Venezuela expelled European Parliament deputy Luis Herrero late on Friday after he called President Hugo Chavez a “dictator” and criticized the electoral council ahead of a vote which could help keep Chavez in power for another decade.
“In line with instructions from the electoral power and guaranteeing the customary respect of human rights, European deputy Luis Herrero has been invited to leave the country,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.
The Spanish Popular Party politician was on a commercial flight to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo at 11pm on Friday, a ministry source said.
Herrero earlier called on Venezuelans to vote freely, in comments to journalists.
“They should never be carried away when they vote by the fear that a dictator tries to impose in a premeditated way,” Herrero said.
A local opposition party had invited the European lawmaker to Venezuela to observe today’s referendum on a change to the constitution which would allow unlimited term limits for elected officials.
Luis Ignacio Planas, secretary general of the Copei Christian Democrat party denounced the deputy’s removal “by force” and without official warning.
“He didn’t have the opportunity to collect his belongings or his passport. Police arrived and took him by force. Officials later went to the hotel to collect his suitcases and documents,” Planas said in an interview with the Globvision private TV channel.
The president of Venezuela’s electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said Herrero had disturbed the “peace and harmony” that had so far marked the tightly-fought referendum campaign.
Herrero also critized the electoral council for extending today’s voting to end at 6pm rather than two hours earlier, claiming the move would risk “not very transparent, anti-democratic maneuvers.”
About 100 international observers have been accredited to observe the referendum, but neither the Organization of American States nor the EU have official observers in Venezuela.
The South American country on Sept. 19 expelled Jose Miguel Vivanco, a representative of Human Rights Watch, after the watchdog presented a critical report on 10 years of Chavez’s rule.