Venezuela-Colombia diplomatic row worsens
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Jul 23, 2010
Venezuela is going through with severance of diplomatic relations with Colombia in an ill-tempered response to Bogota reports that rebels seeking to topple its government were still operating from Venezuelan territory.
The escalation of an old quarrel at an emergency session of the Organization of American States in Washington followed arguments over how much of the material support commanded by FARC was coming from the government of President Hugo Chavez.
Chavez denies Colombia's allegations that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are operating against the country from Venezuelan territory. Bogota says its assertions are backed by evidence, including photographs presented at the OAS session.
FARC's anti-government operations and organized crime drug-traffickers on a cocaine trail to North America are at the center of a joint military operation involving Colombian and U.S. forces.
Venezuela calls the U.S. role a hostile act, accusing both forces of preparing for an invasion of Venezuela, a charge dismissed by both Bogota and Washington.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters, "I don't think that severing ties or communication is the proper way to achieve that end."
He called on Colombia and Venezuela to "work to reduce mutual suspicion" and to meet commitments under anti-terrorist treaties and resolutions at the OAS and the U.N.
The dispute surfaced at the OAS meeting when representatives of Colombia and Venezuela exchanged angry words.
Chavez later used a high-profile news event -- meeting with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona -- to attack Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, calling his government "militant, lying and aggressive."
Chavez's decision to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia came amid a Colombian demand for an international commission to establish FARC's role in Venezuela.
Colombian Ambassador Luis Alonso Hoyos produced photographs to support Bogota's claims of FARC activity in Venezuela, and called on the Chavez government to take immediate measures against the rebels.
Venezuelan envoy Roy Chaderton countered by demanding an international commission to investigate U.S. military installations in Colombia. Last year Colombia and the United States signed new agreements to increase military cooperation to fight the drug trade.
Colombia's war on drugs is likely to continue when Uribe steps down Aug. 7 after eight years in office. Uribe will be replaced by former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, elected president in June.
With Venezuela's diplomatic break still reverberating in Latin diplomatic circles, OAS was criticized by Ecuador for its handling of the row between the two countries.
Ecuador questioned OAS decision to rush into organizing an emergency meeting that it said had aggravated the dispute between Colombia and Venezuela.
earlier related report
The answer, the campaign group said, is to close down the organization.
The Center for Situational Studies of the Nation was recently created on orders of President Hugo Chavez, who earlier shut down or took control of several independent media outlets and groups that gave voice to critics of the government's policies.
Venezuela suffered major shrinkage in economic growth this year after prolonged drought and what critics called government mismanagement. Chavez hit back at critics, but shortages of consumer goods, electricity and water remain and have angered citizens.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas' director at Human Rights Watch, said Venezuela's government should stop seeking to discredit human-rights defenders and prosecuting critics.
On June 1, 2010, Chavez issued a presidential decree creating Centro de Estudio Situacional de la Nacion. The new Center for Situational Studies of the Nation was given broad powers to limit public dissemination of "information, facts or circumstance[s]" that it decides should be confidential.
CESNA will operate within the Ministry of the Interior and Justice to "compile, process and analyze" information from government offices and civil society "regarding any aspect of national interest."
Chavez also called for criminal investigations into human-rights organizations trying to operate in the country. Chavez said the organizations were funded from the United States.
Human Rights Watch said the government failed to provide protection for human-rights defenders who received threats. Instead, the campaign group said, authorities chose to prosecute critics of government actions or policies.
"President Chavez has created a new tool for controlling public debate in Venezuela," Vivanco said. "The new decree would allow the president to block the discussion of topics that are inconvenient for his government, blatantly violating the rights of expression and to information, which are at the heart of a democratic society."
CESNA's senior officials have been vested with powers to declare that "any information, fact, or circumstance" should be "reserved, classified or of limited release."
Any subsequent release by government officials of information that could "compromise the security and defense of the nation" is now subject to criminal penalties under the Venezuelan National Security Law.
In addition, the decree opens the way for further restrictive legislation, Human Rights Watch said. A clause in the decree provides that laws, rules of procedure or other norms determined by the government may grant the center new powers.
Human Rights Watch said the decree's language was so broad that it could allow the government to block dissemination of information, not only by state entities but also by non-state actors, including civil society groups and the media.
The American Convention on Human Rights explicitly prohibits such censorship, and such arbitrary restrictions on the right to receive and impart information are incompatible with Venezuela's obligations as a party to the ACHR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the campaign group said.
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