Venezuela, Bolivia condemn US criticism
By IAN JAMES
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela and Bolivia on Thursday condemned a U.S. State Department report on human rights problems in the South American countries, saying Washington has no right to pass judgment.
President Hugo Chavez's government said it categorically rejects the U.S. report, which cited a politicized judiciary and harassment of Venezuela's political opposition and the news media, among other problems.
The report's allegations are "plagued with lies," Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said.
"No government in the world has the right to use a report to meddle in, judge or qualify the situation in other nations," he told reporters.
Chavez has long been one of the U.S. government's harshest and most vocal critics but recently expressed hope that relations may improve under President Barack Obama. Chavez has said good relations will depend in large part on whether Washington shows respect for his government, which is a major U.S. oil supplier.
"We've called for the current U.S. administration to halt the attacks," Maduro said. "What they do is batter and push back the possibilities of establishing new political relations."
The State Department's report, released Wednesday, addresses human rights issues in countries across the world during the past year.
It said Venezuela's principal rights problems include unlawful killings by authorities, harsh prison conditions and widespread corruption at all levels of government.
Bolivia also took issue with the U.S. report, which said the Bolivian government generally respected human rights but cited abuses by security forces, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and threats to legal rights and press freedoms.
"It's a gross simplification of the national reality that is politically motivated," said Sacha Llorenti, a vice minister and government liaison to Bolivian social movements.
Llorenti suggested the U.S. lacks moral authority to raise human rights criticisms: "We also think it's important to have sufficient moral principles to be able to talk about the subject of human rights."
U.S. relations with Bolivia are under considerable strain. Last year, Bolivian President Evo Morales, a close Chavez ally, expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents after claiming they had conspired against his government. The U.S. has repeatedly denied the allegations.