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Dear Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro: "Oh, the sheer criminality of it all! Oh, dearie me!"

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VHeadline editor & publisher Roy S. Carson writes: As if Venezuela's Foreign Minister (MRE) Nicolas Maduro needs a hole in his head, the former Caracas 'por puesto' (mini-bus) driver has gone into xenophobic overdrive and in a further act of diplomatic lunacy had decided to expel Human Rights Watch (HRW) Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco on claims that he had made "unacceptable remarks" against Venezuela's institutions!

In an evident fit of nationalist pique, Maduro whined "we aren't going to tolerate any foreigner coming here to sully the dignity of Venezuela's institutions."

Oh, dearie me!

At essence is a 230-page HRW report entitled "A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela," Vivanco had made use of Venezuela's very liberal, Constitutional freedom of expression rights to collate an opinion of the Chavez regime with the conclusion that "in its efforts to counter political opposition and consolidate power, the government of President Hugo Chavez has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela."

Next thing we know is that Jose Miguel Vivanco is sent packing on a plane back to New York with his tail figuratively between his legs!

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No greater gift could have been given to the dissemination of untruths and lies about Venezuela's system of participative democracy than to qualify the Bush dictatorship's unfounded prejudice against Venezuela as a "Banana Republic" home to a "tin pot Dictator" by the name of Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias!

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What on earth was Maduro thinking? Didn't he even stop awhile to realize the gift horse he was giving to the domestic opposition as well? What further proof does the anti-Chavez media need to justify their perpetual bleating of how Chavez supposedly conducts his personal matters of national government with sledge hammer abuse of everything in the dictatorship handbook?

Regrettably, it is just a further failing of the blinkered but fully functioning democratic government of President Hugo Chavez to deal with important issues of international concern. It's easier for Maduro to throw the toys out of the pram and scream and throw tantrums than to take an in-depth review of the causes and effects of the Human Rights Watch plethora of deliberate accusations and libel.

HRW says its report "examines the impact of the Chavez presidency on institutions that are essential for ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law: the courts, the media, organized labor, and civil society." Vivanco -- no fawning groupie of Chavez under any circumstance -- comments that "ten years ago, Chavez promoted a new constitution that could have significantly improved human rights in Venezuela ... but, rather than advancing rights protections, his government has since moved in the opposite direction, sacrificing basic guarantees in pursuit of its own political agenda."

Fair enough ... and basically it is Vivanco's (or HRW's collective) comment that is correct or incorrect depending on one's particular bias when reviewing the subject material. The conclusions are opinions, pure and simple. But Maduro takes it a step further and seemingly claims that the right of free expression as guaranteed under Venezuela's 1999 Constitution apply selectively and exclusively to Venezuelan citizens?

What does that mean: are we dispicable foreigners to remain mum?

...and if we are not allowed to comment on anything about Venezuela, how much more illegal would it be for any foreigner to freely express the opinion that Venezuelans are a loving and truly hospitable people; that Venezuela is such a truly wonderful and beautiful country; to opine that Venezuela is virtually Paradise on Earth!

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Will we be clapped in irons and hauled off to be condemned to some hellhole for freely expressing an admiration for President Hugo Chavez Frias or Venezuela's new-found democracy? Will we be pilloried for having preferences for the wide open spaces of Los Llanos, for delighting in the snow-capped mountains in Merida, the "Saharan" sand dunes in Coro or the pulsating jungles of Amazonas...

Vivanco does acknowledge "the most dramatic blow to Venezuelan democracy in the last 10 years was the 2002 coup against Chavez ... fortunately it lasted only two days."

To Maduro's obvious chagrin he then goes on to comment "unfortunately the Chavez government has exploited it ever since to justify policies that have degraded the country's democracy."

Pure opinion, granted, but is it sufficient to warrant immediate expulsion from Venezuela on a north-bound jet plane?

Rightly or wrongly (we'll let the reader decide) Vivanco claims that "in the absence of credible judicial oversight, the Chavez government has systematically pursued often discriminatory policies that have undercut journalists' freedom of expression, workers' freedom of association, and civil society's ability to promote human rights in Venezuela ... discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chavez presidency ... the Chavez government has engaged in wide-ranging acts of discrimination against political opponents and critics ... at times, the President himself has openly endorsed acts of discrimination ... more generally, he has encouraged the discriminatory actions of subordinates by routinely denouncing his critics as anti-democratic conspirators ... regardless of whether they had any connection to the 2002 coup!"

We at VHeadline don't necessarily agree with HRW or Vivanco's analysis although previous editorials on the subject will have indicated our very own concern over the current state of affairs with rampant sectarianism, exclusion on top of the malfeasance and corruption we have highlighted as detrimental to President Hugo Chavez Frias' central theme of returning participative democratic power to the Venezuelan grassroots who, by virtue of their citizenship, have the electoral mechanism at their disposal to decide the country's fate.

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Roy S. Carson is veteran foreign correspondent (45+ years in the business) currently editor & publisher of VHeadline Venezuela reporting on news & views from and about Venezuela in South America -- available for interviews -- call Houston (more...)
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