Open letter to the Government of Venezuela on the arrest of Oswaldo Álvarez Paz

Prague, March 31, 2010

We, the undersigned former delegates of the Forum 2000 Conferences, held annually in Prague since 1997, observe with astonishment and concern the arrest last week in Venezuela of the former Governor of Zulia state, former President of the Chamber of Deputies and former presidential candidate, Dr. Oswaldo Álvarez Paz (67).

Many of us met Dr. Álvarez Paz during the Forum 2000 Annual Conference “Openness and Fundamentalism in the XXI Century”, held in October 2008, and we know him as an honourable person with democratic principles. On that occasion, Dr. Álvarez Paz alerted us to the persecution which the opponents of President Hugo Chavez constantly suffer, as well as the decline of democracy in his country during the last decade. His arrest on March 22nd is a clear evidence of the credibility of his testimony.

Dr. Álvarez Paz commented during the talk show “Alo Ciudadano”, broadcast by the private TV Channel Globovisión, on a resolution passed by the National Court of Spain (Audiencia Nacional de España) about the alleged relation between the Venezuelan government, the Colombian guerilla group theRevolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Spanish terrorist group ETA and he called for this fact to be investigated. He was subsequently arrested on charges of conspiracy, spreading of false information and incitement of hatred, charges which could lead to up to 15 years in prison.

The arrest of Dr. Álvarez Paz is important evidence of the use of the legal system to persecute those who criticize the government of President Hugo Chavez. It also corroborates the reports published by international organizations and institutions like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch or Freedom House about the increasing deterioration of political liberties in Venezuela. 

We ask the Venezuelan authorities to release Dr. Oswaldo Álvarez Paz immediately. We also call for the effective return of constitutional guarantees in Venezuela, the defence of the principles established in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we confirm our commitment to monitoring the weak state of freedom of expression and democratic governability in Venezuela.

Signed by:
Václav Havel, Former President, Czech Republic
Patricia Adams, Economist and Executive Director of Probe International, Canada
Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Consultant on Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation, United Kingdom
Farish Ahmad-Noor, Political Scientist and Historian, Singapore/Malaysia
Robert Amsterdam, Attorney, Canada
Zygmunt Bauman, Sociologist and Philosopher, Poland
Francisco Bermúdez, Former Minister of National Defense, Guatemala
Jan Bubeník, Founder of Bubenik Partners, Czech Republic
Humberto Celli, Former President of the Latin American Parliament, Venezuela
Oksana Chelysheva, PEN Center Writer, Finland/Russia
Doris Donnelly, Director, The Cardinal Suenens Center, John Carroll University, USA
Michel Dubost, Bishop, Diocese Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes, France
Mikuláš Dzurinda, Former Prime Minister, Slovakia
Carlos Gonzáles Sháněl, Political Analyst and Journalist, Czech Republic
Riprand Graf V. U. Z. Arco-Zinneberg, Founder and Chairman, American Asset Corporation, USA
Garry Kasparov, Political Activist, Russia
Mikhail Kasyanov, Former Prime Minister, Russia
Don McKinnon, Former Secretary General of Commonwealth, New Zealand
Javier Loaiza, Consultant and Political Analyst, Colombia
Sergey Lukashevsky, Director, Museum and Social Center of Andrey Sakharov, Russia
Carlos Alberto Montaner, Political Analyst, Spain/Cuba
Jiří Musil, Sociologist, Czech Republic
Ashis Nandy, Political Psychologist and Sociologist of Science, India
José Noguera, Economist, Venezuela
Michael Novak, Theologian and Political Scientist, USA
Alexander Podrabinek, Journalist and Human Rights Activist, Russia
Sigrid Rausing, Founder, Sigrid Rausing Trust, United Kingdom
Karel Schwarzenberg, Senator, Czech Republic
Ivo Šilhavý, Diplomat, Czech Republic
John Suárez, Human Rights Director, Cuban Democratic Directorate, Cuba/USA
Jan Urban, Journalist, Czech Republic

In addition to this open letter, the Forum 2000 Foundation released an article “Freedom Arrested in Venezuela“ that was published by media from around the world.

Freedom Arrested in Venezuela

Prague, March 31, 2010

The arrest of Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, a former president of Venezuela’s Chamber of Deputies, governor of the Venezuelan state of Zulia, and presidential candidate, should concern the entire world because it demonstrates just how far President Hugo Chávez’s regime is willing to stray from democratic norms. 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 functionaries in order to persecute, intimidate, and silence those who criticize his government. It also corroborates reports published by international organizations and institutions like theInter-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.
But the idea of arbitrary power exercised by any leader or political movement, no matter how much he or it claims to represent the poor and downtrodden – as Chávez does – is alien to all concepts of liberty. It is the legalism of the barbarian, and the instinctive political philosophy of all who are in revolt against democratic norms of behavior.
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. Only by doing so can they defend the principles established in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. 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. It is not too late to recall Venezuela to the camp of free and democratic nations. To speak out for the freedom of Álvarez Paz is to defend the freedom of all Venezuelans.