[OPE] James Petras, "Human Rights Watch Venezuela: Lies Crimes and Cover-ups"

From: <glevy@pratt.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 18:16:40 EDT


Monday, 29 September 2008
Human Rights Watch
in Venezuela: Lies, Crimes and Cover-ups
by *James Petras *

Human Rights Watch, a US-based group claiming to be a
organization, but which is in fact funded by
quasi-private foundations and a Congressional
funded political
propaganda organization, the National Endowment for
Democracy, has
issued a report "A Decade Under Chavez:
Political Intolerance and Lost
Opportunities for Advancing Human
Rights in Venezuela" (9/21/2008 hrw.org).

publication of the "Report" directed by Jose Miguel Vivanco and

sub-director Daniel Walkinson led to their expulsion from Venezuela

for repeated political-partisan intervention in the internal affairs

of the country.

A close reading of the
"Report" reveals an astonishing number of blatant
falsifications and outright fabrications, glaring deletions of essential

facts, deliberate omissions of key contextual and comparative
considerations and especially a cover-up of systematic long-term,
large-scale security threats to Venezuelan democracy posed by

We will proceed by providing some key
background facts about HRW and
Vivanco in order to highlight their
role and relations to US imperial
power. We will then comment on
their methods, data collection and
exposition. We will analyze each
of HRW charges and finally proceed to
evaluate their truth and
propaganda value.

*Background on Vivanco and HRW *

Jose Miguel Vivanco served as a diplomatic functionary under the bloody

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1986-1989, serving no less
the butcher's rabid apologist before the Inter-American
Commission on
Human Rights. His behavior was particularly egregious
during the
regime's brutal repression of a mass popular uprising in
the squatter
settlements of Santiago in 1986-1987. With the return
of electoral
politics (democracy) in Chile, Vivanco took off to
Washington where he
set up his own NGO, the Center for Justice and
International Law,
disguising his right-wing affinities and passing
himself off as a 'human
rights' advocate. In 1994 he was recruited
by former US federal
prosecutor, Kenneth Roth, to head up the
'Americas Division' of Human
Rights Watch. HRW demonstrated a real
capacity to provide a 'human
rights' gloss to President Clinton's
policy of 'humanitarian
imperialism'. Roth promoted and supported
Clinton's two-month bombing,
destruction and dismemberment of
Yugoslavia. HRW covered up the ethnic
cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo
by the notorious Albanian terrorists and
gangsters of the Kosovo
Liberation Army and the unprecedented brutal
transfer of over
200,000 ethnic Serbs from the Krajina region of
Croatia. HRW backed
Clinton's sanctions against Iraq leading to the
deaths of over
500,000 Iraqi children. Nowhere did the word 'genocide'
ever appear
in reference to the US Administrations massive destruction
of Iraq
causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

supported the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan where
Kenneth Roth advised the US generals on how to secure the colonial
occupation by avoiding massive civilian deaths. In words and deeds, HRW

has played an insidious role as backer and adviser of US imperial

intervention, providing the humanitarian ideological cover while
harmless and inconsequential reports criticizing
'ineffective' excesses,
which 'undermine' imperial dominance.

HRW most notorious intervention was its claim that Israel's
destruction of the Palestinian city of Jenin was 'not
genocidal' and
thus provided the key argument for the US and Israeli
blocking of a UN
humanitarian mission and investigative report. As
in all of its
'research' their report was deeply colored by
selective interviews and
observations which understated the
brutality and killings of Palestinian
civilians by the Israeli state
-- even while the fanatics who run the
major pro-Israel
organizations accused HRW of bias for even mentioning a
murdered Palestinian.

*Method *

HRW currently
makes a big play of its widespread interviews of a broad
section of Venezuelan political and civic society government and
opposition groups, as well as its consultation of most available
documents. Yet the Report on Venezuela does not reflect anything of the

sort. There is no careful, straightforward presentation of the
government's elaboration and justification for its actions, no academic

critiques of the anti-democratic actions of anti-Chavez mass media;
discussion of the numerous journalists' accounts which expose
US intervention. The Report simply records and reproduces
the claims, arguments and charges of the principle
publicists of the
opposition while dismissing out of hand any
documented counter-claims.
In other words, Vivanco and company act
as lawyers for the opposition
rather than as serious and objective
investigators pursuing a balanced
and convincing evaluation of the
status of democracy in Venezuela.

