Sunday, October 24, 2004

(in)justice in Venezuela

Three recent trials that illustrate the lack of due judicial process

It is well known that justice does not exist in Venezuela and that most cases are settled outside of courts or behind closed doors with substantial payoffs. Cases that refuse to go along find themselves languishing for decades in some drawers.

This blogger himself has been victim of judicial fraud and does not harbor any illusion as to the functionality of the judicial system in Venezuela. Basically, gaining a case means to have the lawyer with the best connections and enough millions to bribe whoever needs to be bribed. This could start at the level of the dossier court clerk just to have a timely access to the evidence submitted by the other party. The end, well, it is "rumored" that it could be all the way to the High Court.

This corruption has created a nether world where justice and its dealings evolve far from the regards of all, included the central administration in charge. One charitable way to see the new judicial power law is that chavismo is trying to take control of the judicial power to at least make it more predictable and less corrupt, if shamelessly favoring Chavez side. I suppose that some could see that as an improvement.

Three recent cases illustrate that the situation is far from improving in spite of a new constitution, the revamping of the judicial system in 1999, and now a new revamping again.

General Uson

A couple of weeks ago ex General Uson got 5 years for having expressed his opinion as to the Fort Mara burnt soldiers. The speed of that trial contrasts with the tardiness of the investigation as to the officers in charge that, now distant, day who still have not fully declared and where no one still is investigated for that crime. This immoral discrepancy demonstrates what is the goal of Chavez judicial system: muzzle the opposition. Thus Uson has become the first officially declared political prisoner of the regime, officially the first "thought/opinion" victim of the glorious bolivarian revolution, all accompanied by the perfect mock trial, totalitarian style. All legal, all unethical. With such a precedent it is clear for all that one can be jailed for his opinions in Venezuela, again since the era of the cuadillos.

Linda Loaiza

I have been avoiding talking about this very painful case that has greatly distressed me, perhaps because one of the hiding places of the criminal holding the victim was a few blocks from where I live in San Felipe. Those things have a way to dirty one's soul in mysterious ways even if one could not know, or do anything about it. Any violence against minority groups is always a repulsive affair and how a state deals with it is a good indicator of its moral standing. How the state allows the murk to reach all of its citizens is also a way to control the people.

With the Linda Loaiza case, Venezuela clearly demonstrates that today the defenseless are as defenseless as they have ever been, when not perversely guilty of their own inferiority (In English in El Universal: the result and the background with pictures though for some reason her name is consistently misspelled).

Few cases have brought so much graphic evidence to court. Few cases have been so delayed, unaccountably, until the victim herself undertook a hunger strike. Yet, amazingly, in spite of all the evidence, in spite of all the strong will of the victim, the alleged criminal walks out innocent.

Now, one must entertain the incredible possibility that Carrera is indeed innocent and that Linda tried to take advantage of him. However his exculpation brings very important questions to the front.
How could Ms. Loaiza lie so consistently and so long? This is very unlikely, in spite of some contradictions within Loaiza testimonial. As the victim of a horrible crime she could be excused from not remembering all of the horror.

If Carrera did not abuse and mutilate Loaiza, who did? How come the judge did not order further investigation on this respect? Instead she allowed for the investigation of Loaiza motives, in spite the fact that she bears the visible scar of her ordeal.

How come dozens of judges refused to take on that trial, in particular if the evidence were so clearly exculpating the criminal according to Judge Cadiz?

How come that the trial allowed the possibility that Ms. Loaiza might have been a sex worker, even though this was ruled out later? Should the judge not have asked for a full investigation of that to either clear the name of Loaiza or, if anything, really exculpate Carrera? Instead, Ms. Loaiza sees her attacker free and her name sullied without a chance to clear herself.

And more.

This has to be one of the most disgusting cases in Venezuela rich history of disgusting cases. One cannot help to wonder about the judge motivations and legal habits when the official prosecutors, the opposition, the human rights groups, the government all coincide in denouncing the travesty and asking for an investigation of the judge. Definitely judge Cadiz must explain the reasons of her sweeping ruling. Chances are that it will soon be forgotten by the next disgusting case coming along. Societies that forget are condemned to relive their mistakes.

But there are some observations that should be made, some unfortunately lacking of documented evidence, as it is the case in defective and corrupt judicial systems. Carrera's father, an ex university rector, is known to have good contacts with some of the pro Chavez members of the judicial system. His attempts at manipulating the outcome are known, his lawyers tried all possible ways to delay the trial until a "non lieu" would come. Not to mention that he was himself on trial for having tried to have his son escape the country, and justice. If it were not for Loaiza's hunger strike the trial would still not have taken place. Judge Cadiz is a "provisional judge" and thus subject to all sorts of pressures. The judicial system reorganization of 1999 has resulted in up to 85% of judges as provisional, which is of course very convenient for the government as they will get tenure only if they please the Chavez administration.

All of this elements conspire and make us believe that indeed the judicial system is rotten to the core and only serves the interests of the powerful. Woe is us!

The April coup mongers: two sub cases

Two judicial maneuvers illustrate another grave fault of the current judicial system: disregard for precedent. This has been exacerbated to the outmost by the glorious revolution that does not want to owe anything to the past, though it owes its rise to power. But that is conveniently forgotten.

In August 2002 the high Court ruled that there was no coup on April 11 2002, that there was a "power vacuum" that had to be filled. One interpretation is that the nomination of Carmona was justified since the Army Chief of staff, Lucas Rincon, had announced that Chavez had resigned and that himself and the high command submitted their own resignations. That the subsequent Carmona decree was a coup d'etat by itself is out of question. But that one comes AFTER Chavez resigns and is NOT THE CAUSE of Chavez resignation. This interpretation of course cannot please a Chavez trying to build his heroic legend. By all means, from propaganda to judicial action, he is trying to reverse in fact, if not in practice, that ruling. A ruling by the way who would still allow him to pursue Carmona if he wanted to, but for other reasons that are not as politically convenient.

It is this perspective that one must understand the trial of the Tachira "insurgents". Even the governor, the visual victim of violence on April 12, is on record saying that the real instigators of the Tachira upheaval were not the ones on trial. In the end it was irrelevant: a guilty verdict had to be emitted and justice proceeded in a ruling which shows all the seams of a badly sawn judicial ectoplasm.

It is also this history rewriting perspective that we must use to understand the latest witch hunt of prosecutor extraordinaire, Danilo Anderson. The people that happened to be in Miraflores on April 12 or 13 have to be investigated, whether they signed an attendance book or the actual Carmona decree. Now, some, I am sure, were active plotters against Chavez before April 11. They lost and thus they should be accountable. But of the 200 + list, a few just happened to be at the wrong place and the wrong time, such as Maria Corina Machado of Sumate. But Chavez would not pass on the opportunity to use this to eliminate Sumate, the organization that has allowed the humiliation to have to go to a Recall Election.

All of these actions are a clear statement on how the judicial system is used purely for political goals, or personal advantage, regardless of the true nature of the crime. Any regard for real justice becomes an after thought at best. People that defend such actions, fellow travelers abroad or local beneficiaries, should remember that Chavez was treated infinitely better in February 1992 when his coup was a bloody affair, a Chavez who was admitting to unseat the government in place and who confessed having been plotting for years and years. But in those years we still tried to be a democracy and still tried to pretend that there was such a thing as the rule of law. These days are over.

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