Saturday, June 19, 2004

VENEZUELA 'S JUDICIAL DISASTER

The "legal" set up is unmasked, but, undaunted the judicial players forge ahead on their road to abjection

Saturday 19, June 2004

The Human Rights Watch report, HRW, surely has had its effect as the chavista political class is running for cover and making up unbelievable explanations that surely they do not believe themselves. While the opposition seats on the sideline and watches, finally vindicated.

If the Vice has not come out with further declarations (somebody must have told him to stop sliding further into ridicule) the Foreign Minister did step out. In his declaration Jesus Perez linked HRW to the Venezuelan opposition which one supposes is a more credible argument than calling Vivanco a lackey of Bush. The foreign ministry went into some length to explain (justify?) the actual legal procedures to name judges, daring even to say that in Venezuela things are better than elsewhere. Let's examine this.

In the US, indeed, the president names the Supreme Court judges but they must be ratified by the Senate. Senators being state representatives and elected for 6 years (to the presidential 4 years term) tend to be reasonably independent of Executive pressure, unless perhaps running for reelection before the president does. Thus the system "in general" forces the president to name a competent judge even if that judge is a political associate. The judge named for life can be, from the start, free from further political pressure if his moral character dictates so.

In Venezuela the National Assembly names the High Court Justices by a 2/3 votes. After several rounds if the 2/3 is not reached, then a simple majority vote is enough. In other words political appointees can be named since it is just a matter of waiting a few weeks to reach the simple majority round. There is no way to block the appointment of a political judge if half + one member of the assembly chose to do so. The only possible filter would be the nominating team controlled by the Assembly anyway. In addition, the new justice has a 12 years term and thus will not have the same independence of a US Justice. And last, and gravest, it is relatively easy to remove the Venezuelan Justice by a 2/3 vote, or to inactivate its action "pending" removal which is a direct way to neutralize a justice even if the 2/3 cannot be reached.

Jesus Perez either thinks that we are stupid, or he is stupid or he is lying. What is your pick Jesus?

But what is most astounding is that at the same time as the foreign minister emitted his opinion, the "Poder Ciudadano" was contradicting him and proving the world that when Mr. Vivanco read the HRW report he was quite to the point.

The citizens power or "Poder Ciudadano" is a weird creation of the 1999 constitution. Part of what is normally associated with the judicial power was set up as an independent power. Well, the least that can be said about this new power is that it has shown a servile subservience to the executive power since its creation. The role of this new power is to protect citizens from public administration abuses (Ombudsman or "defensor del pueblo"), to control public finances and avoid corruption (General Comptroller or "controlador") and to effectuate all the general prosecution actions of the state (General Prosecutor or "Fiscal de la Republica"). Since the year 2000 not a single major human right abuse has been properly documented and sued, not a single important corruption case has been investigated and has reached some court sanction. On the other hand all sorts of cases have been brought against the opposition for charges far less important that the ones brought against the corrupt Venezuelan administration by all sorts of people. The three guys in charge of these "poder" are consistently rating at the bottom of opinion polls and are the subject to ridicule, not able to go in public as they generate spontaneous protest against them. Their only public apparitions are limited to official functions safely surrounded by chavistas. Even chavistas, though supporting their rather abject posture, do not hold them in high esteem, seen them for what they are, errand boys.

Well, yesterday they struck back, very untimely I would add. In a surprising decision, they used their power to blame High Court Justices for abuse of constitutional power. According to the "Consejo Moral Republicano", CMR, the Moral Republican Council (I am not making this up!), the three justices from the Electoral Court should not have overruled the Electoral Board, CNE, when it decided to "suspend" a million plus signatures of the Recall Election petition drive. The CMR on May 11 told the justices to present their defense. The Electoral Court argued that judicially they were above the CMR on that matter and that only the complete High Court could decide on that matter. Obviously this has not stopped the CMR to rule, and thus create its very own conflict of powers by grossly, and abjectly again, intervene to prepare the dismissal of the Justices that have displeased the Chavez regime. It is striking that when one reads some of the pertinent details of the CMR ruling that some of the procedural faults that they use to substantiate their case have been done, in even more striking fashion by the Constitutional Court. That court actions have not bothered the least the CMR.

Truly, Human Rights Watch could not expect to have its conclusions be proven so right so fast while Mr. Vivanco is still inside Venezuela.

But why is the government so strident about HRW? Why forge ahead and keep dismantling the judicial system? In particular kill the Electoral Court? Well, August 15 is coming closer and closer and polls are not improving. Besides there is more and more evidence of problems within chavismo as a consequence of the Recall Election drive defeat when chavismo was unable to stop 25% of people to sign up in spite of all sorts of political pressures, corruption and legal maneuvers to annul scores of signatures. While the Vice left the foreign minister deal with HRW, he was making yet a new pathetic appeal for unity within chavismo, while the big electoral piñata is starting to run, with a total disregard for the financial consequences. The director of PDVSA tried to assuage opinion, and markets, by saying that the PDVSA monies will be handled with accountability, but at this point, who is he fooling?

It is EXTREMELY URGENT for Chavez to secure control of the judiciary if he wants to block the Recall Election or fudge its results.

Quite simple, really.

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