An open letter to the more than 100 Latin American “experts” who criticized the report on Venezuela by Human Rights Watch
We have read your letter criticizing the report A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela by Human Rights Watch and are flabbergasted by its superficiality and the same lack of academic rigor you claim to demand from HRW.
In fact, its title alone is quite deceiving as some of the names signing the letter hardly qualify as “experts” on Latin America and it is quite clear that the common bond of those signing the letter is simply a blind support towards Hugo Chavez and his fake pseudo revolution. It is not based on any factual knowledge about what is happening on Venezuela and what you criticize of the cited report.
On the issue of discrimination on political grounds, you are of course referring to the infamous Tascon/Chavez list, a perverse database of those that signed a petition to recall the mandate of Hugo Chavez, which has been widely used to discriminate in employment and providing services to Venezuelan citizens. You question the veracity of such discrimination, which Teodoro Petkoff has called an “apartheid” list, but maybe HRW should have linked this video from the documentary “The List”:
(For a written summary of “The List”, read here) where in minute 0:49 Hugo Chavez says “Anyone that signs against Chavez his name will be registered for history”. Later in minute 2:17 President Chavez in his Sunday variety show Alo Presidente (#214) jokes about the Tascon list and the fear people have of being in it. Finally in minute 3:08 at a public Cabinet meeting Hugo Chavez says: “The famous Tascon list should be filed away. That is now over. Let the Tascon list be buried, it surely played its role at a certain moment, but it is now over”:
What else could the Venezuelan President have meant when he publicly made that order to “file away” and “bury” that list? Bury it had a very clear meaning: Chavez knew and backed the list for a long time, never condemned it and just ordered that it no longer be used. He ordered it buried as local newspapers began printing dozens of cases daily of discrimination and firings using the Tascon/Chavez list. Many of these cases are well documented in “The List”. But in the name of accuracy and rigor maybe you could all have simply taken the time to download the Tascon/Chavez database and played with it. This perverse use of technology represents and abominable example about what mankind can do in the name of ideology and politics. It classifies millions of Venezuelans as pro or against Hugo Chavez. Those in favor are called “Patriots”, of course, and to insure that the appropriate pressure can be brought upon those against this empty revolution, it includes everyone’s address, voting center and a powerful search function.
Just think, you can spy on your family and neighbors from the comfort of your own laptop and know whether they signed against Chavez (if you are against him) or whether they have benefited or not from the Government;s direct assistant programs (if you are for him), creating a tool for division and hate for all Venezuelans.
Just its existence and elaboration by a Government that claims to be democratic is a violation to the rights given by the Venezuelan Constitution as well as the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And remember, Chavez ordered it buried, but never condemned it.
Yes, Venezuela is indeed not a political model for anyone as clearly exposed by HRW and Jose Miguel Vivancos. The country is a signatory of these International agreements and declarations which you failed to take into account in your letter. But not knowing them is no excuse, particularly when you are asking for the rigor that an academic peer review process should have.
And yes, in most cases it can not be proven that there was discrimination. When one of us was denied a passport, he was not given a piece of paper stating it was because he had signed against Chavez, but was told only verbally that was the true reason. This happened to thousands of Venezuelans who could not obtain a passport or an ID card for months after the 2004 recall referendum.
As for employment or Government contracts, even after Chavez asked that the list be buried, it was used to get rid of the enemies of the state who worked at oil company Sincor when the Government nationalized it. The newly named President of that company left no doubt about it: “This is a matter of the State. There is a list being circulated in the press and it is real. It came out of here, we are investigating it and whoever leaked it will go to jail. It will be applied to key personnel which is within or outside the company”. And yes the people were fired, so much for inaccuracy and hearsay, no?
And there is the case of Rocio San Miguel and two other lawyers (shown in “The List”) who worked at the Council for Borders, who just happened to tape 55 minutes of telephone conversations with their superiors, who explained to them they were fired for signing against Hugo Chavez and that the Venezuelan Vice-President directly approved it. That case is now in the Interamerican Human Rights Court.
