Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The pot calling the kettle black 

As if their drug certification process weren't absurd enough today the U.S. State Department came out with their Human Rights report. They write up an individual report for each country detailing all their alledged abuses.

Venezuela was included in this and the report was interesting reading. Unfortunately the report was pretty sloppy - probably not much more accurate than their reports on Iraq's WMDs before the 2003 invasion. For example here are a couple of claims from the report:

"Amendments to the penal code in March make insulting the president punishable by 6 to 30 months in prison"

"Human rights groups criticized the March penal code revision for the strict penalties it imposes on some forms of peaceful demonstration. The new law outlaws pot-banging protests often identified with opponents of the government and punishes street closures with up to eight-year prison terms."

These are straight out lies. Venezuela's Penal Code has had these laws for decades, probably before Chavez was even born. So to imply that they are "new" and point to them as indications of the current governments tendency toward repression is completely false and duplicitous. Moreover, this government has never prosecuted anyone under those laws.

There was also a little gem:

"Although the law prohibits such actions, security forces continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights by searching homes without warrants, for example during anticrime sweeps in poor neighborhoods. There were reports of illegal wiretapping and invasion of privacy by the security forces."

Kind of funny that they mention that when the U.S. has been wiretapping whomever it pleases for years now without bothering to get court orders. Do as we say, not as we do, I guess. But that did make me curious so I decided to go look up the report on the United States assuming that surely that violation must have been noted in the report on the United States. Much to my chagrin I discovered there is no report on the United States. I guess that saves them from having to discuss human rights abuses in the United States like police killings, executions of mentally retarded people, police infiltration of anti-war groups, racial discrimination, vigilantes on the border shooting people who try to cross, jailing journalists who refuse to divulge sources, etc.

Whats even funnier is they also exempted themselves when it came to Iraq. They did do a write up on many of the alledged human rights violations there - but only those committed by Iraqis. There was not a word about U.S. troops killing, arresting, torturing or otherwise violation human rights!!! Not a word about how many journalists have been shot dead by U.S. troops!! In fact, there is no mention in the report that there are even U.S. troops occupying the country!! So I guess Americans somehow get a Monopoly like "get out of jail" pass when it comes to human rights. Talk about double standards.

Clearly, these reports are barely worth the paper they are written. They are simply a propoganda excercise in which the U.S. attacks whoever its enemy of the day is.

Whats more, the premise of the report is completely flawed. Are there violations of human rights in Venezuela? Of course there are, as there are in any country. But to take these violations and imply that the country is somehow unfree or its people repressed is patently absurd. As anyone who has been to Venezuela knows nothing could be further from the truth. Not everyone can travel to Venezuela and its hard to get an appreciation of this if one has never been there but it really is the case that there are probably few, if any, countries in the world where the government and the president are so frequently and roundly, even violently, criticized. You really do have to see it to believe it. And that seems to be what happened with with this first time visitor:

Venezuela on the right track under Chavez
By John Hofer
Published: Monday, March 6, 2006

After spending more than two weeks in Venezuela, it's clear to me that freedom and democracy there are alive, well and thriving.

I arrived on Jan. 23, the 48th anniversary of the overthrow of the military dictatorship. President Hugo Chavez's supporters and opponents were out in force, taking advantage of the holiday and their freedom to demonstrate.

Two weeks later, the seventh anniversary of Chavez's inauguration provided another opportunity for demonstrations. Police presence was minimal, a marked contrast to the intimidating, ironclad security that is standard for similar events in Washington, D.C.

I was in Caracas for the World Social Forum, a gathering of more than 2,000 groups representing social movements and nongovernmental organizations. I was hoping to connect with people who could help me apply my business experience to economic development in Latin America. I wanted to make my own judgments about the changes occurring in Venezuela.

No one showed the least hesitation to talk about Chavez. One fellow in the Caracas metro even walked up to me and asked about him. Not waiting for a response, he said, "I hate Chavez."

A bus driver said that ordinary people get more respect now that Chavez is in office. Many offered complex opinions, citing the good and the bad, winners and losers. Many talked about disliking Chavez's tendency to talk too much, a view I share about politicians in general.

A few days later, in a heated interview on one of the private television networks, an opposition figure was visibly agitated about elements of Chavez's elections law. At one point, the interviewer asked, "Are you threatening Chavez?"

The guest responded, "No, I'm putting him on notice." I could only sit in awe, trying to remember the last time an American opposition politician showed such gumption.

"It's clear to me that freedom and democracy there are alive, well and thriving." Indeed.


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