Václav Havel stands up for Álvarez Paz freedom and Venezuelas democracy.
Foto: Markus Schreiber/AP
Chávez closer to the edge
Standing silent as democracy atrophies in Venezuela is now not only immoral, but is becoming increasingly dangerous for all of Venezuela’s people.
Álvarez Paz has a worldwide reputation for being an honorable man devoted to democratic principles. He has bravely sought to alert the world to the persecution that opponents of Chávez and his regime constantly suffer, as well as to the decline of democracy in his country over the decade of Chávez’s rule. Indeed, his arrest on March 22 is compelling evidence of the truth of his testimony about the regime’s nature, and of the danger that it poses to Venezuelans, whose freedoms apparently are being systematically stripped, and to Latin American more broadly, owing to Chávez’s example to other would-be autocrats.
The seeming trigger for Álvarez Paz’s arrest appears to have been his statements on "Aló Ciudadano" ("Hello Citizen"), a talk show broadcast by the private TV channel Globovisión. Álvarez Paz commented on a resolution passed by the National Court of Spain (Audiencia Nacional de España) about alleged relations between the Venezuelan government, the Colombian guerilla group FARC, and the Spanish terrorist group ETA. Álvarez Paz rightly called for these allegations to be examined.
But, after simply calling for the law to be enforced and criminal activity investigated, Álvarez Paz was arrested on charges of conspiracy, spreading false information, and incitement of hatred. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
The arrest of Álvarez Paz is important evidence of the promiscuous abuse of the legal system by Chávez and his func-tionaries in order to persecute, intimidate, and silence those who criticize his government. It also corroborates reports published by international organizations and institutions like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House about the increasing deterioration of political liberties in Venezuela.
Under Chávez’s rule, a radical form of state-sanctioned lawlessness has taken hold in the country. You could say that Venezuela now exists as a "lawless legality," a political system within which officials deny that in making or interpreting laws they are bound in any way by the spirit of justice that underpins those laws.
The world must demand of Venezuela’s authorities that they release Álvarez Paz immediately. The Organization of American States and other regional bodies must now forcefully insist on the effective restoration of constitutional norms in Venezuela. The OAS needs to act soon, because Venezuelans are due to vote for a new parliament this coming September.
Last year, Chávez won a referendum that he had called to abolish term limits for presidents and other senior elected officials. Now, opinion polls are showing unprecedented levels of discontent over crime, inflation, and power and water shortages. There were big anti-government protests in Caracas after a privately owned cable television channel, RCTV, was shut down. Venezuelans appear to be prepared to stop their country’s steady drift toward dictatorship, which may also explain why Álvarez Paz was arrested.
Everyone who believes in and supports the democratic tide that swept Latin America following the fall of communism in Europe must affirm their commitment to monitoring the weak state of freedom of expression and democratic governance in Venezuela.
Tjeckisk dramatiker och politiker. Tidigare president i Tjeckoslovakien och Tjeckiska republiken.