The political propaganda
intent of Vivanco-HRW is evident in the timing
of their
'investigations' and the publication of their propaganda
Each and every previous HRW hostile 'report' has been
just prior to major conflicts threatening Venezuelan
institutions. In February 2002, barely two months before the
backed military coup against Chavez, HRW joined the chorus of coup
planners in condemning the Chavez regimes for undermining the
'separation of powers' and calling for the intervention of the
Organization of American States. After the coup was defeated through the

actions of millions of Venezuelan citizens and loyalists military

officers, HRW moved quickly to cover its tracks by denouncing the
-- but subsequently defended the media moguls, trade union
and business elites who promoted the coup from
prosecution, claiming the
coup promoters were merely exercising
their 'human rights'. HRW provides
a novel meaning to 'human rights'
when it includes the right to
violently overthrow a democratic
government by a military coup d'etat.

Following the military
coup in 2002 and the bosses' lockout of 2003, HRW
published a report
condemning efforts to impose constitutional
constraints on the mass
media's direct involvement in promoting violent
actions by
opposition groups or terrorists. President Chavez' "Law for
Social Responsibility in Radio and Television" provided greater
constitutional guarantee for freedom of speech than most Western
European capitalist democracies and was far less restrictive than the

measures approved and implemented in Bush's US Patriot Act, which
has never challenged, let alone mounted any campaign against.

Just prior to the political referenda in 2004 and 2007, HRW
further propaganda broadsides which were almost identical in
wording to
the opposition (in fact HRW 'Reports' were widely
published and
circulated by all the leading opposition mass media).
HRW defended the
'right' of the US National Endowment for Democracy
to pour millions of
dollars to fund opposition 'NGO's', such as
SUMATE, accusing the Chavez
government of undermining 'civil
society' organizations. Needless to
say, similar activity in the US
by an NGO on behalf of any foreign
government (with the unique
exception of Israel) would require the NGO
to register as a foreign
agent under very strict US Federal laws;
failure to do so would lead
to federal prosecution and a jail term of up
to 5 years. Apparently,
HRW's self-promoted 'credibility' as an
international 'humanitarian'
organization protects it from being
invidiously compared to an agent
of imperialist propaganda.

*HRW: Five Dimensional Propaganda *

The HRW Report on Venezuela focuses on five areas of politics
society to make its case that democracy in Venezuela is being
by the Presidency of Hugo Chavez: political
discrimination, the courts,
the media, organized labor and civil

1.Political Discrimination

* - The Report
charges that the government has fired and blacklisted
opponents from some state agencies and from the national

* - Citizen access to social programs is denied
based on their
political opinions.

* - There is
discrimination against media outlets, labor unions and
civil society
in response to legitimate criticism or political

Between December 2002 and 2003, following the failure of the
coup of the previous April, the major business
organizations, senior
executives of the state oil company and
sectors of the trade union
bureaucracy organized a political lockout
shutting down the oil
industry, paralyzing production through
sabotage of its computer-run
operations and distribution outlets in
a publicly stated effort to deny
government revenues (80% of which
come from oil exports) and overthrow
the democratically elected

After 3 months and over $20 billion dollars in
lost revenues and
hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to
machinery, with the aid of
the majority of production workers and
technicians, the bosses 'lockout'
was defeated. Those officials and
employees engaged in the political
lockout and destruction of
equipment and computers were fired. The
government followed normal
procedures backed by the majority of oil
workers, who opposed the
lockout, and dismissed the executives and their
supporters in order
to defend the national patrimony and social and
investment programs
from the self-declared enemies of an elected
government. No sane,
competent, constitutional lawyer, international
human rights lawyer,
UN commissioner or the International Court official
considered the
action of the Venezuelan government in this matter to
'political discrimination'.

Even the US State Department, at
that time, did not object to the firing
of their allies engaged in
economic sabotage. HRW, on the other hand, is
more Pope than the

Nothing captures the ludicrous extremism of the HRW than
its charge that
citizens are denied access to social programs. Every
organization involved in assessing and developing
large social programs,
including UNESCO, the World Health
Organization and the UN Food and
Agricultural Organization, have
praised the extent and quality of the
coverage of the social
programs instituted by the Chavez government
covering 60% of the
population and almost 100% of the poor.

Since approximately
between 20-30% of the poor still vote for the
opposition, it is
clear that needy citizens critical of the government
have equal
access to social programs, including food subsidies, free
care and education. This social safety net is more inclusive than
ever before in the history of Venezuela. In fact some of the poor
suburbs of Caracas, like Catia, which voted down the 2007 referendum,

are major recipients of large-scale, long-term social assistance

Only scoundrels or the ill informed could be
convinced of the HRW charge
of discrimination against mass media
outlets, labor unions and civil
society groups. The opposition
controls 95% of the newspapers, a
majority of the television and
radio outlets and frequencies, with the
widest national circulation.
The government has 'broken' the ruling
class monopoly on information
by funding two major TV stations and a
growing number of community
based radio stations.

