PRAGUE – 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.