Venezuela Alert for free, fair and competitive elections (Report #18, July 2013)

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Corruption undermines Venezuelan democracy

Impunit in cases of anonymous threats agains journalists in Venezuela

Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court favors the government

Pro-government political party physically attacks members of the Democratic Alternative and bars them from speaking in parliament

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Venezuela Alert for free, fair and competitive elections (Report #18, July 2013)

  1. 1. 1 VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections Nicolás Maduro’s administration has initiated a battle against corruption in Ve- nezuela, arresting (low-level) public servants involved in bribery and influence- peddlingcrimes.Unfortunately,theproblemismuchmorecomplexandunlikely to be solved by going after those who commit minor offenses. The perception of impunity that has existed for more than a decade unfortunately encourages corruption at all levels. Corruption and discredit undermine Venezuelan democracy EDITORIAL photo: www.6topoder.com
  2. 2. 32 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections PLAN BOLÍVAR 2000. This involved not one but se- veral cases of corruption. Recently arrived from Miraflores in 1999, Hugo Chávez launched a series of social programs that the National Armed Forces carried out under the pre- mise of the “civilian-military alliance.” Under the guise of the so-called Plan Bolívar 2000, soldiers were repairing farmhouses and selling foodstuffs. The program was ex- tended for more than three years, and turned out to be riddled with amended invoices and post-dated checks. In Guárico, for example, a soldier was recorded cashing a check—under the orders of General Melvin López Hidal- go– that was made out to a hardware dealer. The Office of the Comptroller issued a report finding numerous un- lawful acts, but Chávez came to the defense of General Manuel Rosendo and others, stating:“It is probably an ad- ministrative infraction that requires a fine (...) but it is not a huge deal.” DIOSDADO CABELLO.The cases documented at the beginning of 2009 against PSUV leaders Luis Felipe Acosta Carlez, Diosdado Cabello, Ronald Blanco La Cruz, Gian Car- lo Di Martino,José Vicente Rangel Ávalos,and Juan Barreto add up to more than US$711 million, a sum with which a hospital could have been built in each one of the towns where they govern. The opposition won Carabobo, Miran- da,Táchira,Maracaibo, the municipality of Sucre and Cara- cas during that time, and subsequently lodged a number of complaints before the Office of the Comptroller and the Office of the Public Prosecutor that were simply shelved. Although there were other cases that were more serious in terms of sheer numbers,in one notable case in Miranda, Cabello earmarked over 400 million (old) bolívares for two supposedly remodeled bathrooms, which had rudimen- tary tiles and fixtures. VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections The fragile nature of Venezuelan institutions, especially those that should be engaged in the service of justice, encourages this impuni- ty. Clearly, it is very complicated to assess the harm caused by the vicious circle of impunity and corruption; nevertheless, it is obvious that there is a public perception that people hold government positions in order to take advan- tage of them. The fight against corruption must be compre- hensive, because there are many variables in- volved in this issue: government, private sector, citizens, etc. Venezuela is the most corrupt country in Latin America because, unlike other States, it has not taken specific measures to combat impunity. Most of the requirements set forth in the Inter- American Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Co- rruption have still not been met—for example, the enactment of the law on access to public information. A summary of the most important cases of co- rruption in Venezuela –which have still not been addressed—perfectly describes the dis- credit and sense of impunity, which are varia- bles that must be given immediate attention. Foto:www.abcdelasemana.com 1 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) compiled by Transparency International (TI) 2 El Universal. February 17, 2013. PDVAL. In 2010, more than 120,000 tons of decom- posed food drew attention to a group of public servants who were importing food with preferential dollars, just to leave it sitting in the country’s ports paying freight costs. The scandal blemished several key figures at PDVSA inclu- ding Egli Ramírez, the uncle of Minister Rafael Ramírez. According to the Public Ministry, 2.2 billion dollars were lost—more than twice the cost of annual dairy consump- tion in Venezuela. Three years later, the case has been a hot potato that has passed through five courts; there are only three defendants, and they are awaiting the sixth judge from their homes. Although the law requires the release of defendants who have been in pretrial detention for more than one year, the PDVSA defendants are among the few who actually enjoy this benefit. photo: www.static.informe21.com ILLARAMENDI. Businessman Francisco Illarramendi plead guilty in March 