On MSNBC on Monday morning, GOP pundit Ron Christie, while commenting about Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's self-professed desire for better relations with the United States, huffed that "actions speak louder than words...I'd like to see him release thousands of political prisoners who are currently in prison for their political views."
The problem with that statement? Chavez, for all his anti-democratic ways, has not imprisoned thousands of political prisoners. Human rights groups that roundly criticize Chavez don't even cite a single political prisoner in Venezuela. Nobody on air corrected Christie.
Who's Christie? He was an aide to both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He wrote a book called, Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's Wet Wing. He appears regularly on cable television. He's a lobbyist (and used to lobby for AIG). And his bio makes him sound super-smart:
As a veteran senior advisor to the White House and Congress, he brings his keen insights and political savvy to issues including health care, the national budget, taxes, and innumerable others. He is also active on the international scene as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, lending his breadth of knowledge and intelligence to world affairs.
But Christie's breadth of knowledge about Venezuela ain't so hot. As Human Rights Watch reports, Chavez "has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela." It notes:
Discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chávez presidency.
The Chávez government has engaged in wide-ranging acts of discrimination against political opponents and critics. At times, the president himself has openly endorsed acts of discrimination. More generally, he has encouraged the discriminatory actions of subordinates by routinely denouncing his critics as anti-democratic conspirators – regardless of whether they had any connection to the 2002 coup.
The group also points out that the Chavez government has undermined freedom of expression with crackdowns aimed at the media, has violated workers' rights, and has "pursued an aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organziations." But it says nothing about political prisoners--let alone thousands. Amnesty International, too, notes that in Venezuela "human rights defenders continued to face intimidation and attack." Again, no mention of political prisoners. (By the way, the repressive Castro regime in Cuba has imprisoned several dozen dissidents, not thousands.)
I sent Christie an email asking about his claim that Chavez has jailed thousands of political prisoners. So far, he has not responded. Maybe he's too busy lending his breadth of knowledge to world affairs.