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Expulsion spurs new criticism of Chavez

Human Rights Watch monitor says his ouster shows intolerance by the Venezuelan leader.

September 21, 2008|From the Associated Press

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — A Human Rights Watch monitor who was put on the first plane leaving Venezuela early Friday said his expulsion showed the intolerance of President Hugo Chavez's government to criticism.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the rights group's Americas director, told the Associated Press that "we were forcibly expelled from the country as if we were criminals."

"This the first time that this has happened to us in the hemisphere," Vivanco said after arriving in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with his deputy director, Daniel Wilkinson, an American.

Both were expelled for what Chavez's government called "illegally meddling in the internal affairs" of Venezuela.

"We aren't going to tolerate any foreigner coming here to try to sully the dignity" of Venezuela, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro declared.

The two were expelled hours after presenting a report by their New York-based group concluding that "discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature" of the Chavez presidency.

"What happened is a confirmation of exactly the points that we raised in the report, and it shows the lack of tolerance in the government of President Chavez to criticism of his record on any area," said Vivanco, a Chilean. He said Venezuela expelled him "to avoid dealing with the issues and distract attention by attacking the messenger."

Chavez had threatened to expel foreigners who verbally attack his government; this was the first time he did so.

At a rally Friday night, Chavez called Vivanco "one of those characters who go around the world doing the dirty work the U.S. empire orders." Chavez said the visit was "part of the same play," in which his opponents and Washington are "preparing the murder of Chavez, preparing a coup d'etat." He didn't offer specifics.

Vivanco said Chavez's government has constantly sought to label its critics "coup plotters paid by the [U.S.] empire," regardless of whether they are allied with the U.S. government. Human Rights Watch says it accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.

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