On September 11, 2014, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reportedly instructed his attorney general to take action against Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann, in response to an editorial that Professor Hausmann published about Venezuelan foreign debt.
Professor Hausmann served as a minister in the Venezuelan government before President Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999. He is currently the Director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University and a Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. On September 5, 2014, Professor Hausmann wrote an article in an online publication arguing that it would be in Venezuela’s interest to default on its foreign debt, suggesting that many of the bonds held on such debt benefit wealthy Venezuelans at the expense of the country’s poor, and criticizing the Maduro government’s decision not to default as a “signal of its moral bankruptcy”.
In a public speech on September 11, 2014, President Maduro responded to the editorial by accusing Professor Hausmann of being a “bandit,” stating “I’ve ordered the public prosecutor, and I’ve spoken to the attorney general, to start actions because you’re involved in a campaign to damage our fatherland.” Maduro additionally stated, “We have the proof in your declarations and articles, up there in your mansions where you live with money stolen from Venezuela.” As of this report, it was unclear what, if any, action had been taken against Professor Hausmann.
Harvard has issued a statement of support for Professor Hausmann, stating in part that “Harvard University and HKS strongly defend the right of any faculty member to communicate his or her views. It is in the open exchange of opinions and ideas that people and nations can learn and prosper.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about state threats against scholars in retaliation for academic or political expression, conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such threats not only impact the immediate victims, but undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy and the ability of higher education communities to serve their educational, research and social functions, harming all members of these communities and society generally.