OAS Report Critical of Venezuela's Chavez

The Organization of American States releases a report Wednesday critical of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. The report accuses Chavez of systematically interfering with those who might criticize him — including the press, opposition politicians and unhappy Venezuelans seeking to demonstrate.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president of Venezuela faces sharp criticism today. It comes from the Organization of American States. That's a sort of United Nations for the Western Hemisphere. And it is criticizing one of its own members in a 300 page report. The OAS contends that President Hugo Chavez punishes Venezuelans who criticize him. NPR's Juan Forero is visiting us from his base in South America and he's brought along a copy of the report.

Hi, Juan.

JUAN FORERO: Hello. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: What does the OAS say?

FORERO: Well, the report was done by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. And it says that the state - the Venezuelan state - increasingly curtails the rights of those who are in the opposition, while controlling such key branches of government as the judiciary.

In fact, it goes into heavy detail about how the courts and judges and prosecutors are controlled in Venezuela. Of course, the courts a venue for people in opposition. And so there's a lot of concern about that.

INSKEEP: And this report also talks about - I'm quoting here - "a troubling trend of punishments, intimidation and attacks on individuals in reprisal for expressing their dissent with official policy."

FORERO: Exactly. Lately, there've been a number of protests, street protests, and this is something that has been very common in Venezuela. There's a harsh crackdown on a lot of these protestors. And there have been people killed in the streets.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking about the difference between elections and democracy. We're talking about an elected president here. But is the OAS essentially saying there's less and less democracy in Venezuela?

FORERO: The OAS commissioners have said that the elections in Venezuela have been carried out in a free fashion. The problem is the way the elections are handled - the run up to the elections, the campaigns. The state uses all its resources. It controls a number of television stations and so forth.

And then there are problems after the elections. The OAS has pointed out that in a number of cases there have been opposition politicians who've won office in Venezuela, then they've been prevented from actually carrying out their duties afterward. In the case of the mayor of Caracas, for instance, Antonio Ledezma, a lot of his powers were taken away - the power to control the budget and so forth.

INSKEEP: You've spent a lot of time in Venezuela. What have you seen in the way that Hugo Chaves, the president, responds to criticism?

FORERO: The response is usually pretty harsh. Not too long ago, this was in 2008, Human Rights Watch did a very lengthy report on rights abuses in Venezuela. And as soon as it was issued, two Human Rights Watch investigators were picked up by state agents - armed state agents - and put on a plane to Brazil.

INSKEEP: Basically thrown out of the country for being critical.

FORERO: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Now, it's unusual, isn't it, that this criticism would come from the Organization for American States, which tends to be rather polite and maybe round off the edges a little bit?

FORERO: Well, the Organization of American States has been criticized, from people within the organization and many diplomats, who are unhappy with the way they handle crises in different parts of the world. In this case, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights does numerous reports on numerous countries.

But this report, I think, is special because it is so lengthy, it is so in depth, of course it has to do with Venezuela, which almost certainly guarantees a very, very tough response from Hugo Chavez.

INSKEEP: So I imagine we can see some defiance on one of those many hours long television programs, that President Chavez does, very soon.

FORERO: I think we can. And I think it's going to be interesting to see the way other countries line up in Latin America, if in fact they do. Chavez does have allies. There's Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador - countries that are very close to his. And there are other countries that are concerned and have raised concerns about the way Venezuela is governed - such as Chile and, of course, Colombia.

INSKEEP: NPR's Juan Forero.

Thanks very much.

FORERO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And good to see you.

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