[JURIST] The Venezuelan government ordered two senior officials of Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] to leave the country Thursday night after the group released a report [press release] concluding that democracy and human rights have suffered during the presidency of Hugo Chavez [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile]. According to a statement [text, in Spanish] from Venezuela's Foreign Ministry [official website, in Spanish], HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco [profile] and deputy director Daniel Wilkinson were expelled because they had "attacked the institutions of Venezuelan democracy" and "illegally interfered in the internal affairs of our country." Escorted by armed soldiers, the men were flown to Brazil, where Vivanco told the New York Times in an interview [report] that the expulsion "reveals yet again the degree of intolerance of this government." The 230-page HRW report [text] stated that "[d]iscrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chávez presidency." The executive summary [text] of the report concluded:
A country's citizens cannot participate fully and equally in its politics when their rights to freedom of expression and association are at risk. Ensuring these essential rights requires more than constitutional guarantees and political rhetoric. It requires institutions that are capable of countering and curbing abusive state practices. Above all, it requires a judiciary that is independent, competent, and credible. It is also critical that non-state institutions – such as the media, organized labor, and civil society – are free from government reprisals and political discrimination.
President Chávez has actively sought to project himself as a champion of democracy, not only in Venezuela, but throughout Latin America. Yet his professed commitment to this cause is belied by his government's willful disregard for the institutional guarantees and fundamental rights that make democratic participation possible. Venezuela will not achieve real and sustained progress toward strengthening its democracy—nor will it serve as a useful model for other countries in the region—so long as its government continues to flout the human rights principles enshrined in its own constitution.
The Venezuelan National Assembly [official website, in Spanish] reacted to the report in a pronouncement [text] calling it part of a "smear campaign" promoted by the US State Department [official website] with the purpose fomenting a coup. AP has more. El Universal has local coverage. El Nacional has additional local coverage, in Spanish.
Last week, Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales [official website; BBC profile] expelled the US ambassadors from their countries, accusing them of plotting against the governments. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said [statement] the expulsions reflected "the weakness and desperation of these leaders as they face serious internal challenges and an inability to communicate effectively internationally." Opponents have accused Chavez of pushing increasingly autocratic reforms, including constitutional changes [JURIST report] that would eliminate presidential term limits and augment the president's emergency powers. Chavez said the constitutional changes were necessary to advance a socialist revolution in Venezuela [JURIST news archive], but HRW warned that they would violate international law [press release] by allowing the president to suspend due process guarantees during times of emergency. In Bolivia [JURIST news archive] recently, Morales has faced regional protests in affluent states opposing his income redistribution proposals.