29 May 2009

The Venezuelanisation of British politics

It seems so eerily familiar, this business of lambasting politicians. We Venezuelans have been listening to it, literally nonstop, from our resident caudillo for the last 11 years. Anti politics as a form of doing politics is one of Hugo Chavez’s defining trademarks. In fact, the failed putschist arrived in power via elections in 1998 thanks to a wave of disgust towards politicians and political parties shared by the majority of Venezuelans. I remember vividly how people used to smile and rejoice when hearing Chavez’s electoral promises of frying the heads of corrupt politicians, of eradicating from the face of the earth such scum, of how the whole weight of a new state would uproot institutionalized corruption for good, and make those found guilty pay. As it turns Chavez’s administration is more corrupt than the previous ten combined. Since Chavez got to power, a windfall of more than $700 billion has entered the public coffer, and we ask: where’s all that money gone? Do people around here truly think that the UK's political establishment is utterly corrupt? Think again.

One would believe that citizens of the world’s oldest democracy should know better; alas the angry headlines paint a very different picture. The same media outlets that are today oxygenating the flames of hatred may well be censored tomorrow by those who capitalize on such irresponsible behavior. Of course, criticism is healthy, and the right to it should be defended and promoted. But to foster the notion that all politicians are crooks is to fertilize the soil from which Chavez-like charlatans emerge. Let those who have abused public trust and the system be brought to justice. Let the courts deal with them. Compartmentalization however is a very dangerous double edged sword. Guillotining the entire political class is precisely what the Nick Griffins and Fidel Castros of this world want, they thrive when the majority reject rationalism.

We have been living with the consequences of such a reckless collective attitude in Venezuela for over a decade. Future generations have already missed out on development and bright prospects because of it. Are we better off? Most definitely not. It is for this reason that I see danger ahead. The BNP is already gaining traction and momentum; tellingly those who cringe at the possibility of it expanding its base are the culprits of such expansion.

The Venezuelanisation of politics will bring more harm than good to this country. Brits should pause for a moment and think about the prospects of having anti-politicians in office. History has got plenty of examples to learn from. It’s about time people started acting maturely and reasonably, or are we to believe that the struggle of previous generations were all in vain?

27 May 2009

Oslo Freedom Forum’s imagined community

In the presence of remarkable individuals, who were sharing with the Oslo Freedom Forum’s audience harrowing testimonies of survival, the resilience of human dignity and strength of character in conditions beyond hope, I was thinking: “what could I possibly say? What coherent thought could be added, after having heard a series of talks that left everyone pretty much speechless?”

The answer came from some of the speakers. Former Vice President of Bolivia, Victor Hugo Cardenas, spoke about the different nations, or indigenous groups, that form Bolivia’s society. Cardenas belongs to the Aymara nation, same as Evo Morales, but as he would clarify, unlike President Morales, who’s is a brand of sorts in Cardenas’ opinion, he does speak the indigenous language of his ancestors. A mob supportive of Morales recently attacked Cardenas and his family for political reasons: as he would put it, not even in the worse periods of Bolivia’s past dictatorships, against which he made his political career, had his wife and children suffered violence from foes. Racial hatred, the exacerbation of which originates from Bolivia’s highest office, is tearing apart that country’s society. But Cardenas remains hopeful, in the face of adversity, and stressed upon the ability of different nations or indigenous groups to live in peace and harmony.

Former President of Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, expanded upon the need to make the concept of human rights understood and understandable to all, and, more importantly, make every civilised nation accountable to violations of same. The working definition seems accommodative to political expediency and accountability appears to be inversely proportional to the economic power and military might of nations nowadays.

Vladimir Bukovsky said that human rights violators are to be demanded to have, at the very least, the courage of perpetrating their heinous crimes in front of the world, for that, the act of facing international criticism, is more taxing than the actual crimes.

Others stressed the sheer hypocrisy of most governments when asked to reconcile commercial relations with regimes that systematically crush human rights. When it comes to business, it seems most are eager and prepared to deal with thugs so long as gains can be realised.

Benedict Anderson wrote a book called “Imagined Communities”. In it he argues that one of the fundamental principles for nation building is language. Once upon a time Latin was the language of choice of the educated elites in Europe, and regardless of country of origin people would communicate in it. The printing press brought about a significant change, for books started to be printed in vernacular languages, reasserting national identities and contributing with mass distribution or democratization of knowledge.