2011, in a case of fraud in which the money that was lost included US$540 million from the Pe- tróleos de Venezuela [PDVSA] pension fund.The state-run company made up for the losses sustained by its emplo- yees, but Julio Montoya, Ismael García, and other opposi- tion congressmen went to the Public Ministry to remind it that Rafael Ramírez, in his capacity as the President of PDVSA, was personally responsible for the banking tran- sactions involving the pensioners’ funds. The official res- ponse was to open an investigation, of which there has been no news to date. The case, in any event, continues in the United States courts, where a Connecticut court has just turned Francisco Illarramendi over to a higher, federal court. photo: www.static.informe21.com photo: www.analitica.com photo: www.dossier33.com EL MALETINAZO. Guido Antonini Wilson turned up in Buenos Aires on August 4, 2007 with a suitcase full of nearly US$800,000.This event uncovered a network of pu- blic servants from both countries who had been traveling with cash-filled suitcases without any type of tax records. After this scandal, “el Gordo” Antonini surfaced in Miami as a protected witness in a trial, in which he testified that the famed“suitcase”was one of several that totaled US$5 million for Cristina Kirchner’s first presidential campaign. Luisa Ortega Díaz then made her debut at the Office of the Prosecutor General of Venezuela, asserting that what was revealed in the United States had no impact in Vene- zuela, while the Comptroller, Clodosbaldo Russián, promi- sed to investigate. Years later, the Argentine Ambassador, Eduardo Sadous, denounced the charging of commissions on bilateral agreements. BANCOS QUEBRADOS. In 2009, both the Gover- nment and the opposition accused several bankers and public servants of being responsible for a “financial cen- trifuge” that made it possible to sell banks with the sa- vings of other banks’ customers. Most of those involved remained free and in the country,in spite of the arrest wa- rrants that the Government issued through Interpol. The 15 banks that were taken over controlled 13% of deposits in the financial system.They were small,but had exceptiona- lly large deposits from public institutions. The treasurers and public servants responsible were never touched; not even the Superintendent of Banking,Edgar Hernández Be- hrens, who authorized businessmen Pedro Torres Ciliberto and Arné Chacón to acquire Central and Banco Real with fictitious loans. “I am going to go after corruption wherever it may be. I am going to fight corruption with my own life if necessary. There are no untouchables here.” Maduro’s declaration is an initial step, but it is not enough. As long as there is a perception of impunity, or the only complaints investiga- ted are the ones about adversaries of the National Execu- tive Branch, corruption will continue to guide the day-to- day business of the Venezuelan State.
  3. 3. 54 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections Control Ciudadano // http://www.controlciudadano.org/ @rociosanmiguel On June 24, Venezuelans commemorate the Battle of Carabobo, a historic feat that sealed the country’s inde- pendence in 1821. For the past 64 years, Army Day has also been commemorated, and military parades are usually held to celebrate both dates. On June 24, Venezuelans commemorate the Battle of Carabobo, a historic feat that sealed the country’s inde- pendence in 1821. For the past 64 years, Army Day has also been commemorated, and military parades are usually held to celebrate both dates. Artícle 328. The National Armed Forces is an essentially professional institution, without political affiliation, organized by the State to ensure the independence and sovereignty of the Nation and to secure the integrity of its geographical te- The cult of personality with State resources: A crime of corruption On June 24, Venezuelans commemorate the Battle of Carabobo, a historic feat that sealed the country’s independence in 1821. For the past 64 years, Army Day has also been commemorated, and military parades are usually held to celebrate both dates. rritory, by means of military defense, cooperation in the keeping of domes- tic order, and active participation in national development, in accordance with this Constitution and the law. In the discharge of its duties, it is at the exclusive service of the Nation,and in no case at the service of any person or political group. (...) (bold emphasis added). Without regard for the constitutional mandate, the civilian-military parade was replete with praise for “the su- preme commander of the revolution,” as Hugo Chávez Frías is now ceremo- niously referred to.This is reflected in the following statements made by military and civilian State authorities for the occasion, some of which came from the National Armed Forces and were clearly threatening toward civil society. “7,650 men and women combatants, patriots, revolutionaries, socialists, anti-imperialists, and Chavistas re- presenting the Bolivarian Army and its people” took part in the event, according to the parade commander, Brigadier General Carlos Augusto Leal Tellería,head of the 41st Armored Brigade of the Venezuelan Army and commander of the Integrated Defen- se Operational Area (ZODI). He went