There are more trade union members and
greater trade union participation
in enterprises, internal debates
and free elections than ever before
under previous regimes. Rival
lists and intense competition for office
between pro and
anti-government lists are common in the trade unions
(UNT). The entire HRW 'Report' is based on complaints from
authoritarian CTV(Confederation of Venezuelan Workers/Confederacion
de Trabajadores de Venezuela) bureaucrats who have lost most of their

supporters and are discredited because of their role in supporting
bloody April 2002 coup. They are universally disdained; militant
have not forgotten their corruption and gangster tactics
when they
collaborated with previous rightwing regimes and

2. The Courts

HWR claims that President
Chavez has "effectively neutralized the
judiciary as an
independent branch of government". The claim that the
was 'independent' is a new argument for HRW -- because a
earlier when Chavez' 1999 constitution was approved by
HRW decried the 'venality, corruption and bias of the entire
judicial system'. After years of releasing the leaders of the 2002 coup,

postponing rulings and undermining positive legislation by elected

legislative bodies and after revelations of high and lower court
taking, the Government finally implemented a series of
approved reforms, expanding and renewing the judicial
system. The fact
that the new court appointees do not follow the
past practices of the
opposition-appointed judges has evoked
hysterical cries by HRW that the
new reformed courts 'threaten
fundamental rights'. The most bizarre
claim by HRM is that the
Supreme Court did not 'counter' a 2007
constitutional reform
package. In fact the Supreme Court approved the
placing of
constitutional reforms to a popular referendum in which the
government was narrowly defeated. The Venezuelan Supreme Court
subsequently respected the popular verdict -- unlike US Supreme Court,

which overturned the popular vote in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential

elections, a constitutional crime against the popular will, which

Kenneth Roth, Vivanco and the rest of HRW have yet to condemn.

3. The Media

Every outside media specialist has been
highly critical of the advocacy
of violent action (leading up to the
coup) and gross falsifications and
libelous 'reports' (including
racist epithets against Hugo Chavez)
propagated by the ruling
class-dominated mass media. A single opposition
television network
just had one of its many outlets suspended for openly
backing the
opposition military seizure of power, an action that any
capitalist democracy would have taken in the wake of a violent
uprising. HRW did not, has not and will not condemn the arrest of dozens

of US and international journalists, some brutally beaten, covering
Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions. Nothing even

remotely resembling the extraordinary powers of 'preventive
of journalists by the US Homeland Security/local and
state police forces
exists in Venezuela. The wanton destruction of
journalists' cameras and
tape recorders by the police at the US
Republican Party Convention would
be un-imaginable in Venezuela
today. In contrast the only offense
prosecuted in Venezuela against
the media is the act of supporting and
advocating violence aimed at
overthrowing democratic institutions. Like
all countries, Venezuela
has laws dealing with libel and slander; these
are far weaker than
any comparable statutes in the countries upholding
the tradition of
the Magna Carta. HRW blatantly falsifies reality by
claiming state
control of the print media: All one needs to do is peruse
newsstand in Venezuela to see a multiplicity of lurid
anti-government headlines, or tune into the radio or television stations

and view news accounts that compete for the worst anti-Chavez
found in the US Fox News or CNN.

4. Organized

HRW claims that the Venezuelan government has violated
'basic principles
of freedom of association' because it requires
state oversight and
certification of union elections and that by
denying the right to
bargain collectively to non-certified unions,
it undermines workers'
rights to freely join the union of their
choosing and to strike.
Practically every government in the West has
rules and regulations
regarding oversight and certification of union
elections, none more
onerous than the US starting with the
Taft-Hartley Act of the 1940's and
the 'Right to Work' Laws current
in many states, which have reduced the
percentage of unionized
workers in the private sector to less than 3%.
In contrast, during
the Chavez Presidency, the number of unionized
workers has more than
doubled, in large part because new labor
legislation and labor
officials have reduced employer prerogatives to
arbitrarily fire
unionized workers. The only union officials who have
'decertified' are those who were involved in the violent coup of
April 2002 and the employers lockout intended to overthrow the
government, suspend the constitution and undermine the very existence of

free unions. Former Pinochet official Jose Miguel Vivanco delicately

overlooks the gangsterism, thuggery and fraudulent election
which ran rampant under the previous rightwing
Venezuelan labor
confederation, CTV. It was precisely to democratize
voting procedures
and to break the stranglehold of the old-guard
trade union bosses that
the government monitors oversaw union
elections, many of which had
multi-tendency candidates, unfettered
debates and free voting for the
first time.

