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Venezuela - watch out!

A row has erupted over the latest Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela. Entitled A Decade Under Chávez, the report condemns ‘political intolerance and lost opportunities for advancing human rights’.

A furious open letter quickly followed from more than 100 academic and other experts on Latin America. They accuse Human Rights Watch of naked political bias and, more seriously, of failing to do its homework. The report, they say, relies on secondary material gleaned from the partisan and notoriously unreliable local media, including an unhinged blogger.

After reading the report, I can see what they mean. I visited the country in 2006 to research a magazine for New Internationalist. I came away both inspired by what ordinary Venezuelans were achieving and a little worried by the reliance of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ on the figure of Chávez himself.

On the political front, the most striking thing was the utter hopelessness of the opposition – seemingly so conditioned by the power it had lost that it couldn’t be bothered with anything other than the overthrow of the government by whatever means possible. My feeling was that they were, in their own way, as responsible as Chávez and his followers for their excesses.

So, quite apart from the damage such a disreputable piece of work does to human rights organizations in general, it’s sad indeed to find Human Rights Watch falling into much the same trap, which can only make matters worse. That can't possibly be on purpose - can  it?

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