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Commentary

Venezuela and Human Rights


     
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With surprising frankness, Venezuela's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Mari Pili Hernández, recently set out the guidelines for her government's views on the subject of human rights. Appearing before the new Council on Human Rights at the United Nations, Hernandez, who is directly connected with President Hugo Chávez himself, stated, "All rights are important, but it is a lot more important to feed oneself than to be part of a political party, to have an honorable job than to live in a democratic system, to know how to read and write than to have freedom of expression."

As if any doubt remained about the meaning of her words, the Venezuelan representative added that the "economic and social" rights should play a "predominant role" over the "civilian and political" rights during the Council's debates.

The ideas of the deputy minister, which represent the official position of  the Venezuelan government, reflect the same views of totalitarian states that have  darkened most of the 20th Century. Imagine, dear reader, a country where the people can read and write, eat every day and hold "honorable" jobs but where they cannot form political parties, have no freedom of expression, and where there is no democracy. A situation where "economic" rights have priority over "political" rights, that is, where people are guaranteed some goods and services, such as education, health care or housing, but where no one can hold political meetings, no one can send news abroad, and it's forbidden to access the Internet or criticize the government.

Would you like to live in such a place? Well, if you answered yes, you can do so without much difficulty. All you need to do is ask for the proper visa and travel to Fidel Castro's Cuba. There, in exchange for an obsolete, primitive and very unequal system, as well as an education that is mostly government political propaganda, the citizens have no right to decide what their jobs will be, cannot engage in commerce or industry, cannot travel abroad or emigrate, and are obliged to show up at all the public demonstrations organized by the regime. This is also a country where people who commandeer a boat to escape from tyranny are sentenced to death, or are sentenced to 25 years in a grim prison for the "crime" of sending news reports abroad.

That is exactly the model that Chávez and his most intimate followers have in mind when they outline the goals of the "Bolivarian revolution" that—with fierce determination and with the large sums of money they derive from crude oil—they are now trying to impose throughout America. Although they have not yet reached their objective in Venezuela, they're just a few short steps from it.

Freedom of the press does exist, but it is very restricted by a law that a docile Congress (which is now totally made up of supporters of the president) passed more than a year ago. With that gag law, and by constantly threatening to not renew the licenses of radio and TV broadcasters, Chávez has managed to silence much of the opposition, which still dares to criticize the government but takes great care not to overstep its limits.

Elections do exist, no question about that, but they are manipulated. The opposition withdrew from the election last December because of the total lack of guarantees for a clean and fair election. Inflated voter registration rolls that listed thousands of fictitious citizens with names like "Superman" or "XXXXX," and included nearly 30,000 people older than 100 years, and a totally manipulated electronic balloting system made it impossible to have anything close to a clean election.

Private property still exists in Venezuela, true, but the government expropriates farms and businesses at will, controls the foreign-currency exchange, and completely dominates the judiciary, which selectively hounds any oppositionist who might ever become a remote threat to the government.

In addition, this false democracy rests on two pillars: a huge army that is rearming at top speed and that (for the time being) is totally faithful to the president, and a series of social programs designed to insure public support of the government.

With an opposition that's divided and in good measure paralyzed, Chávez is trying to export his model of revolution, as all other totalitarian states have done. He has managed to obtain an ally in Bolivia, although he failed in Peru and is now arousing the suspicions of many in the continent. But Chávez will go on unperturbed, trying to export his peculiar vision of human rights until, at some future moment, people will understand the menace he represents to peace and take action to stop him.


Carlos Sabino is an adjunct fellow with The Independent Institute, and a visiting professor and researcher at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín Foundation in Guatemala.






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