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Participatory Democracy and Fight Against Poverty in Venezuela Strengthen Human Rights

Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez: “Venezuela has transformed itself from a democracy of voters to a democracy of citizens.”

State Department report is “selective, political and narrowly written.”

Ahead of the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” scheduled for March 11, 2010, the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela denounces the political nature of the report and stresses that Venezuela’s emerging system of participatory democracy and an aggressive decade-long campaign against poverty, inequality and social exclusion have strengthened political, economic, social and cultural rights for the Venezuelan people.

“With dramatic decreases in poverty and a system of government that is aggressively expanding the means of participation, Venezuela has transformed itself from a democracy of voters to a democracy of citizens,” said Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez. “The Venezuelan people now not only enjoy the right to participate and protest, but also to live a dignified life with access to health, housing, education and food.”

In terms of political rights, more Venezuelans are now engaged with their government than ever before. Over the last decade, Venezuela has held 14 internationally monitored national elections, including a historic recall referendum in 2004. Additionally, once marginalized groups – such as women, Afro-descendents and indigenous tribes – now enjoy expanded constitutional rights. Two-thirds of the media is privately owned and stridently critical of the government, while members of the political opposition freely practice their rights to demonstrate, speak, organize and travel.

According to a 2008 region-wide survey by the AmericasBarometer at Vanderbilt University, over 65 percent of Venezuelans express satisfaction with their democracy – a higher proportion than their regional neighbors.

In economic and social rights, social spending and innovative programs in Venezuela have led to a dramatic drop in poverty, from over 70 percent in 1996 to 23 percent in 2009. Venezuela’s social advances led to a 10-spot jump on the UN’s Human Development Index from 1998-2008, as more Venezuelans have gained access to health, education and food. According to Venezuela’s National Institute of Statistics, $330 billion has been directed to social programs over the last 11 years – representing 66 percent of total tax revenues in the country.

“Venezuela’s social advances are a vital component of the country’s commitment to promoting and protecting human rights,” noted Ambassador Álvarez. “Many countries throughout the world have long recognized that political, economic, social and cultural rights are parts of a package that have to be addressed together. Ignore one, and the others fall by the wayside.” 

Prior to the 1998 election of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela four-decade-old system of representative democracy saw two political parties alternate power, effectively limiting avenues for political participation. Additionally, neo-liberal market reforms promoted by the U.S. and international financial institutions led to dramatic increases in poverty, inequality and social exclusion. One of Venezuela’s darkest periods in human rights occurred in 1989 under then President Carlos Andrés Pérez when thousands of people were killed by the military while protesting harsh economic reforms. 

“Before President Chávez’s election, Venezuela was considered the region’s model democracy because it so closely resembled the U.S.,” said Ambassador Álvarez. “But the majority faced limited political choices and a life of poverty. We’ve come a long ways since then, and for all the imperfections we have and the challenges we may still face, our dedication to the full promotion of human rights is unequivocal.”

On the annual report, Ambassador Álvarez commented: “The State Department’s human rights report is selective, political and narrowly written, and often attacks countries that the U.S. has policy differences with. We don’t believe that human rights should be use for political ends, and reports like these won’t help Venezuela and the U.S. move towards a normal relationship based on mutual respect.”

Photo: Néstor Sánchez Cordero

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the U.S.Press and Communications Office / March 10, 2010

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