Human rights prof says Venezuelans 'better off' under socialism

A law professor who specializes in human rights claims that Venezuelans are “better off” because of Hugo Chávez and are currently enjoying “free and fair” elections.

Daniel Kovalik, who teaches international human rights law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, argues in a recent op-ed for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that U.S. media coverage of Venezuela “ignores the fact” that the U.S. is the “greatest impediment to democracy” in Venezuela and “throughout Latin America.”

Kovalik asserts that the “true patriots” of Venezuela “resent” the “devastating economic sanctions” imposed by the U.S., claiming that a vote for current socialist President Nicolás Maduro “was a vote against U.S. meddling” in the country’s affairs.

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“Venezuela’s electoral an inspiring process that guarantees one person, one vote, and includes multiple auditing procedures to ensure a free and fair election,” Kovalik claims. 

2017 World Report by Human Rights Watch (HRC), however, documents multiple instances of abuse against political opponents and citizens who were critical of the current Venezuelan government.

According to the report, between April and July of last year, “security force personnel have shot demonstrators at point-blank range with riot-control munitions, run over demonstrators with an armored vehicle, brutally beaten people who offered no resistance, and staged violent raids on apartment buildings.”

Likewise, the the human rights watchdog notes that the United States Attorney General’s Office reported 124 deaths that occured in Venezuela during “incidents related to the protests” as of July 2017. In August of the same year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is also said to have concluded that “more than half of the deaths had been caused by security agents.”

“Security forces often held protesters incommunicado on military bases for 48 hours or more, and in some cases, committed egregious human rights violations, including severe beatings, electric shocks or burns, and forcing detainees to squat or kneel without moving for hours,” the report adds.

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While Kovalik acknowledges the “real hardships in Venezuela,” for which he claims the U.S. is “largely to blame,” he also contends that “most of Venezuela’s poor are better off now than they were before the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.”

“But you never hear the voices of these poor people in the U.S. press,” he complains. “You never hear their side of the story, how they have benefitted from the Bolivarian Revolution and how desperately they do not want to go back to how things were before.”

The “Bolivarian Revolution” is a political movement spearheaded by Chavez in 1999. The revolution’s original slogan—”Motherland, socialism, or death”—was later changed by Chavez to “Socialist motherland and victory, we will live, and we will come out victorious.”

“While [the poor] have been given a voice in Venezuela, it remains muzzled in this country, and by a press which passes off pro-intervention and pro-war propaganda as journalism,” Kovalik wrote. “It is no wonder the United States continues to careen into one disastrous military adventure after another.”

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In an interview with Campus Reform, Kovalic said that HRC reports often overlook “the violence of the protests which included protesters’ setting people on fire; decapitating people with metal clothes lines set as booby traps across streets; bombing a police convoy; and setting tons of food, public buildings (including health clinics and a daycare) on fire.”

“While I do not condone police violence, one must have this context to understand what is happening in Venezuela and why police might respond as they do,” Kovalik continued. “And again, relative calm has returned to Venezuela, and I think you will see much more positive [Human Rights Watch] reports for the end of 2017 and for 2018.”

Comparing the situation to police violence in the US, Kovalik predicted that “the numbers killed by police in Venezuela will be miniscule [sic] to the number killed by US police in a much calmer environment.” 

“And yet the US—which also imprisons more people (in terms of both absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population) than any other nation on Earth—will continue to hold itself out as the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy,” he said. 

To further illustrate his point, Kovalik went on to quote former President George W. Bush, who once remarked that “too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Grace_Gotcha