I attended
union meetings and interviewed high level CTV trade unions
in 1970, 1976 and 1978 and found high levels of open vote
government and employer interference and co-optation,
with the CIA-funded American Institute of Free Labor
Development and
large-scale pilfering of union pension funds, none of
which was
denounced by HRW. I attended the founding of the new
union confederation, Union Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT) in
and a subsequent national congress. I have witness a totally
different unionism, a shift from government-run 'corporate' business
unionism to independent social movement unionism with a decidedly class

oriented approach. The UNT is a multi-tendency confederation in
diverse currents compete, with varying degrees of support and
to the Chavez Government. There are few impediments to
strikes and there
is a high degree of independent political action
with no inhibition to
workers resorting to strikes in order to
demand the ouster of
pro-employer labor officials.

example, this year, steel workers in the Argentine-owned firm SIDOR,
went on strike several times protesting private sector firings (HRW, of

course never discussed private sector violations of workers rights).

Because the Venezuelan Labor Minister tended to take the side of the

employers, the steelworkers marched into a meeting where Chavez was

speaking and demanded the dismissal of his Minister. After
with the workers' leaders, Chavez fired the Labor
Minister, expropriated
the steel plant and accepted workers demands
for trade union
co-management. Never in Venezuelan labor history
have workers exercised
this degree of labor influence in
nationalized plants. There is no doubt
that there are government
officials who would like to 'integrate' labor
unions closer to the
state; the new unionists do spend too much time in
internal debates
and internecine struggles instead of organizing the
informal and
temporary worker sectors. But one fact stands out:
Unionized and
non-unionized Venezuelan workers have experienced greater
welfare payments, rising living standards, greater job protection
and greater free choice in union affiliation than any previous period in

their history. It is ironic that Vivanco, who never raised a word

against Pinochet's anti-labor policies, an uncritical apologist of
AFL-CIO (the declining and least effective labor confederation
in the
industrialized West), should launch a full-scale attack on
the fastest
growing, independent and militant trade union movement
in the Western
hemisphere. Needless to say, Vivanco avoids any
comparative analysis,
least of all between Venezuelan and US labor
over the spread of union
organizing, internal democracy and labor
representation in industry,
social benefits and influence over
government policy. Nor does HRW refer
to the positive assessment by
independent international labor
organizations regarding union and
labor advances under the Chavez

5. Civil
Society and HRW: The Mother of All Perversities

Jose Miguel
Vivanco, who kept quiet during his years as a state
serving the Chilean dictator Pinochet, while thousands of
were beaten, jailed and even tortured and killed and
human rights groups were routinely assaulted, shamelessly
that President Chavez has adopted "an aggressively adversarial
approach to local rights advocates and civil society organization."

President Chavez has actively promoted a multitude of
democratically elected community councils with over 3
million affiliated
members, mostly from the poorest half of the
population. He has devolved
decision-making power to the councils,
bypassing the party-dominated
municipal and state officials, unlike
previous regimes and US AID
programs, which channeled funds through
loyal local bosses and clients.
Never has Venezuela witnessed more
intense sustained organization,
mobilization and activity of civil
society movements. This cuts across
the political spectrum, from
pro-Chavez to pro-oligarch neighborhood,
civic, working class and
upper class groups. Nowhere in the world are
US-funded groups,
engaged in overt extra-parliamentary and even violent
with elected officials, tolerated to the degree that they
freedom of action as in Venezuela. In the US, foreign-funded
organizations (with the exception of Israeli-funded groups) are required

to register and refrain from engaging in electoral campaigning, let

alone in efforts to destabilize legitimately constitutional
agencies. In contrast, Venezuela asked the minimum of
government-funded self-styled NGOs in requiring them to
register their
source of funding and comply with the rules of their
constitution, that
is, to stay out of virulent partisan political
action. Today, as
yesterday, all the 'civil society' organizations,
including these funded
by the US, which routinely attack the Chavez
government, can operate
freely, publish, assemble and demonstrate
unimpeded. Their fundamental
complaint, echoed by HRW, is that the
Chavez government and its
supporters criticize them: According to
the new HRW definition of civil
society freedom,the opposition has
the right to attack the government -
but not the other way around;
some countries can register foreign-funded
organizations - but not
Venezuela; and some government can jail
terrorists and coup-makers
and identify and criticize their accomplices
-- but not Venezuela.
The grotesque double-standard, practiced by Human
Rights Watch,
reveals their political allegiances: Blind to the vices of
the US as
it descends into a police state and equally blind to the
virtues of
a growing participatory democracy in Venezuela.

