WASHINGTON Feb 24 The human rights wing of the
Organization of American States criticized the concentration of
power and the curbing of civil liberties in Venezuela under the
leftist government of President Hugo Chavez.
In a blistering 319-page report released on Wednesday, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed to "the
absence of an effective separation and independence of the
public branches of power in Venezuela."
It said freedom of expression and the right to peaceful
protest have been curtailed and "political intolerance"
prevails in the South American country, a major supplier of oil
to the United States.
The criticism from the 34-nation hemispheric forum based in
Washington will be music to the ears of Chavez's opponents who
say he is a dictator-in-the-making who has undermined the
independence of the legislature and the judiciary, while
closing down opposition media.
"The punitive power of the state is being used to
intimidate or punish people on account of their political
opinions," the OAS report found.
"A climate hostile to the free exercise of dissenting
political participation" exists in Venezuela, the commission
The report detected a "pattern of impunity in cases of
violence" against demonstrators, women, labor union members,
indigenous people, human rights activists and journalists.
Chavez, a former paratrooper and self-declared socialist
revolutionary, swept to power in elections 11 years ago and
remains popular among Venezuela's poor, who have benefited from
The OAS report praised Chavez's government for eradicating
illiteracy, reducing poverty and increasing the access of
poorer Venezuelans to healthcare.
But it said social and economic advances were no
justification for sacrificing fundamental civil rights.
The OAS commission, which does reports on countries when it
sees that human rights are being systematically violated, has
not been allowed to visit Venezuela since 2002, a commission
She said the report was based on hundreds of complaints and
interviews with Venezuelans done in Washington.
"The commission believes that conditions do not exist for
human rights defenders and journalists to be able to freely
carry out their work" in Venezuela, the report said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)