After listening to some of the speeches I couldn’t help but notice that our gathering was in fact epitomy of Anderson’s “Imagined Communities”, read a group of people sharing fundamental beliefs, principles and a language, in sum a nascent nation. I have more in common with Leyla Zana than with Cilia Flores*. Likewise, I am more inspired by Armando Valladares than by the dictator who incarcerated him for 22 years for refusing to toe the communist line. Palden Gyatso’s suffered prison and torture for 33 years for refusing to renounce his religious beliefs, while Elie Wiesel’s family did not have such luck, if it could be termed as such. Vladimir Bukovsky says that an encounter between torturer and victim is nothing but a clash of wills, whoever comes on top has broken the other’s mind. Armed with nothing but conviction these people have won, which shows that imposed collective thought or group thinkers will never conquer a spirit committed to his own convictions.

I felt that every one of us there in Oslo has been victimised, in different degrees, by the same kind of individual: he who fears our inherent capacity to discern, to reason, to choose and to voice an opinion. For it is not violence they dread, rather it is the expression of a language, i.e. words, that throws enemies of freedom into a spin. A shared language makes us members of an imagined community, that of the advocates of freedom.

But there remains a lot to be done, for our nation to grow strong. As Jack Healey said, only a tiny fraction of the world’s population knows the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent treaties. Thus the task of education must start in earnest, for a society where there’s no transfer of knowledge is bound to repeat past mistakes.

*Head of Venezuela's National Assembly

21 May 2009

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

We, the undersigned participants of the Oslo Freedom Forum,
categorically condemn the detention of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu
Kyi. We condemn the unjustified charges raised against her by the
Burmese military dictatorship, which has imprisoned and charged her
with breaching the terms of her house arrest.

We call upon all people who believe in the dignity and rights of the
human person to support our urgent demand for the immediate release
of Aung San Suu Kyi and that all charges against her be dropped

1. Kjell Magne Bondevik
2. Ajay Royan
3. Bodil Fremstad
4. Thrond Berge Larsen
5. Asle Toje
6. Sara Azmeh Rasmussen
7. Lars Fr. H. Svendsen
8. John Zeki
9. Tika Mustika
10. Hans Jørgen Lysglimt
11. Tenzin Kalsang
12. Wenche Thingnes
13. Vytautas Landsbergis
14. Kristin Clemet
15. Zainab Al-Suwaij
16. Tom G. Palmer
17. Mutabar Tadjibayeva
18. Erin Anderson
19. Darye Shut
20. Aliaksandr Bialiatski
21. Chongdak Koren
22. Dechen Pemba
23. Palden Gyatso
24. Hallstein Bjercke
25. Olav Nils Sunde
26. Darla Romfo
27. Ravi Sunder
28. Arne L. Lynngård
29. Christian Charapata
30. Lee Brooks
31. Jonas Braad
32. Lisa-Mari Damgaard
33. James Kirchick
34. Hege Synne Rahm
35. Park Sang Hak
36. Seo Bohee
37. Jan Tore Sanner
38. Camila Payan
39. Pedro Trujillo
40. Victoria Villarruel
41. Erik Storelv
42. Julie M. Remen
43. Therese Thomassen
44. Humberto A. Pujals
45. Louise Halvorssen
46. Jan Christie
47. Anne Elisabeth Hellum
48. Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane
49. Ragnhild Astrup Tschudi
50. Magne Ove Varsi
51. Stephen R. DeBarre
52. Jackie Monckton DeBarre
53. Katie Coughlin
54. NG Man-Yan
55. Sarah Stemmler
56. Peter Magnuson
57. Tor Jørgen K. Arnesen
58. Vo Van Ai
59. Penelope Faulkner
60. Ola Elvestuen
61. Johnny Syversen
62. Petronella Barker
63. Arnt G. Hartvig
64. Beate Barth-Nossum
65. Kjell Vagle
66. Sarah Bronfman
67. Nadya Berlin
68. Jacqueline Moudeina
69. Axel Halvorssen
70. Eilen Nordlie
71. Alise Davidsen
72. Frederic Hauge
73. Aud Lunde
74. Peder Lunde
75. Viktor E. Jakobsen
76. Alek Boyd
77. Alex Gladstein
78. S. E. Parker
79. Mikkel Dobloug
80. Maria Dahle
81. Roar Hagen
82. Vladimir Bukovsky
83. Friederike Denham
84. Ronald Rich
85. Hilda Denham
86. Jonathan Chen
87. Jared Lapidus
88. Chandler Tottle
89. Kris Anderson
90. David Satter
91. Charles L. Harper Jr.
92. Jan Hedberg
93. Miryam Halvorssen
94. Alexa Katarina Halvorssen
95. Preben Sohlberg
96. Yvonne L. Sohlberg
97. Per Elvestuen
98. Tammy Bruce
99. Bruce Bawer
100. Olaf Halvorssen
101. Marius Doksheim
102. Anders Vollen
103. Leyla Zana
104. Therese Jebsen
105. Ruken Zana
106. Victor Hugo Cardenas
107. Javier Flores
108. Lasse Heimdal
109. Tatiana Yankelevich
110. Robert A. Granier
111. Mary F. Whitney
112. Marc Wachtenheim
113. Harry Wu
114. Nicole Kempton
115. Per H. Houge
116. Torunn Nilsen Houge
117. Emil Constantinescu
118. Marius Doksheim
119. Anders Vollen
120. Jonathan Foreman
121. Elin Skaldebø
122. Glenda M. Aldana
123. Pedro Pablo Alvarez
124. Armando Valladares
125. Jung Chang
126. Ladan Boroumand
127. Jack Healey
128. L. Craig Johnstone
129. Leopoldo López

