[News] I Can't Believe It's Not Human Rights Watch!

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 25 13:29:15 EDT 2008

I Can't Believe It's Not Human Rights Watch!

September 25th 2008, by Elizabeth Ferrari - OpEdNews

As Americans, we operate from a position of privileged naivete, a 
kind of concrete operational thinking: we believe things are what 
they are called especially when it comes to public life. If someone 
reads us a bill called "No Child Left Behind", we go ahead and assume 
it will help children. If an act named the "Help America Vote Act" 
passes, we expect that our elections just got better. The Heritage 
Foundation is surely an organization that has something to do with 
colonial hardiness and a can-do spirit. There is nothing more sad 
than we are when we learn, against all reason, that NCLB is a 
hijacking of our schools by privateers or that HAVA makes our 
elections vastly more vulnerable or that The Heritage Foundation is a 
right wing propaganda mill that is every day finding better ways to 
funnel our tax money into corporate wallets with a nakedness that 
Lady Godiva could only aspire to.

So, when we read in the American press that two officials from Human 
Rights Watch have been booted out of Venezuela, our first thought 
will not be, "what did they do". It won't be. We expect people who 
work for Human Rights Watch to, well, watch human rights. They have a 
web site and everything, just like Amnesty International and the 
International Red Cross. And maybe that kind of optimism, that 
positive expectation, has its value in these difficult days. But it's 
misplaced if one is trying to understand what is going on in 
Venezuela, in Latin America and in our relationships with both as the 
Bush administration is shaping them. Or, misshaping them.

Human Rights Watch is not a merely group of concerned citizens 
monitoring human rights any more than the Heritage Foundation is a 
think tank that seeks to preserve traditional American values, 
despite their website's claim. Their board and donors come from the 
bedrock of the US political power establishment. So, there's that.

And then, there's the matter of our intelligence services hanging out 
in NGOs. (I suppose, our overseas operatives can't all work at the 
local embassy.) A friend of mine from El Salvador reminds me that 
during the war, a planeful of "humanitarian workers" was shot down 
and apparently, somehow it was full of US government operatives 
instead. It was shot down close to the capital and Rolando believes 
it was the government, not the guerillas, that shot it down. The 
government had had enough of the "Peace Corps" meddling with their 
affairs, allies or not. The few survivors of the crash were executed 
on the spot, it was later determined. Guerillas didn't operate that 
close to San Salvador during the war, so this was a terrible case of 
a US client state sending back a message to Washington.

More recently, as Amy Goodman has reported, arriving Peace Corps 
volunteers and young visiting scholars were solicited to spy for our 
government when they went to be briefed at our embassy in Bolivia. 
They were there for a welcome to the country and instead, they were 
told to spy on Venezuelans and on Cubans. It must be very upsetting 
to believe you are in Bolivia to work on hunger or to write a study 
on literacy and then to have your own Ambassador direct you to 
violate the trust of the very people you look forward to working 
with. These kids hadn't even unpacked before they were enlisted to 
violate international law.

Regardless, they were caught up in the Bush administration 
machinations that last week resulted in our ambassadors to Bolivia 
and to Venezuela being asked to leave. There is evidence that the 
Bush government has been backing the white separatists in Bolivia, 
the same ones that went on a genocidal rampage recently. The latest 
coup plot discovered in Venezuela, at the same moment as the uprising 
in Bolivia, came with a taped discussion of American support.

In short, the Bush government has accelerated its attempts to 
destabilize democracy both in Bolivia and in Venezuela in the last 
two weeks and, they got caught. It was into this already turbulent, 
even deadly, landscape that Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch 
decided to release his 10 year review of Venezuela five months early.

