Cochez was also unequivocal in supporting the beleaguered IACHR, the organization's independent human rights body, and especially the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression -- an active and effective media watchdog functioning since 1997. Both institutions have been the target of a recent "reform" effort by a group of countries, led by Venezuela, that aim to reduce them to insignificance.
In March 2012, Venezuela's representative attacked the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur as "politicized," "selective" and "financed by generous donors who expect their political and economic interests to be protected." Cochez responded:
I believe we cannot and should not accept the argument that the IACHR is manipulated behind our own backs because, first, we would be validating something that is just not true, and, second, because we [the states] would be conceding that we are not capable of defending our interests in the face of an independent Inter-American human rights system.
Some have characterized Cochez's stance as ironic, considering that the Panamanian government that Cochez himself represents has not shown the best democratic credentials. Yet Cochez consistently, if diplomatically, resisted Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli's own caudillo tendencies. In May 2011, Cochez recounted an anecdote about a legislator from Martinelli's party who had proposed a bill criminalizing insults against the president. Cochez explained that he had denounced the idea as "a step backwards," telling the lawmaker that he was actually "harming" the president "because freedom of expression could not be abridged."
Even so, Panama's wanting record on human rights and democracy under Martinelli pales when compared to those of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. The presidents of these countries have variously abused their powers to rewrite constitutions, extend term limits, judicially persecute members of the opposition and the independent media, and take over legislatures and judiciaries.
Tellingly, these are the same countries that have led the OAS into irrelevance -- at times through sophism, but more often through outright contempt for what they consider to be foreign "western democratic" principles. Not coincidentally, they're also the ones who have supported the push to undermine the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
In 2010, President Chávez called the IACHR's executive director, Santiago Cantón, "pure excrement," and in 2012, Venezuela became the first Latin American country to denounce the landmark 1969 American Convention of Human Rights. The Chávez government's bold anti-IACHR rhetoric at the OAS is routinely echoed by its counterparts from Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. Lately, they've been joined, in part, by Colombia and Argentina.
Under the newly-coined "principle of non-selectiveness," these countries claim that the IACHR's annual report, which singles out the countries undergoing the most serious human rights situations, should either address all the 34 OAS member states (as proposed by Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador) or have the name and shame section eliminated altogether (as proposed by Nicaragua and Venezuela).