The 'Report'
contains egregious omissions. It fails to mention that
under President Chavez, has experienced twelve
supervised and approved elections, including several
congressional and municipal elections, referenda and
elections. These have been the cleanest elections in Venezuelan
history and certainly with more honest vote counting than one would find

in the US presidential contests.

The 'Report' fails to
report on the serious security threats including
the recording of
phone conversations of active and retired high military
planning to violently seize power and assassinate President
Under the extraordinary degree of tolerance in Venezuela, not a
single constitutional right has been suspended. In the US, similar
terrorist actions and plans would have led to a state of emergency and

the probable pre-emptive mass incarceration of thousands of
critics and activists. HRW ignores and downplays security
threats to
Venezuelan democracy -- whether it involves armed
incursions from
Colombian paramilitary groups allied with the pro-US
opposition, the assassination of the chief federal
prosecutor Danilo
Anderson who was investigating the role of the
opposition in the bloody
coup of April 2002, the US-backed
secessionist movement in the state of
Zulia, the collusion of the
mass media with violent student mobs in
assaulting Chavez supporters
on campus or the economic sabotage and
panic caused by the private
sector's hoarding of essential food and
other commodities in the
lead-up to the 2007 referendum.

One of Vivanco's most glaring
omissions is the contrast between
Venezuela's open society approach
to the hundreds of thousands of
undocumented immigrant workers from
Colombia and the US authoritarian
practice of criminalizing its
undocumented laborers. While the US
Homeland Security and
Immigration police have implemented arbitrary mass
arrests, assaults
and deportation of working heads of immigrant families
-- leaving
their wives and children vulnerable to destitution, Chavez
awarded over a million undocumented Colombian immigrant workers and
family members with residency papers and the opportunity for

HRW has yet to protest Washington's brutal denial
of human rights to its
Latin American and Asian immigrant workers in
recent months. HRW did not
issue a single protest when US-backed
local oligarch politicians, local
government officials and racist
gangs in Bolivia went on a rampage and
slaughtered three dozen
unarmed Indian peasant workers. Vivanco's
squalid selective
slandering of Venezuela is only exceeded by his
systematic silence
when there are abuses involving US collaboraters!


The Human Rights Watch Report on Venezuela is a crude
document that, even in its own terms, lacks the minimum
veneer of
'balance', which the more sophisticated 'humanitarian'
imperialists have
put out in the past. The omissions are monumental:
No mention of
President Chavez' programs which have reduced poverty
over the past
decade from more than 60% to less than 30%; no
recognition of the
universal health system which has provided health
care to 16 million
Venezuelan citizens and residents who were
previously denied even
minimal access; and no acknowledgment of the
subsidized state-run
grocery stores which supply the needs of 60% of
the population who can
now purchase food at 40% of the private
retail price.

HRW's systematic failure to mention the advances
experienced by the
majority of Venezuelan citizens, while peddling
outright lies about
civic repression , is characteristic of this
mouthpiece of Empire. Its
gross distortion about labor rights makes
this report a model for any
high school or college class on
political propaganda.

The widespread coverage and uncritical
promotion and citation of the
'Report' (and the expulsion of its
US-based authors for gross
intervention on behalf of the opposition)
by all the major newspapers
from the New York Times, to Le Monde in
France, the London Times, La
Stampa in Italy and El Pais in Spain
gives substance to the charge that
the Report was meant to bolster
the US effort to isolate Venezuela
rather than pursue legitimate
humanitarian goals in Venezuela.

The major purpose of the HRW
'Report' was to intervene in the
forthcoming November municipal and
state elections on the side of the
far-right opposition. The
'Report' echoes verbatim the unfounded charges
and hysterical claims
of the candidates supported by the far right and
the Bush
Administration. HRW always manages to pick the right time to
their propaganda bromides. Their reports mysteriously coincide
US intervention in electoral processes and destabilization
campaigns. In Venezuela today the Report has become one of the most
widely promoted propaganda documents of the leading rightist anti-Chavez


For the partisans of democracy, human rights
and self-determination,
every effort should be made to expose the
insidious role of HRW and its
Pinochetista propagandist, Vivanco,
for what they are -- publicists and
promoters of US-backed clients
who have given 'human rights' a dirty name.

*Professor Petras* latest book Zionism,Militarism And the Decline of U.S

Power (clarity press Atlanta) - August 2008

ope mailing list
Received on Mon Sep 29 18:19:41 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Dec 03 2008 - 15:12:31 EST