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Oxford denies Chavez degree claims

By Jessica Goodman

Editor's note: the author of this article posted yesterday in The Oxford Student, Jessica Goodman, got in touch last week seeking information about Ambassador Toro Hardy's bogus claims. We exchanged correspondence 5 times whereby Ms Goodman asked some specific questions about the origin of the claim, where had it been made, even why I was against the idea of him (Chavez) being awarded this degree. I should have known better... Even though she wrote "As we were first alerted to them by postings on your site" regarding Toro Hardy's lies, Ms Goodman couldn't bring herself to credit yours truly, but didn't miss the chance to define our concerns as "vehement criticism for what his largely upper- and middle-class opponents see as his undermining of democratic institutions," thus demonstrating her crass ignorance about Venezuela and pathetic researching skills by stating that Chavez led a coup d'etat in 1989. It is a sad day when first world adolescents pass judgement on millions of people, without having the faintest of ideas about the meaning of struggle for freedom in places where the rule of law is embodied by a deranged militaristic caudillo. Needless to say that in spite of having being made aware of the cost that Venezuelan taxpayers had to foot for Chavez's last little lecture in Oxford, no mention to the fact was made. But hey, what else could we expect from an Oxford University student? The next lie that chavista sycophants are peddling in Venezuela is that Chavez will be received, with honors nonetheless, by the House of Lords during his next visit. Shall I wait for The Oxford Student to expose the truth?

4th May 2006 | Confusion has been sparked within the university over a claim by the Venezuelan Embassy that Hugo Chavez, the controversial President of Venezuela, is to receive an honorary Oxford degree. Venezuelan Ambassador to London Alfredo Toro Hardy said that he had been told a member of the university’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies that Oxford was preparing to confer the degree upon the President.

“I was informed by Professor [sic] Moussavi that this centre, together with the Human Rights Programme of the Faculty of Law, had launched the proceedings so that the Faculty formalised a request for an Honorary Degree for President Chávez,” Toro Hardy told The Oxford Student. “This Honorary Degree has obviously not been awarded yet, because the requirement is still in its initial phase.

However, several sources within the university have since denied that any approach has been made to either the President or the Ambassador.

The Ambassador called President Chavez’s live talk show Alo Presidente on April 2nd to inform him of the news, and the claim subsequently appeared in the Venezuelan national press, spreading as far afield as Cuban television programme Mesa Redonda, who reported on their website that Mr Chavez had told them, “I received the invitation and I am considering my international agenda and travel plans, as I think it is very important to attend.

However, the Executive Assistant to the VC and Chancellor Alison Miles told The Oxford Student, “I have received a few enquiries about this from people who had seen the programme, but I told them all exactly the same thing; this is absolutely untrue, there is no plan whatsoever to give Mr Chavez an honorary degree, now or in the future.

“The only link I could find was that a member of one department had issued a very tentative invitation to Mr Chavez to come and give a lecture at some point in the future.” A spokesperson for the university confirmed, “There are no plans for President Chavez to be awarded an honorary degree by the university. We have not yet contacted the ambassador about this mistake, and I am not sure whether we intend to do so in the future.

At the time of going to press Kaveh Moussavi himself, the Head of the CSLS’s Public Interest Law Programme, who has worked with Chavez in the past, was out of the country and unavailable for comment, although a spokesperson for the CSLS reiterated that the centre knew nothing of any plans for an honorary degree, or even for Chavez to visit Oxford.

Professor Ewan McKendrick of the university Law Faculty, said that despite what Toro Hardy claimed to have been told, the Faculty has in fact made no nomination for Chavez to be honoured. “The issue has not been discussed by the Faculty, nor am I aware of any Faculty involvement in any such nomination.

A spokesperson for the Venezuelan Ministry for Communication and Information told The Oxford Student, “It was mentioned on the programme that the President was supposed to be getting the degree, and we only know what we have been told. If it is not true, then it must be a very big mistake.” The university guidelines for the awarding of an honorary degree explain that no individual or department has the power to confer the honour.

“Members of Congregation are encouraged to suggest the names of people on whom such degrees might be conferred… All nominations will be considered in confidence by the Honorary Degrees Committee, which submits its report to Council at the beginning of Michaelmas Term,” state the guidelines. Nominations for 2007 honorands must be entered by May 12th, meaning that a member of congregation could still conceivably enter a nomination for Chavez in the next two weeks.

However Jennifer Noon of the Council’s Secretariat told this paper that she could not confirm whether or not such a proposal had yet been received. “We never release the names of nominees; it is an entirely confidential process and I’ve never been aware of individuals announcing who they have nominated in the past.” Even if Chavez is nominated there is no guarantee that the degree will be awarded.

In 1985 then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was snubbed when Congregation rejected her nomination, whilst six years ago the university’s chancellor Lord Jenkins said Tony Blair would not receive an honorary degree after he criticised Oxford as an elitist institution. Chavez has been a controversial figure since he failed to take control of Venezuela in a military coup in 1989.

He came into office six years later, and despite his support among the poorer residents of the country, he has attracted vehement criticism for what his largely upper- and middle-class opponents see as his undermining of democratic institutions.

Last year, on his long-running television show, American Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson called for Chavez’s assassination, claiming that he was turning his oil-rich South American country into “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.”

Source The Oxford Student

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