Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Venezuela Threatens to Leave Regional Human Rights Commission

President Hugo Chavez said Monday that Venezuela should withdraw from the Organization of American States’ (OAS) human rights body, echoing threats he has made in the past. But it is worth questioning whether this new round of threats carry any teeth, given the long history of Venezuela’s rocky relationship with the OAS and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC).

Chavez made the announcement as he was signing a new labor law that reduces the work week by four hours to 40, shortly before he leaves for Cuba for another round of medical treatment for his cancer. Chavez’s main critique is that the IAHRC, which frequently attacks Venezuela’s human rights situation, including a damning 300-page report released in December 2009, is a tool for US political interests, reports Dow Jones newswires. Chavez said he had asked the state council, which forms part of Venezuela’s National Assembly, to write and release a draft summarizing Venezuela’s reasons for leaving the body.

Many news agencies quoted officials who said that Venezuela’s departure from the IAHRC would be irresponsible. “A decision like this reaffirms that there is a situation of indifference and complete inattention to human rights,” a Venezuelan human rights activist told the AP.

As the Latin America Herald Tribune points out, part of Chavez’s ill-feeling towards the IAHRC dates back to the 2002 coup which temporarily removed him from power, during which he says the IAHRC concerned itself with protecting the interests of the governor who proclaimed himself the acting president during that time. Venezuela has refused to allow the IAHRC to visit the country, stating that the Commission must first apologize for its reaction to the coup.

Chavez’s threats to leave the IAHRC follow the testimony of government representatives at a commission panel in D.C., which addressed the issue of freedom of expression in the country. As Venezuela Analysis reported at the time, the government representatives accused the IAHRC of bias against the Chavez administration, arguing that previous governments had violated human rights, and the Commission still regarded them as democratic regimes.

But neither is this the first time that Chavez has appeared to defy the IAHRC, or threatened to leave the OAS. The human rights commission issued a unanimous ruling last year ordering Venezuela election officials to restore the politicals rights of former mayor and popular opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez, after the Chavez administration banned him from running for political office for alleged corruption charges. At the time, Chavez dismissed the ruling.

Chavez also threatened to leave the OAS in early 2010, amidst debate over whether the organization should implement its Democracy Charter over Venezuela and Nicaragua. He made similar threats that same year, after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe used the OAS as a platform to present detailed intelligence of rebel group the FARC’s presence inside Venezuelan territory.

Chavez’s threats to withdraw from the IACHR could also be interpreted as a manoeuvre intended to re-focus Venezuela’s energies on using the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as the primary body for resolving regional disputes. But given the number of times that Chavez has threatened to leave the OAS in the past, as well as the fact that he must focus his energies this year on his ailing health and his election campaign, it is worth questioning whether Venezuela will fully follow through with its withdrawal from the human rights commission.


News Briefs
  • As expected, Mexico’s lower house of Congress approved a law which would allow victims of organized crime to apply for compensation from the government. The law creates a new body, the National System for Attention to Victims, made up of representatives from victims’ groups and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Animal Politico has a useful breakdown of what the law actually promises victims of violence. The body will be responsible for overseeing compensation payments to victims of organized-crime related violence, which could include medical, legal, and financial support. Crucially, the law will also apply to victims of abuses carried out by the police and military. Reuters reports that victims will be eligible to receive compensation of up to 1 million pesos (about $73,000) each; the funds will be taken in part from the financial assets seized from organized crime groups. Now the measure must be signed into law by President Felipe Calderon. 
  • The AP reports that the search continues for the French journalist allegedly kidnapped by rebel group the FARC this weekend. The Defense Minister told the news agency there is currently no rescue operation planned for the journalist, who came under fire while accompanying the security forces in the southern Caqueta department, because “we don’t know where the journalist is.” President Santos offered his condolences to the families of the four members of the security forces killed during the attack via Twitter, then stated that there were “very clear indications that the French journalist is in the FARC’s possession,” Semana reports. The French government said that the journalist’s apparent kidnapping is a chance for the rebel group to prove that they mean to keep their promise, made earlier this year, to cease all kidnappings, reports El Tiempo. Asides from the weekend FARC attack which saw the French journalist taken hostage, Colombian security forces suffered another disaster Monday, after a helicopter crashed and killed all 13 passengers on board. 
  • The last surviving founding member of the Sandinista guerrilla movement died Monday night. Tomas Borge Martinez was an avid defender of President Daniel Ortega’s administration, and the government declared three days of national mourning. El Nuevo Dia reports that President Ortega is working closely with the Borge family to organize memorial services. Confidencial has a succinct summary of Borge’s life and legacy, noting, “Borge symbolizes part of the history of this country, from the time of the revolution which overthrew the dictatorship, to the darkest period of the 80’s, and the corruption denounced in the present day.” 
  • The AP profiles the ongoing struggle to pacify the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, noting that despite the deployment of some 4,000 police in nearly 89 shantytowns, some local residents say that the impact has been limited and progress slow. Other communities have complained of abuses by law enforcement, and the tensions have sometimes escalated into riots and attacks against the security forces: the article notes that in February alone, the military supporting the police pacification units suffered some 89 attacks. But besides the lingering problems in Rio, the country also faces new tensions at its border region, after the Bolivian army reportedly entered Brazil and began evicting families who live up to 50 kilometers from the Brazil-Bolivia border. Brazil responded by deploying a platoon of 30 soldiers to the region, who have remained in place even after Brazil’s foreign minister said that Bolivia has pledged to investigate the assaults, reports BBC Brazil
  • A Guatemalan judge ordered the trial of a former police officer alleged involved in the 1980 fire at the Spanish Embassy which killed 37 people, including the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. Prensa Libre reports that the accused, a former district police chief in Guatemala City, followed orders not to allow anyone to escape or be rescued from the burning building. 
  • IPS on a new book which says major newspapers in Latin America chose not to report on certain US State Department cables released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks, if the cables depicted the media in an unflattering light. 
  • Riots erupted inside a Venezuelan prison yesterday during what officials described as the second escape attempt made in a 3-day period. 
  • The BBC reports on the mysterious deaths of hundreds of pelicans along Peru’s coastline, following the mass death of hundreds of dolphins. The Deputy Environment Minister has said a virus could be responsible for the die-offs, but other environmental activists have said the deaths are related to the seismic explorations that a Houston-based oil company is conducting off the northern Peruvian coast.