(Sao Paulo, September 19, 2008) - The Venezuelan government's expulsion of two Human Rights Watch staff underscores the Chávez administration's increasing intolerance of dissenting views, Human Rights Watch said today. The government expelled José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, and Americas deputy director Daniel Wilkinson on September 18, 2008, hours after they held a news conference in Caracas to present a report that describes how the government of President Hugo Chávez has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela.
The 230-page report, "A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela", examines the impact of the Chávez presidency on the courts, the media, organized labor, and civil society. The report documents how the extraordinary opportunity to shore up the rule of law, and strengthen the protection of human rights presented by the enactment of a new constitution in 1999, has since been largely squandered. Among other things, the report found that the government had undermined freedom of expression, expanding penalties for speech offenses, and intimidating critics.
"Chávez's expulsion of Human Rights Watch's team is further evidence of Venezuela's descent into intolerance," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Chávez may have kicked out the messenger, but he has only re-enforced the message - civil liberties in Venezuela are under attack."
Vivanco and Wilkinson were intercepted on the night of September 18 at their hotel in Caracas and handed a letter accusing them of anti-state activities. Their cell phones were confiscated and their requests to be allowed to contact their embassies were denied. They were put into cars, taken to the airport and put on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they landed this morning.
Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization and does not accept any government funds, directly or indirectly.