on to say, “Here we are, kneeling on the ground, bayonets at the ready, prepared to continue this fight un- til we see the consolidation of the great fatherland dreamed of by our Liberator Simón Bolívar and our su- preme and eternal commander, Hugo Chávez.” Major General Carlos Alcalá Cordo- nes, Commander General of the Army and the keynote speaker at the cere- mony, stated, “The Army will never give in to the threats, blackmail, and pressures of any imperialist, whether foreign or domestic, and it will conti- nue to lead the defense of the revolu- tionary process, whatever the conse- quences may be.” In his speech, Alcalá further stressed that, “the Bolivarian Army has retur- ned to Carabobo, to pay homage not only to the heroes and heroines of the battle of 1821, but especially to commander Chávez,” emphasizing that Chávez “liberated us from im- perial bonds, mental ostracism, and poverty.” Media outlets covering the ceremony portrayed Major General Carlos Alcalá Cordones’ keynote speech as follows: “it revolved around three essential comparisons: Chávez to Bolívar, the Bolivarian revolution to the achieve- ment of independence,and the Battle Photo: Rehearsals for the June 24, 2013 parade. Source: http://www.noticias24.com/ fotos/noticia/9545/en-fotos-la-fanb-realiza-ensayos-para-el-desfile-civico-militar-del-24- de-junio-en-campo-carabobo/ photo: Government employees in the civilian-military parade of June 24, 2013. www.lagranciudad.net/home/7-650-venezolanos-participaron-en-el-desfile-por-192- anos-de-la-batalla-de-carabobo/
  4. 4. 76 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections Transparencia Venezuela // http://www.transparencia.org.ve / @nomasguiso Foto: laescobasocialista.blogspot.com Photo:Televised image from June 24, 2013 on the mandatory government radio and television broadcast: Source: www.el-nacional.com/politica/Usan-desfile-Junio-exaltar- Chavez_0_214778703.html ¿Was corruption exposed in Venezuela? Venezuelans were surprised over the past three weeks to see the arrest of seven public servants from diffe- rent levels and agencies of the State for alleged acts of corruption. It is surprising because punitive actions like these are out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, a review of the information revealed leaves doubts as to the type of crimes, scope, and size of the alleged cases of extortion, and leads us to wonder what has chan- ged in order for these arrests to be taking place now. This is the information that is known to date: Date of arrest: 12.06.2013 Arresting agency: La Dirección General de Contra IThe Military Counter-intelli- gence Service (DGCMI) of the Ministry of Defense, with the assistance of the National Investigation, Protection and Custody Office of the National Integrated Customs and Tax Administration Service (SENIAT) Individuals arrested in the operation: 2 public servants Names: unknown Institution where employed: National Integrated Customs and Tax Administration Service SENIAT, the Venezuelan agency that collects taxes and oversees the country’s customs. Position: Public servants assigned to the Guarenas- Guatire sector, under the Capital Region Internal Reve- nue Administration; the exact duties they performed within the agency are unknown. Criminal offenses: extortion and criminal conspiracy. http://goo.gl/Zv9I9 of Carabobo to the 4F coup d’état.” The members of the Executive Branch also worshipped the cult of persona- lity. Minister of Education Maryann Hanson, when asked during the ce- remony, stated: “Today we continue the battle to maintain the fatherland that was bequeathed to us by our Liberator Simón Bolívar, but that we also managed to rebuild with our supreme commander, our eternal commander,our beloved commander Hugo Chávez.” Venezuela will again go to the polls next December 8, this time to elect local authorities throughout the country. And once again, the powers that be will commit every kind of abuse to impose the party of the go- vernment in the election results. The perpetuation of the Chávez cult of personality with State resources will be the key factor supporting the pro-government campaign, it being impossible in Venezuela to enforce this modest and basic provision of the current Anti-Corruption Act: Artícle 68. Any public servant who, in the abuse of his or her duties, uses his or her po- sition to either favor or harm a can- didate,group,party,or political move- ment in an election shall be subject to a term of imprisonment from one (1) to three (3) years. Date of arrest: 19.06.2013 Arresting agency: Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Individuals arrested in the ope- ration: one public servant and 3 bodyguards. Names: Carlos Ricardo Sánchez Atencio. Institution where employed: National Integrated Customs and Tax Administration Service (SENIAT), the Venezuelan agency that collects taxes and oversees the country’s customs.. Position: General Manager of the SENIAT in the State of Vargas / Operations Chief of the Main Maritime Customs of La Guaira Criminal offenses: money laundering and criminal conspiracy. http://goo.gl/DKnnu Date of arrest: 12.06.2013 Arresting agency: a mixed mili- tary intelligence commission Individuals arrested in the operation: one. Names: Radwan Sabbagh Institution where employed: Ferrominera del Orinoco, a Vene- zuelan State-owned company that mines and processes iron ore and its derivatives. Position: Sabbagh ejercía la presidencia de Ferrominera del Orinoco, hasta que fue destituido el pasado 3 de mayo de 2013 por el presidente Nicolás Maduro. Estuvo en el cargo durante siete años. Criminal offenses: He is accused of irregularities pertai- ning to the nighttime shipment of iron without com- pliance with the proper protocols, and of involvement with metal-trafficking mafias. http://goo.gl/DKnnu Date of arrest: 09.06.2013 Arresting agency: The Military Counter-intelligence Service (DGCMI) Individuals arrested in the ope- ration: one Names: Trino Martínez Institution where employed: Institute for the Defense of People’s Access to Goods and Services (INDEPABIS), the agency responsible for consu-   mer protection. Position: National Director of Inspection and Oversight. Criminal offenses: He is accused of being a member of a criminal gang that was extorting merchants in Caracas. http://goo.gl/M1QHZ Date of arrest: 14.06.2013 Arresting agency: The Military Intelligence Bureau (DIM) Individuals arrested in the operation: one Names: Luis García Institution where employed: Institute for the Defense of People’s Access to Goods and Services (INDEPABIS), the agency responsible for consu- mer protection. Position: Regional Coordinator of the Institute for the Protection of Goods and Services (INDEPABIS) in the State of Sucre. Criminal offenses: He is accused of allegedly reselling merchandise seized by the agency at a premium. http://goo.gl/NcvzK Date of arrest: 20.06.2013 Arresting agency: Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency (CICPC) Individuals arrested in the operation: una. Names: Elba Martínez Institution where employed: Ministry of Health. Position: Ministry of Health Inspector. Criminal offenses: She is accused of the criminal offenses of aggravated corruption and the use of false certifications, for allegedly having requested money from a merchant to approve a health inspection. http://goo.gl/whz94  
  5. 5. 98 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections Un Estado de Derecho Foto: www.lapatilla.com We would like to think that the arrest of these seven individuals is the be- ginning of a sustained action against impunity with regard to corruption, but after more than fifteen years of false promises, we need more solid proof that these are more than sen- sationalist demonstrations of good intentions. It is necessary to guarantee the due process rights of the persons arrested and involved, and for the Executive Branch not to interfere in the inves- tigations. The entire State apparatus must be investigated, especially whe- re there are significant risks of corrup- tion due to its power to affect citizens’ rights with the approval or denial of permits, authorizations, oversight, licenses, etc., and/or where there are repeated public denunciations, such as: the prisons, the Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (CADIVI), the customs service, the Great Vene- zuelan Housing Mission [Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela], and many other places where complaints are lodged daily without anyone in the govern- ment opening an investigation. But we are concerned about some other things as well. Why is the Military Counter-intelli- gence Service heading the investiga- tion of civil corruption in these cases? Corruption within Executive Branch agencies is not a military matter. The investigations should be in the hands of the competent bodies of the Judi- ciary, the Office of the Prosecutor Ge- neral of Venezuela, the Office of the Comptroller General of Venezuela, and the expert forensic police units. On June 15, President Nicolás Maduro, expressing great determination, an- nounced the “secret anti-corruption investigations body” headed by his office. The fight against corruption is much more complex; it cannot be done with investigations in the hands of members of the military or secret executive agencies. The institutions of the Venezuelan justice system must have the resources, technolo- gy, and security to make progress in corruption investigations, where they will confront powerful and dange- rous networks. The Judiciary must have the constitutional independen- ce and autonomy to ensure that the- re will be no conflicts of interest or political/electoral diversions. The fight against corruption requires direct and exemplary legal,social,and political sanctions against impunity, but it is up to the Executive Branch to prevent and control corruption under the principle of transparency, with a complete prevention program. Trans- parency Venezuela submitted the An- ti-corruption Program for Venezuela (link: http://ow.ly/m6OJi) to the State for consideration. But there are urgent steps that must be taken without delay: 1. Guarantee full, timely, and quality access to public information. The en- actment of the law and its effective implementation is not among the government’s offers, and is the first step in the fight against corruption. 2. The hiring of all public servants by government institutions must be through open competition, as stipu- lated in Article 146 of the National Constitution. It concerns us that IN- DEPABIS is being relaunched without competitive, merit-based hiring pro- cesses and corruption oversight poli- cies, without which the same history will be repeated. 