Oslo 19. May, 2009

Oslo Freedom Forum
Empire State Building, Suite 4515
New York, NY 10118
Ph: (212) 246-8486 - Fax: (212) 643-4278
www.oslofreedomforum.com - info@thehrf.org

8 May 2009

European Parliament condemns Political persecution and authoritarianism in Venezuela

In the light of the intimidation and harassment of a number of opposition figures in Venezuela, including Manuel Rosales, the elected mayor of the city of Maracaibo, Parliament expresses its "profound concern at the deterioration in the situation and in the quality of democracy in Venezuela", which is being threatened with collapse by "the growing authoritarianism" displayed by President Chávez.

The political situation in Venezuela has recently undergone an alarming slide towards authoritarianism, says the resolution, with increased harassment, threats, intimidation, political and criminal persecution directed at the opposition, students, elected officials and journalists.

Call for an end to political persecution

The case of Manuel Rosales is symbolic of these changes and the increasing political persecution in Venezuela. Rosales is ex-governor of the state of Zulia and the democratically elected mayor of Maracaibo, and has been repeatedly and publicly threatened with imprisonment by President Chávez.

As a result of this political persecution, he was granted political asylum in neighbouring Peru, an act which prompted the immediate withdrawal of the Venezuelan Ambassador to Peru. The charges against Rosales, concerning an alleged discrepancy in income declaration whilst he was governor of Zulia, are clearly politically motivated and demonstrate the increasingly worrying trend that the Venezuelan judiciary is controlled by the executive.

MEPs express their solidarity with all those suffering from political persecution in Venezuela, including Manuel Rosales and others cited by the resolution. Parliament "strongly condemns the use of threats, violence, the abuse of power, defamation and the exploitation of the legal system as a political weapon designed to intimidate and eliminate opponents."

Democracy entails respect for rule of law and right of political opposition

Parliament also points out that, under the conditions of the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter, in order to exercise power in a democracy, there needs to be "a legitimacy of exercise...founded on respect for the established rules, the constitution, the laws and the rule of law", including a respect for democratic political opposition.

As such, MEPs call on the President and authorities of Venezuela to show respect for the rule of law and constitutional legality, as well as tolerance of political opponents, to carry out political action through dialogue and to comply fully with international agreements ratified by Venezuela.

Here's the full text of the resolution, which was adopted by 27 votes in favor to 1 against (a communist MEP from Portugal) with no abstentions:

The European Parliament,

having regard to its previous resolutions on the situation in Venezuela and in particular its resolutions of 24 May 2007 on the Radio Caracas TV channel case in Venezuela[1] and of 23 October 2008 on political disqualifications in Venezuela[2],

having regard to Rule 115(5) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. having regard to the tense political situation in Venezuela, a country which in recent times has experienced an alarming slide towards authoritarianism, reflected in the harassment, threats, intimidation and political and criminal persecution directed at the opposition and its democratically elected mayors and governors, the student movement and journalists, and involving changes to the rules on democracy, a total lack of independence on the part of the different state powers and scant respect for the laws and Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,

B. having regard to the case of the former Presidential candidate, ex-governor of the State of Zulia, and current democratically elected Mayor of the city of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, an opposition leader whom President Chávez has repeatedly and publicly threatened with imprisonment, and against whom he was eventually prompted to initiate legal proceedings based on a 2004 complaint concerning an alleged discrepancy in an income declaration during his time as governor of the State of Zulia, a case which has every appearance of being political persecution, with no regard for due process and proper judicial safeguards, and where the verdict has been determined in advance and is clearly politically motivated,

C. whereas, as a result of this political persecution, Manuel Rosales has requested political asylum in the neighbouring Republic of Peru, which has been granted by the Peruvian authorities in the light of the political and humanitarian aspects of the case, prompting the immediate withdrawal by Venezuela of its Ambassador to Peru,

D. whereas these charges are clearly founded on political motives and the executive largely controls the judiciary and whereas the government of Venezuela is taking new measures which will contribute to reducing the autonomy of the judiciary and therefore a fair trial is hardly to be expected in Venezuela,