And while you correctly state the Government had the right to fire the oil workers for striking, you bypass the not so irrelevant fact that it not only did it illegally, ignoring Venezuela’s strict labor legislation, but it confiscated severance pay (also illegal under Venezuelan law) as well as voluntary pension fund contributions and savings of all these workers without any Court order allowing it. These workers ranged from low level messengers to secretaries, to indeed, high level executives. Venezuelan Labor Courts have failed to process a single one of the appeals for these cases since 2003. If that is not overt discrimination and violation of due process and the rule of law, then what is?
As for self-censorship which you so un-rigorously dismiss, you fail to note the dozens of reporters whose programs have been cancelled in the media outlets who decided to “follow orders” from the Government, in contrast to the illegal termination of broadcasting license and seizure of the property of TV station RCTV, which refused to obey the orders from highest levels of power in Venezuela.
And it is absolutely laughable when you state that “The report even uses innuendo to imply that the government is to blame for attacks on journalists”, when the Venezuelan Government has failed to provide protection to over 250 reporters as requested by the Interamerican Human Rights Court, within treaties of which Venezuela is a signatory.
Finally, you question HRW from using a report by an “opposition blogger”, calling him mentally unstable, for which you also have no evidence as no professional has ever declared him so, but you fail to question a single fact of the reference cited by HRW. You will find this very difficult to do, since that reference is a factual description of the Tascon/Chavez database and proof that the Electoral Board authorized the release of copies of all of the signatures to pro-Chavez Deputy Luis Tascon.
And I do find it remarkable that you use as evidence that some people have called for the violent overthrow of the Venezuelan Government presided by Hugo Chavez who supported two coup attempts, violent ones at that, and who actually led one of them which left over 200 Venezuelans dead in the streets, including children. An interesting double standard you all have in the defense of human rights, to say the least.
In the end you letter is a lousy attempt at discrediting HRW, which curiously defended Mr. Chavez in 2002 despite the deaths induced by the Venezuelan President against a peaceful march. Your letter fails precisely where you attempted to find fault with the HRW report, it lacks rigor, it is superficial and represents a terrible error for you to sign such a partisan document.
Meanwhile back in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez seeks his indefinite reelection despite a referendum denying it in 2007 and against the express prohibition by the Venezuelan Constitution (Title IX) to consider the same question twice in a single Constitutional period. Moreover, Hugo Chavez issued 26 Bills in July 2008 which contain provisions also rejected in the same referendum.
This is the wholesale violation of the democratic rights of the majority of Venezuelans who voted against such provisions in December 2007.
It has now been 10 years of the empty Chavez revolution. Venezuela has had revenues of over US$ 800 billion comparable to the rescue package for the US financial system. Despite this windfall, poverty numbers are barely improved, nutrition and health numbers are down, the Venezuelan hospital system is in shambles and crime has tripled under Chavez’ watch. But the country certainly has a very modern arsenal of military weapons, and Chavez regularly threatens the opposition with the fact that his revolution “is armed”, while corruption is so rampant that suitcases full of cash are flown in official Government flights and those caught red handed in the process describe how they made hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their close relationship with Venezuelan Government officials under Chavez. And Hugo Chavez and his Government openly support the Colombian guerrillas.
Remarkably, there are still those like you “experts” that have barely probed the surface of what is going on in our beleaguered country that continue to defend the indefensible, continue to support an outlaw Government which lacks the support of Venezuelan academia and students, but you have failed to even ask yourself why this is.
Ironically, while you sit in the comforts of your offices supporting the Chavez revolution and working on your academic projects, your social science colleagues in Venezuela receive meager funding and the annual social sciences award has not been given in the last two years .
It is truly sad when in the name of academia a serious and very unique institution exclusively devoted to the defense of human rights is attacked for political purposes in such a cheap and superficial way. But it is even sadder and a shame, when the systematic and well organized violations of human rights by the Venezuelan Government presided by Hugo Chavez are ignored by those that claim to dream with and believe in the basic dignity and rights of all human beings.