September 19, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Human Rights Watch said Venezuela's record on human rights has worsened under President Hugo Chavez, particularly with regard to government critics.
Venezuela responded by expelling the group's Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, on Thursday night, saying that he made unacceptable remarks against the country's institutions.
"We aren't going to tolerate any foreigner coming here to try to sully the dignity" of Venezuela and its institutions, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told state television.
He said Vivanco was driven to the airport and forced to leave the country immediately on a flight.
Vivanco, a Chilean who had arrived on a tourist visa, "has violated the constitution" and Venezuela's laws, he said.
Vivanco was ordered to leave along with a Human Rights Watch deputy director, U.S. citizen Daniel Wilkinson, Maduro said. He accused them of acting at the behest of the U.S. government.
It was the first such expulsion by Chavez's government. The leftist leader has threatened previously that Venezuela could expel foreigners if they come to slander his government.
A government statement read on state television said Vivanco violated the law by "attacking the institutions" of Venezuela's democracy, and "illegally interfering in the internal affairs of our country."
The U.S.-based group said in a report Thursday that a failed 2002 coup against Chavez has been "a pretext for a wide range of government policies that have undercut the human rights protections" laid out in the constitution.
Chavez's government has "weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees" while trying to sideline the opposition and consolidate power, said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the group's Americas director.
Venezuela condemned the report, saying it provides "an incomplete and biased account" and that the government has a strong record on human rights.
The New York-based group said Chavez "has encouraged his subordinates to engage in discrimination by routinely denouncing his critics as antidemocratic conspirators and coup-mongers _ regardless of whether or not they had any connection to the 2002 coup."
The U.S.-based Venezuelan Information Office, which is funded by Chavez's government, said in a statement that the report "overstates the issue of political discrimination" and noted that Chavez has pardoned supporters of the 2002 coup.