E. whereas retired General Raúl Isaías Baduel, who until recently was President Chávez’s Minister of Defence and who has now joined the opposition, was arrested at gunpoint by military intelligence agents on 2 April 2009 and accused of supposedly embezzling funds from the armed forces during his time as Minister of Defence,

F. whereas opposition leader and Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who was democratically elected on 23 November 2008, has been unable to take up his duties as mayor because the City Council premises in the Palacio de Gobierno have been illegally occupied by Bolivarian groups, with the Venezuelan Ministry of the Interior so far having made no effort to remove them; whereas President Chávez has recently enacted a law directly affecting the powers of the Mayor, under which a hierarchical superior chosen by the President of the Republic has been appointed Head of the Government of Caracas, with authority over the Mayor of Caracas, who will be stripped of practically all his powers, including the administration of public finance, the drawing-up and implementation of development plans and supervision of the institutions of the decentralised administration of the Capital District,

G. whereas, in addition to being stripped of practically all his powers, the Mayor of Caracas is being targeted by an aggressive campaign of harassment, threats, insults and intimidation, orchestrated directly by the Presidency of the Republic,

H. whereas, during the month of March 2009, on the orders of the President of the Republic, many ports and airports were occupied by the military, for the most part in regions where the opposition is in power, as a result of a law restoring responsibility for the management of these facilities to the Venezuelan Government; whereas the aim of this measure is the financial restriction and economic strangulation of political opponents; whereas, under Article 164(10) of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the administration of ports, airports, roads and highways is the sole responsibility of state governments in cooperation with the central authorities and under no circumstances the sole responsibility of the latter,

I. whereas, in an unprecedented political sentence handed down by Judge Marjori Calderón, the wife of a senior PSUV leader, police commissioners Ivan Simonovis, Làzaro Forero and Henry Vivas, together with eight metropolitan police officers, were condemned without a shred of reliable evidence to 30 years’ imprisonment, the maximum sentence provided for under the Venezuelan criminal code, after being held in preventive custody for more than five years in police stations without natural light, following what was the longest trial in Venezuelan history and one which was plagued by irregularities and in which the most basic legal rights of the accused were flouted; whereas, furthermore, most of the 19 crimes committed on 11 April 2002, for three of which the accused have now been convicted without any evidence, have remained unpunished, despite extensive testimony, television footage and documentary evidence, demonstrating that clearly identifiable Bolivarian gunmen had been responsible,

J. whereas on various occasions the President of the Republic has spoken offensively and insultingly about any number of foreign dignitaries and yet, when he has been the target of criticism in his own country, he has reacted by ordering the immediate expulsion of any foreign nationals who dared to criticise him, including the violent expulsion of a Member of this Parliament,

K. whereas in February 2009 President Chávez forced through a second referendum to approve indefinite re-election of the President and all elected public officials, despite having lost the December 2007 referendum on constitutional reform which included the same proposal, thereby breaching the Venezuelan Constitution, under which the same reform proposal may not be submitted more than once during the same session of the Assembly,

L. whereas the Venezuelan authorities deemed undesirable the presence of an official European Parliament delegation which was due to visit the country during the first week of March 2009, following several unwarranted postponements of the visit by the Venezuelan authorities,

1. Expresses its profound concern at the deterioration in the situation and in the quality of democracy in Venezuela, which is seriously threatened with collapse as a result of the concentration of power and the growing authoritarianism displayed by the President of the Republic;

2. Expresses its solidarity with all those suffering political persecution in Venezuela, a plight currently symbolised by the person of Manuel Rosales; welcomes the decision taken by the Peruvian Government to grant Manuel Rosales political asylum; strongly condemns the use of threats and violence, the abuse of power, defamation and the exploitation of the legal system as a political weapon designed to intimidate and eliminate opponents;

3. Points out that, under the Organisation of American States (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Charter, in order to gain access to the exercise of power in a democracy, in addition to clear legitimacy of origin, grounded in and obtained at the polls, there must also be legitimacy in the exercise of such power, which must be founded on respect for the established rules, the constitution, the laws, and the rule of law as a guarantee of a fully functioning democracy and that this must of necessity include respect for peaceful and democratic political opposition, especially where that opposition has been elected and enjoys a popular mandate;

4. Calls on the country’s authorities, in particular the President of the Republic, to pursue their political action through dialogue, respect for the rule of law and constitutional legality, and tolerance of political opponents, so as to ensure that the various political choices made and supported by the people of Venezuela enjoy proper influence and representation in political life;

5. Urges the Venezuelan Government, furthermore, to comply with the international agreements signed and ratified by Venezuela, including the American Convention on Human Rights, with specific reference to the provisions on political rights set out in Articles 23(1) and Articles 2 and 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

6. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States, the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, the Mercosur Parliament and the Government and National Assembly of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

[1] OJ C 102 E, 24.4.2008, p. 484.

[2] Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2008)0525.