Venezuelans have chance at democracy, human rights
By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Since 1998, Hugo Chavez has ruled over Venezuela with an authoritarian style similar to that of his Cuban counterparts. He has implemented radical political and legislative changes that have been accompanied by an increase in the deterioration of democratic institutions and of basic human rights for the Venezuelan people.
Therefore, the upcoming presidential election on Sunday is arguably the most pivotal in recent memory for Venezuela, as opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, is rising in the polls against the corrupt Chavez political machine. The lead-up to this election will be closely monitored and examined to determine if they are fair and transparent and the voices of the Venezuelan people is heard.
In 2010, the Venezuelan people came out to vote in record breaking numbers and I anticipate the same will occur again as the people are no longer frightened by Chavez or his cronies. The opposition has been able to build from the momentum of the 2010 parliamentary elections and remain unified behind one candidate.
Chavez might be able to control the media outlets, influence the National Electoral Council, and corrupt the electoral system for political gain, but he cannot control the overwhelming power of the Venezuelan people who seek fundamental human rights and a true democracy.
Over the last decade, we have seen a steady tightening on freedom and basic human rights by the Chavez regime and a harsh crackdown on political opposition. Freedom of speech does not exist, as radio and television stations are harassed, threatened, and even temporarily shut down because of their criticism of the Chavez establishment.
This year's U.S. State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 stated, with respect to Venezuela, that "the principal human rights abuses reported during the year included government actions to impede freedom of expression and criminalize dissent."
Non-governmental organizations and the independent media have reported cases of unlawful killings, torture, and the unjust incarceration of political dissidents by the Chavez regime. In July, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reached a decision that the Chavez regime had violated the human rights of Mr. Raul Diaz Peña, during Mr. Diaz Peña's incarceration in a Venezuelan gulag.
As we get closer to Election Day, Chavez continues to encourage these unlawful actions by calling for civil unrest if he loses the elections and urging escalating violence in the streets.
Chavez-backed groups continue wreaking havoc and bloodshed at opposition rallies to instill fear and intimidate Venezuelans against voting in the upcoming election. Chavez's Defense Minister General Henry Rangel, who was added to the U.S. Treasury Department drug trafficking sanctions list in 2008, stated that the military was "wedded to socialist political project," inferring that the military and Chavez sympathizers would not support a democratic change in Venezuela.
Furthermore, a recently released report detailed plans by Chavez to surround the presidential palace with military personnel should he lose the election, and the concern of voter fraud continues to hover over Election Day. These aggressive actions by Chavez and his proxies are intended to keep control over the country no matter what the results of the elections are.
Over the last 14 years, the Chavez regime has not acted in the best interest of the Venezuelan people and has undermined U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad. This election will play a crucial role in the future of the distressed country and I urge all Venezuelans to vote on Election Day.
The United States and democratic nations must continue to stand with the Venezuelan people in their struggle to elect their next leader in a democratic and transparent manner. Any acts of violence, political unrest, or intimidation must not be tolerated and any promotion of these illicit activities should be condemned by the U.S. State Department, OAS, and other international institutions. Responsible nations are closely following the developments in Venezuela to ensure that the democratic process is respected and protected.