CARACAS – President Hugo Chávez ordered officials to expel from Venezuela foreigners who speak badly about his socialist government though journalists will apparently be exempt from the measure.
“The foreigner who comes here to denigrate us Venezuelans, the free, democratic and legitimate government of Venezuela, has to be, with all respect, put in Maiquetia (the international airport in Caracas) and told: ‘Here is your suitcase, sir, get out of this country’,” Chávez said July 29 on his weekly radio and television program, “Aló, Presidente.”
Chávez spoke a day after the president of the Christian Democratic Organization of the Americas,Manuel Espino, said in Caracas that the Venezuelan government was an example of the “demagogic, populist and authoritarian tendency that attacks the freedom and fundamental rights of citizens.”
Espino, chairman of Mexico’s ruling right-wing National Action Party (PAN), said in a press conference that a planned constitutional reform to end presidential term limits in Venezuela appeared to him to be “a cunning argument” to keep Chávez in power “in perpetuity.”
He also criticized Chávez’s recent decision to not renew the broadcasting license of anti-government television station RCTV, adding that “apparently, what really happened is that the President did not like the criticism of his performance.”
Chávez, however, demanded, “Until when are we going to allow Joe Blow to come here, from whatever country in the world, right here, to our house, to say that there’s a dictatorship here, that the president is a tyrant and nobody says anything? No, that’s forbidden for foreigners.”
He added, “Last night, I told the Vice-President (Jorge Rodríguez): ‘Look, OK. Do you want me to go get the guy myself, put him in a car and take him to Maiquetia and put him on a plane?’” Chávez asked, criticizing his government’s failure to take action.
“It is not a personal problem, it’s a problem of national dignity,” the President said, adding that he did not want people’s rights trampled, as happened with an Argentine journalist who was expelled from Venezuela in 1995 for writing a series of critical articles for publication in Buenos Aires.
“They got their hands on a copy of an article, which was not for publication here, but abroad … but since it was published they grabbed him, took him away to jail and later expelled him in handcuffs. I’m not talking about that, that’s an outrage,” Chávez said.
He also revealed that Colombia recently “deported two Venezuelans, a university president and a legislator, because over there, in the Colombian Caribbean, I don’t know what they said, but the Colombian government considered that they were interfering with their internal affairs, and so they deported them.”
Chávez’s model of governance has so far been very influential on the new government of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, although Ortega insists that freedom of expression – and “the freedom to criticize” – will not be curtailed in his country.