The concentration of power in the executive by President Hugo Chavez's government and its removal of human rights safeguards have given Venezuelan officials free rein to intimidate, censor and prosecute critics and challengers, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
The advocacy group's report comes four years after its regional director and his deputy were expelled from Venezuela after presenting a report that reached a similar conclusion. In the interim, "the human rights situation has become even more precarious," the report says.
It comes as President Chavez, after 13 years in power promoting a socialist agenda that has included expropriation of private businesses, faces an election contest on 7 October against an opponent who accuses him of unfairly using state resources and monopolising broadcast media.
The Americas director for Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said of the situation confronting the opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles: "With a very solid consolidation of power, it is a real challenge."
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