verification of the eight seized FARC computer exhibits by INTERPOL does not imply the validation of the accuracy of the user files, the validation of any country’s interpretation of the user files or the validation of the source of the user files.”
So, how did Mr. Noble know the computers belonged to Raul Reyes if INTERPOL did not analyze their origin?
In the end, INTERPOL can saw that technically those computers were not modified or altered after March 1, but that tells us nothing concrete that could serve as legal evidence in a court of law. We don’t know the source of those machines. We don’t know who created the documents, text and data on those computers. There is no way whatsoever to authenticate the information contained on the thousands of Word documents and emails on those computers. They could be stories, wishes, dreams, prayers or fantasies. What they are not is actual hard core proof of a crime.
And as no surprise, the US government has expressed its “concern” over the INTERPOL report and the “ties between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.” (The US government is always “concerned” when it comes to Venezuela. First, Ambassador Donna Hrinak expressed her “concern” over President Chávez’s statements criticizing the US bombing in Afghanistan in October 2001, and months later came the coup d’etat against Chávez. Then it was Ambassador Charles Shapiro who expressed his “concern” about the political crises and the divisions in the country and soon after we had the economic sabotage of the oil industry in December 2002. Later we had Ambassador William Brownfield saying he was “concerned” about the increase in drug transit and the threat to freedom of expression, and we had street violence, an increase in funding to the opposition, and the White House certified Venezuela as a nation “not cooperating” with counterdrug measures and the war on terror. And now what?) First, the spokesperson for the Department of State, Sean McCormack stated on May 16 that “this is a motive of concern for us. It’s a concern for the people of Colombia and the government of Colombia…Right now our intelligence community is analyzing the INTERPOL report…You don’t have to look far beyond the many news reports that we have seen recently based on the information found in those laptops and other information…” (Right, when the news media says something in sync with Washington’s foreign policy, it’s pointed to as a valid source, but when they criticize Bush’s policies on Iraq or discover inconsistencies with the administration, then they say the media are biased and unreliable).
The next day, the normally low profile (for now) US Ambassador in Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, appeared on Globovisión declaring that “elements of concern” exist in the documents found on Raul Reyes’ laptop and that “we respect what Interpol has presented and we remind you that there is already a ton of material that has come out in the press and there are elements of conern, but also there is a lot of information and the agencies that have access to it will analyze it.” Of course his statement is identical to that of the Department of State, and that’s no coincidence – that’s because the embassies all receive a “Western Hemisphere Press Guidance” sheet telling them exactly what to say!
So, the next step will be when the CIA, the Pentagon and other official Washington representatives “cerify” the information on the computers and launch all kinds of additional accusations towards Venezuela – now with “proof”, even if invented. Wasn’t the power point presentation that Colin Powell so assuredly presented before the UN Security Council regarding the weapons of mass destruction in Irak considered “proof”? So, now we have laptops with non-authenticatible documents that will be used as “evidence” to place Venezuela on the state sponsors of terror list or worse, justify some kind of military incursion onto Venezuela territory to safeguard the world from terrorists.
The Fourth Fleet of the Navy has already been activated, something not seen since World War II, and will be patrolling and coordinating military activity in the Latin American region. Last month, SOUTHCOM launched Operation Enduring Freedom – Caribbean and Central America – which deployed an elite batallon of National Guard and navy ships into the region to prepare strategies to detect and defend against terrorist threats in the region.
In the end, INTERPOL achieved what Washington hasn’t been able to do for years: invent the way to “validate” some kind of bogus evidence against Venezuela that will jusfity US aggressions and possibly the next military intervention.