[News] Human Rights Watch in Venezuela: Lies, Crimes and Cover-ups

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 1 12:07:21 EDT 2008

Published on venezuelanalysis.com 


Human Rights Watch in Venezuela: Lies, Crimes and Cover-ups

James Petras

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 José Miguel Vivanco 
and sub-director Daniel Wilkinson 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

José 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.

1.Political Discrimination
    * 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 time.

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.

Source URL (retrieved on Oct 1 2008 - 12:06): 

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