Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ government has intimidated, censored and prosecuted critics and opposition leaders, according to a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday. The 133-page report, titled "Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez's Venezuela," documents how the socialist leader has eroded human rights and consolidated control over the Venezuelan media, the courts—including the Supreme Court—and civil society.
“For years, President Chávez and his followers have been building a system in which the government has free rein to threaten and punish Venezuelans who interfere with their political agenda,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Citing a number of cases, the report accuses the Chávez’ administration of limiting the public’s access to government information, attacking and intimidating local rights defenders, and censoring major media outlets like Globovisión and RCTV.
The Human Rights Watch report was published three months before the October 7 presidential election that will pit Chávez against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. A June survey by Venezuelan pollster Datanalisis released on Monday shows that Chávez leads his challenger by 15.3 percentage points, down from 15.9 points in May. Still, Caprilles continues to hold rallies across the country, including one held in Caracas on Sunday to highlight the high levels of crime and insecurity that have plagued the capital during Chávez' 13-year presidency.