The Crack

The Veneer Cracks:

Human Rights Watch was recently reporting from Venezuela:

On September 18, we released a report in Caracas that shows how President Hugo Chávez has undermined human rights guarantees in Venezuela. That night, we returned to our hotel and found around twenty Venezuelan security agents, some armed and in military uniform, awaiting us outside our rooms. They were accompanied by a man who announced—with no apparent sense of irony—that he was a government "human rights" official and that we were being expelled from the country.

With government cameramen filming over his shoulder, the official did his best to act as if he were merely upholding the law. When we said we needed to gather our belongings, he calmly told us not to worry, his men had already entered our rooms and "packed" our bags.

But when we tried to use our cell phones to get word to our families, our colleagues, and the press, the veneer of protocol quickly gave way. Security agents surrounded us, pried the phones from our hands, and removed and pocketed the batteries. When we then insisted on contacting our embassies, they shoved us into a service elevator, took us to the basement, and forced us into the back seat of an SUV with tinted windows. When we asked where we were headed, they told us only that we were going to the airport.

Three security agents sat behind us, at least two with weapons drawn. One used a cell phone to receive and relay orders as we raced through the streets of Caracas and out onto a highway. At one point an order came to turn on the SUV's radio so we could listen as the state news agency announced our expulsion. The announcers told their captive audience—which also included every other Venezuelan listening to the radio, since all stations are required to broadcast such messages—that our organization was funded by the US government and that we were part of a campaign of aggression against Venezuela.
Probably news to President Bush, who has been annoyed by HRW in the past. Of course, in the United States they are free to operate without being expelled by gunpoint, and their belongings -- as their offices and papers -- are secured by the 4th Amendment.

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