Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that his government should pull out of the Organization of American States' human rights body, accusing it of acting in concert with the U.S. government.
Chavez said in a televised speech that he's asking a newly created Council of State to take up his proposal to immediately withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Washington-based commission has repeatedly been critical of the human rights situation in Venezuela.
"We should have pulled out of that commission" already, the president said. He had previously expressed an interest in withdrawing from the rights commission in 2010.
He called the rights body a "sword of Damocles" and accused the U.S. government of using it to attack his socialist-oriented government.
His remarks drew criticism from human rights activists as well as his political opponents.
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles called the idea of withdrawing from the rights body irresponsible.
Human rights activist Liliana Ortega, who leads the organization Cofavic, said it would be a major setback for Venezuela to pull out of the commission.
"With this decision, no one wins. The government loses a lot obviously. A decision like this reaffirms that there is a situation of indifference and complete inattention to human rights," Ortega said.
Chavez raised the issue during a speech at the presidential palace in which he announced that he was returning to Cuba for the "home stretch" of his cancer treatment. Chavez also signed a new labor law that among various changes shortens the official work week in Venezuela from 44 to 40 hours.
He left for Havana on Monday night.
In his speech beforehand, Chavez said he would be back in a matter of days, and hoped that within weeks he would be able to be out "traveling around the beloved streets of my homeland, the beloved countryside of Venezuela."
The president has been undergoing treatment since a surgery in Cuba last June that removed a tumor from his pelvic region. He has been receiving radiation therapy after a second surgery that removed a tumor from the same area in February.
"They aren't easy days, but we're a warrior for facing adversity, and with faith in God and Christ the Redeemer, and with that immense love of the Venezuelan people and with this will to live, to fight ... we'll get through this," Chavez said.
Chavez created the new Council of State in a law that he approved by decree in January. Venezuela's constitution provides for a Council of State, saying it should be headed by the vice president and should recommend policies on issues that the president deems to be of particular importance.
Chavez proposed on Monday that the council should convene to take up the matter of pulling out of the human rights commission. He also proposed that two of its members include longtime allies Jose Vicente Rangel, a former vice president, and Luis Britto Garcia, a writer and intellectual.
Chavez approved the new labor law by decree using special powers granted to him by the National Assembly in late 2010. Those legislative powers allow the president to enact laws by decree for an 18-month period.
Some business and union leaders were critical of the way the law was approved, saying those affected hadn't been consulted.
Carlos Larrazabal, who heads the country's largest industrial business chamber, said it's difficult for businesspeople to gauge the effects of the law because details have yet to be published in the Official Gazette. He said it was highly unusual the president had approved the law and Venezuelans still hadn't seen the text.
Opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez denounced Chavez's approval of the law as "the most anti-democratic act," saying the government hadn't received input from all sectors of society.
Chavez said that under the law, women will be entitled to maternity leave of six weeks before birth and 20 weeks after birth. Under the previous law, women were entitled to 18 weeks of maternity leave.
The new law also changes the method of calculating government-mandated benefits, meaning that many employees will receive higher amounts in bonuses and pension fund payments.