[News] Few or no advances in the Venezuelan judicial system

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Fri Nov 26 08:27:39 EST 2004

Carlos Herrera: Few or no advances in the Venezuelan judicial system


VHeadline.com commentarist Carlos Herrera writes: It is well known that 
there are no "white collar criminals" behind bars in Venezuela and that the 
prisons are populated by ranks of the poor, unfortunate enough to have got 
involved in criminal activity.

Since the instauration of democracy at the end of the 1960s, there has 
literally been one law for the rich and another one for the poor.

In this case, the rich somehow never get condemned and the poor are sent 
"down the river" for crimes from murder to petty offenses, to experience 
institutional prison life which is still the shame of Venezuelan society, 
due to the inhuman conditions in almost all of the penitentiaries. Since 
the beginning of the 5th Republic in 1999 after the approval in national 
referendum of the Bolivarian Constitution, little has changed.

Embezzlers, bankers, tax evaders, smugglers and other dishonest individuals 
are still enjoying their liberty and the whole corrupt state apparatus 
inherited from the IV Republic is still intact.

No high profile citizens who were involved in the April 2002 coup d'etat, 
without mentioning the national strike and sabotage of ports and the oil 
industry, have even gone to trial so far.
    * All the cases pending are in the Attorney General's Office and are 
being processed at less than a snail's pace, since many State Prosecutors 
did not want to take on high profile cases.

Only the late Danilo Anderson had the courage to stand up and be counted in 
terms of implementing justice in Venezuela, by pursuing the criminals who 
signed Carmona's decree on April 12, 2002 ... and we all know what befell 
to him at 9:45 p.m. on November 18.

This vulgar impunity has its historical roots as explained above, and was 
fuelled by the habit of bribe taking by the State Prosecutors and the 
judges themselves, so that the corrupt paid off the public servants with 
money stolen form the government coffers, in the first place, and for which 
they were being investigated.

It is almost impossible to have a more incestuous and ironical situation 
... with the result that the "endemic corruption" has always been 

Some consequences of impunity:

The decision of August 14, 2002, by the Supreme Tribunal by 11 versus 9 
votes ratifying that there was not a coup d'etat ... but a "power vacuum" 
... and that Chavez' captors were in fact protecting him ,and the leading 
coup generals were "acting with good intentions" caused riots in Caracas.
    * Despite lack of hard evidence, there is good reason to suppose that 
at least one of the judges of the Supreme Tribunal was bribed, since 
leading opposition figures were recorded in a telephone conversation 
talking about giving the judge in question a "toquecito" -- a little nudge.

This sort of "deal" was always par for the course in Venezuela ... and even 
more so since Chavez' ex right hand man and veteran political operator, 
Luis Miquelena -- now one of Chavez' arch enemies -- was responsible for 
the recommendations of judges for high posts in the judiciary ... before he 
abandoned the Bolivarian project and went over to the opposition side in 
December 2001.

This decision laid the ground for all the destabilization for the rest of 
2002 and 2003, since it gave the coup mongers a legal basis upon which to 
continue their quest to overthrow the government, as they could not be 
easily indicted for the original crime of plotting Chavez' demise.

Many State Prosecutors supported the destitution of Chavez and publicly 
expressed their support for this anti-Constitutional action, before his 
return to power within 47 hours by a combined effort of the people and the 
armed forces.

The "go slow" in dealing with emblematic and high profile cases is part of 
the inefficiency which Chavez wants to address in this next phase of the 
revolutionary process.

What could happen

The well-known Constitutional lawyer Carlos Escarra stated in an interview 
on Vive TV on Monday, November 22, that 90% of the judges are not doing 
their jobs (i.e. upholding justice) and the 10% that are functioning, are 
still doing a bad job.

Escarra is a candidate for the enlarged Supreme Tribunal from 20 judges to 
32 ... and this reform of the judicial system is starting at the top, in 
the expectation that the "vacuum of power and no coup d'etat" decision will 
eventually be reconsidered, and followed by a "clean out" of 90% of the 
judges evaluated as incompetent or corrupt.

Escarra also commented that if the system did not change so as to 
administer justice equitably, then a situation could arise where the 
populace begins to take justice into its own hands.

Chavez has said on innumerable occasions that. under the new Constitution 
"no-one is untouchable" .. but these words have so far fallen on deaf ears 
in the circles of the existing judiciary.

Drastic changes have to be made ... and fairly quickly.

The widespread impunity propelled along by the inefficiency and obstruction 
by many State Prosecutors ... and backed up by the judges themselves ... 
has been a guarantee that no-one has been sent to prison so far.

High profile criminals and fugitives from justice such as Carmona himself, 
Carlos Ortega, Carlos Fernandez, Molina Tamayo, Orlando Urdaneta, Rafael 
Marin have left the country.

Extradition proceedings many take up to five years.

The leaders of the sabotage of the oil industry Juan Fernandez and Horacio 
Medina were summoned to court, but had their cases thrown out by the 
judges, due to the incompetent or deliberately poor preparation of the 
charges against them by the State Prosecutors responsible.

The 18,000 PDVSA middle mangers and executives who abandoned their posts in 
December 2002 may have lost their jobs ... but so far no legal action has 
been taken for sabotaging computer systems by changing or deleting 
passwords (for example) and the resulting billion dollar losses suffered by 
the nation.

The directors of Sumate are being processed for conspiracy, receiving 
foreign funding to finance their activities and electoral fraud.

At the same time the judicial system is being pressured by comments from US 
politicians and representatives from the US State Department meddling in 
internal Venezuelan affairs, so as to taint these cases as being "political 
prosecutions," and the point out danger of members of civil society being 
treated as "political prisoners" -- such as the convicted coup mongers in 
Tachira State.

There is a long road ahead to surgically remove these vices from the 
Venezuelan judicial system. Impunity effectively demoralizes the population 
supporting the Bolivarian revolution, the great majority of whom are still 
poor and see the shenanigans of the wealthy and corrupt as an affront to 
their revolution, as judges somehow never seem to convict anyone who has 
money or position in society ... no matter what they are accused of.
    * In the poor areas there are very often lynchings of local thugs, 
rapists and thieves as the population knows that the chance of these 
antisocial elements being punished is slim, to say the least.

Thus, justice is administered by the "mob."

Let us hope that the opinions expressed by Carlos Escarra do not become 
reality with "popular justice " being administered by the population ... as 
recently happened in Peru when one Mayor (accused of corruption) was killed 
by the fury of mob law ... and a second one suffered a similar fate two 
weeks later.

Carlos Herrera
<mailto:Carlos.Herrera at VHeadline.com>Carlos.Herrera at VHeadline.com

Venezuelan grass roots activist Carlos Herrera works with the local 
population with the aim of organizing direct action to develop projects 
that will benefit the community, with the added objective of forcing home 
the message of participative democracy.
These activities are complemented by meetings and forums designed to make 
the average citizen more conscious of his rights, duties and role in 
contemporary Venezuelan society.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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