Freedom of Expression,  Latin America

Venezuelans Under Threat

Socialist Unity is publicizing a March 27 meeting in London under the ominous title “Venezuela Under Threat,” featuring the Venezuelan ambassador, George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn and other “leading experts,” i.e., supporters of and apologists for the Hugo Chavez government.

A more accurate description of the situation in that South American country would be “Venezuelans Under Threat”– at least those who still dare to denounce Chavez and his regime.

The Associated Press reports from Caracas:

The arrest of an outspoken government opponent for his critical remarks on a TV talk show drew condemnation on Tuesday from opposition parties and human rights activists who said the case shows freedoms are being eroded in Venezuela.

Opposition politician Oswaldo Alvarez Paz was detained by police on Monday and has been charged with conspiracy, spreading false information and publicly inciting violation.

A coalition of more than a dozen parties opposed to President Hugo Chavez said in a statement that Alvarez Paz was arrested for a “crime of opinion” in an attempt to silence criticism and encourage a climate of self-censorship. Opposition leaders called the 67-year-old former Zulia state governor a political prisoner.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the arrest.

“This is a major setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the group’s executive director for the Americas.

“For years Chavez has sought to intimidate his critics with unfounded allegations of conspiracies and coup-mongering. Throwing someone in prison for criticizing the government is a clear abuse of power, and all the more so in a country where it is very difficult to expect a fair trial given the government’s political takeover of the supreme court,” Vivanco said.

The government denied that Alvarez Paz is being prosecuted for political reasons, saying he has committed legitimate crimes and should answer in court.
Alvarez Paz has said he did nothing wrong and stands by his remarks from the March 8 broadcast of “Hello Citizen.”

Among several strong criticisms, Alvarez Paz said on the show that Venezuela has turned into “a center of operations that facilitates the business of drug trafficking.” He also said Chavez’s government is facing serious evidence presented by a Spanish judge that it has cooperated with the Basque separatist group ETA and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Alvarez Paz remains in jail.

At Caracas Chronicles, Quico writes:

Backed by professionally conducted investigations and publicly available data on clandestine flights from Venezuela to the Caribbean, Álvarez Paz’s contention that Venezuela has become a center of clandestine operations that facilitate drug trafficking is unambiguously true.

As for the evidence presented by the Spanish judge about the Venezuelan government’s connections to ETA and FARC, that is a simple statement of fact.

Quico, who is one of Chavez’s calmer and more measured critics, adds:

Those who stand by and, by their silence, tacitly approve abuses such as this one will have an awful lot to explain. When this generation (hopefully) or future generations (more likely) ask “where were you when Venezuelans were being thrown in jail for expressing dissent in public?”, you’d better hope you have a good answer.

My hope (and, if I’m honest, also my expectation) is that within my own lifetime, people who cannot show they opposed this madness will find themselves well beyond the pale of mainstream democratic life. Fail to speak up for basic human decency now, and you will one day find yourself in the situation of those who quietly conspired to maintain apartheid in South Africa, or Pincohet in Chile.

The imprisonment of Oswaldo Alvarez Paz will be remembered as perhaps the clearest signal of the establishment of a full-blown dictatorship in Venezuela under Chávez. Tonight I’m staggered, unable to find the words to register my disgust at this.

And Daniel Duquenal of Venezuela News and Views writes:

I suppose that I should get ready too because he did not say anything that was not already said in this blog, or Miguel or Quico or Globovision or many an opposition politician or newspapers OpEd.

Will Chavez come for the bloggers eventually? After Alvarez Paz’s arrest, what could stop him?