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Letter from Human Rights Watch to Venezuela's Chavez

By J.M. Vivanco, translation by Miguel Octavio

I was extremely critical of the superficial positions taken by Human Rights Watch on the Chavez Government in 2002, but I guess by now they have seen the true colors of this revolution as witnessed by the translation below of the Letter from Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights watch to Hugo Chavez.

Your Excellency
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías
President of the Republic
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Miraflores Palace

Your Excellency,

I have the honor of addressing your Excellency to express my profound concern by the reply of your Government to a report by Human Rights Watch about the threats against the independence of the judicial power in Venezuela that we presented a few days ago in Caracas. Instead of responding to the contents of that report, high Government officials resorted to a series of charges without foundation and absurd accusations against my person and the organization that I represent.

Our report entitled “Manipulating the rule of law: The independence of the judicial power threatened in Venezuela”, examines the serious risks that affect the independence of the judicial power in Venezuela and its consequences on the rule of law. Specifically, it describes our concerns over the new law of the Supreme Court which was enacted last month. This law allows for a simple majority of the National Assembly to pack the Supreme Court with its supporters as well as purging the Court, undermining in this way the independence of the judicial system by means that violate fundamental principles of the Venezuelan Constitution and international human rights law. The report emphasizes that the political occupation of the Supreme Court will aggravate even more the lack of independence of judges, most of which do not enjoy any stability in their positions.

On the other hand, the report expresses that Venezuela is still on time to save the independence of the judicial system and with that end it recommends urgent measures that your Excellency and your supporters in the National Assembly should adopt to avoid a grave and irreparable harm to one of the powers of the state. Concretely, we believe that it is fundamental that the implementation of the new bill be postponed and that those articles that allow for the political control of the highest court of justice in Venezuela be voided.

We offered the opportunity to discuss our conclusions and recommendations directly to your Excellency and your main Ministers and listen to your points of view about this important matter. Because of this, before traveling to Venezuela we requested meetings with the Vice-President of Venezuela Jose Vicente Rangel, the Minister of the Interior and Justice, Lucas Rincon Romero, the Foreign Minister, Jesús Arnaldo Perez and your Excellency. Unfortunately, only the Foreign Minister accepted to meet with us, but cancelled the meeting hours before the time set for it.

The Foreign Minister, on top of that, pointed out that we had not traveled to Venezuela to “have a dialogue, but to make groundless accusations”. Nevertheless, it was him that cancelled the meeting that we had established to discuss our report. In the mean time, Vice President Rangel, who also abstained himself from establishing a dialogue with Human Rights Watch, and even without knowing the contents of our report, responded with insults and qualifications such as “mercenaries at the service of imperial powers” and “spokesmen for the Government of George Bush” even reaching the point of inventing connections with the intelligence services of Pinochet.

The groundless charges by the Vice President against Human Rights Watch and me, in the sense that we represent the interest of the Government of the United States have amazed anyone with elementary information about developments at the international level. For more than 20 years Human Rights Watch has been one of the most rigorous critics of US policies that affect the protection of human rights. Since George Bush became President we have produced 27 reports which document human rights violations, compared with two reports on Venezuela that have been published in the same period of time. These reports about the US, among other matters, criticize the current Government for the treatment to the prisoners of war and presumed terrorists detained in Guantanamo and other parts of the world. At the time, also we criticized the statements by the Bush administration when he made your Excellency responsible for the coup in April 2002.

The most recent accusations of your Vice President against me, about the supposed links with the police of general Pinochet, are equally infamous. For more than 20 years I have actively participated in initiatives to take to Justice Mr. Pinochet and members of his security services for the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship. My compromise in the defense of human rights in Chile and the hemisphere is a matter in the public domain.

The offenses of the Vice-President not only reflect, in the best of cases, a profound ignorance on his part, but gravely affect the credibility of your own Government in front of the international community. I hope your Excellency will publicly repudiate these statements and recommend to him that he abstains from making similar accusations in the future.

We trust that your Excellency and the more reasonable members of your Government opt for taking care, in a responsible and effective manner, the grave charges that we have made in our report and that you adopt measures in the short term to avoid the political control over the judicial power. In that respect, I would like to reiterate our disposition to establish a respectful and constructive dialogue with the authorities of your Excellency’s Government.


José Miguel Vivanco


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