There is nothing in this new report that is new, let alone so urgent 
that it justified an early release by five months. Vivanco repeats 
past criticism of the Chavez government regarding the judiciary, the 
media and labor unions and his critique doesn't bear inspection. 
These are old chestnuts. Vivanco's blustering about the judiciary has 
been debunked; it's exactly how FDR rehabilitated a stacked Supreme 
Court. Vivanco's support for the Uribe government, which leads the 
world in murdering labor organizers, disqualifies him from commenting 
ever again on the state of Venezuela's official relations with labor 
unions. His championing of RCTV, who tried to get Chavez killed 
during the 2002 coup they hosted in their studio, has been rebutted 
by F.A.I.R. and condemned by leading intellectuals around the world.

It's an easy matter to determine that Mr. Vivanco has a pattern of 
sticking his oar into Venezuelan internal affairs at politically 
sensitive times. All you have to do is look for a vote any time 
during his tenure in that country and his name comes up in the press. 
Wilkinson, his deputy, is less overtly partisan. His work combines 
the color of a travelogue with the mannerisms of an academic writer. 
But, his core positions on Venezuela seem to be identical to 
Vivanco's if his February 2008 article in The Nation is any 
indication. The same discredited complaints are trotted out with 
nothing new to recommend them and they are awash in a romanticized 
pessimism that would astonish community organizers in Caracas.

Vivanco's pattern of disruptions are, of course, nowhere in the two 
spammed articles that reported his expulsion from Venezuela over the 
weekend. But, the American press seems to trust the Bush government 
and its adjuncts with all things Venezuelan and has once again simply 
passed on and proliferated the official story. I wish my betters in 
the press corpse would wake up and smell the disinformation. Last 
November, they printed the story that the Venezuelan referendum would 
not have election monitors. They knew because the State Department 
said so. That turned out to be embarrassingly wrong: the NAACP and 
National Lawyers' Guild were on the job by invitation.. More 
recently, they forwarded the story that one or more captured FARC 
laptops - that survived US-guided direct bombing hits as miraculously 
as a hijacker's passport - contained damning emails from Chavez 
proving he was funding the guerillas. Greg Palast made short work of 
that rumor but the bureaus never turned a hair. They were on to 
reporting without any self-consciousness at all that Venezuela and 
Bolivia were not doing their part in the War on Drugs. Their sources 
were Bush administration "officials" who apparently forget at their 
convenience that the world's largest suppliers of drugs, Colombia and 
Afghanistan, are both American client states.

So on Friday, the talking point was: Chavez has expelled two human 
rights workers. That these two men have been more active in 
critiquing Chavez politically than in observing the steadily 
improving state of human rights in Venezuela never caused the 
smallest ripple in the coverage. These HRW representatives have 
repeatedly timed their critiques to coincide with Bush administration 
attacks on the Chavez government at sensitive moments. Nobody in the 
media seems to be noticing that they have done exactly what they have 
been accused of by the Chavez government, of meddling in Venezuela's 
internal affairs, although anyone with a search engine and an hour to 
search has access to that information. The coverage hasn't once 
ruffled the cover.

It's saddening to find that Human Rights Watch is not exempt from the 
long history of US government "tampering by NGO". Human Rights Watch 
has allowed Mr. Vivanco to so misconstrue and overstep his mission in 
Venezuela that the organization itself has lost credibility and a 
great deal of good will. The decisions HRW makes going forward will 
determine if that organization is ever able to recover the good name 
it has so casually sacrificed in service of an openly political 
agenda and in the last chaotic, destructive days of the Bush disaster.

There is, though, a sort of wonderful image floating around the 
internet -- a direct result of the last few weeks of the war on 
democracy in Latin America, as John Pilger calls it.  It is a long 
rather than tall photograph of twelve Latin American leaders flanking 
Evo Morales, showing their support for him during this last violent 
attack on his goverment by the Bush Government and the interests Bush 
fronts. Mr. Chavez is off to the left, waving but not asking for 
focus. President Morales is in the center, smiling quietly. I've 
never seen such a strong show of solidarity among democratic Latin 
American leaders in my lifetime. When you look at this photograph, 
you can't help but think of that Obama campaign slogan: Not this time.

Maybe the good people at Human Rights Watch should take a look.

Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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