OAS rights report criticizes Venezuela

By Juan Forero
Washington Post / February 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The human rights branch of the Organization of American States issued a blistering 300-page report against one of its members yesterday, saying the regime of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez constrains free expression, the rights of civilians to protest, and the ability of opposition politicians to function.

The report is expected to draw a sharp response from the firebrand leader, a former army colonel who in 2008 expelled two Human Rights Watch investigators after they released a critical report in Caracas. Chávez has in the past railed against the OAS as beholden to the interests of the United States, a country he calls an empire with diabolical designs on Venezuela.

The OAS report, compiled by the body’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reflects concern in the region over how Venezuela is governed. It has added weight because the OAS, which is made up of 34 countries and based in Washington, has at times been viewed by critics as weak-willed when it comes to making tough pronouncements about the internal machinations in member states.

But six members of the Commission on Human Rights - 75 jurists and rights activists from Antigua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, and the United States - put together a detailed report that asserts that democracy is in danger in Venezuela. Point by point, the report asserts that the state has punished and silenced critics, among them antigovernment television stations, demonstrators, and opposition politicians who advocate a form of government different from Chávez’s, which is allied with Cuba and favors state intervention in the economy.