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US State Department Rebukes Cuba, Venezuela in Rights Report

The new State Department human rights report criticizes two anti-U.S. countries in Latin America, Cuba and Venezuela.

The report says in Cuba, suppression of freedom of speech increased last year, and that harassment of dissidents intensified, including the beating of activists. The report says at least 219 political prisoners remain behind bars in the communist-led country. Cuba denies holding political prisoners.

The State Department report says the government of President Raul Castro continues to restrict citizens' access to independent information and has sought to restrict their access to the Internet, despite allowing ordinary Cubans to own personal computers for the first time.

The report says non-government organizations noted an erosion of democratic and human rights in Cuba's ally, Venezuela. The report cited what it called hindrances and threats to freedom of expression, including media freedom, along with harassment and intimidation of independent media outlets and journalists on state-owned media.

The report notes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's efforts to abolish term limits for all elected officials. Earlier this month, Mr. Chavez won a referendum that allows him to seek re-election. It was his second bid to remove term limits after voters rejected a similar proposal in 2007.

The State Department did report some progress in Latin America.

The report says in the past year, Argentina's government convicted several perpetrators of rights abuses that were committed during the 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship. It also says authorities conducted trials that had been suspended in 1989 and 1990 when such perpetrators were pardoned.

The document says in Colombia, which is at war against rebel and paramilitary forces, the government's respect for human rights continues to improve despite ongoing problems. It says a number of commanding officers are under investigation for gross human rights violations.

The report says that generally, electoral institutions throughout the Western Hemisphere maintained the independence and rigor they have gained in recent years.