3. The Office of the Comptroller must ensure that the high-ranking officials in charge of all public agencies (Minis- ters, Directors, and Presidents of pu- blic agencies) know and understand the anti-corruption policies and the processes for preventing, controlling, and reducing incentives. We view with concern the statements made by the former president of INDEPABIS (consumer protection agency), Con- suelo Cerrada, last Thursday, June 20: “INDEPABIS does not have a thermo- meter it can stick into the mouths of aspiring public servants to ask them whether or not they are corrupt.They are positions of trust, and we do not have a corruption detector.” Ms. Ce- rrada cannot evade her responsibility with such an inopportune statement, nor can the person responsible for her appointment. 4. The President of the Republic, as the head of the Executive Branch, must design and implement a set of anti-corruption policies at every mi- nistry, autonomous institution, state enterprise, and government entity. It bears recalling that acts of extortion arise because there is an opportuni- ty to commit them with little risk of being discovered. These negative op- portunities must be eliminated, and the cost of engaging in unlawful con- duct must be increased. 5. The Comptroller’s Commission of the National Assembly must focus on supporting investigations into co- rruption. Accordingly, and although it sounds naïve, it must be presided over by representatives of the oppo- sition in order to reduce conflicts of interest. The Venezuelan justice system must ensure that the recent arrests are not part of a witch hunt against political enemies, but rather serious respon- ses to consistent complaints that seek to put an end to impunity res- ponsibly and transparently. http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/Usan- desfile-Junio-exaltar-Chavez_0_214778703.html photo: www.static.informe21.com photo:www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve
  6. 6. 1110 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections There is a legal vacuum in Venezuela that keeps anonymous threats from being investigated by the State. Although Article 175 of the Venezue- lan Criminal Code defines them as a criminal offense, it also provides that the victim must file a criminal complaint in order for threats to be criminally prosecuted. This is because it is a crime that can only be prosecuted at the victim’s request, rather than a crime subject to public prosecution. A criminal complaint is a legal document filed Photo: www. porlaconciencia.com Espacio Público // www.espaciopublico.org // @espaciopublico Impunity in cases of anonymous threats to journalists in Venezuela directly before the Criminal Court by the victim of a crime that can only be prosecuted at the victim’s request. The complaint must specify, among other things, the first and last names, age, domicile or residence of the person who has allegedly made the threats. Thus, if there is an anonymous threat, it is impossible to meet the requirement of identifying the alleged per- petrator, and therefore a criminal complaint cannot be filed. In addition, if a victim goes to the Office of the The other potential legal proceeding involves asking the Scientific, Crimi- nal and Forensic Investigation Agen- cy (CICPC) to investigate the threats through the CICPC Threats Division, which exists for this purpose. Howe- ver, when someone goes to this offi- ce,its staff members receive the com- plaint, take note of it, and inform the complainant that they only conduct an investigation if they receive an or- der from the Office of the Public Pro- secutor. In this way, cases involving anony- mous threats enter a dead-end circuit where it is impossible for the State to open a case to investigate and punish the perpetrators of this crime. Journalist Alonso Moleiro received a death threat in December 2012 fo- llowing some statements regarding the illness of then-President Hugo Chávez. In view of what happened, Moleiro went to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Venezuela to file a complaint and request the in- vestigation of the threats. The case was immediately transferred to the UDIC.The UDIC asked the Supervisory Criminal Court to “Dismiss the Com- plaint,” which request was granted on June 11, 2013. In this way, the State refuses to investigate threats based on a legal technicality that is clearly impractical and endangers the vic- tims. A similar case is that of Guillermo Baena, an economist who has re- ceived death threats and threats of attack against himself and his family for more than a month after publis- hing some articles on his blog (vene- zuelaencaidalibre.blogspot.com). In this case, he decided to go directly to the CICPC to report the threats and request that they be investigated.The agency limited itself to taking down the complaint and informing him that there would be no investigation until it received an order from the Office of the Public Prosecutor. It is essential to change this legal pro- blem and for the Venezuelan State to meet its obligation to investigate cases in which people are threatened anonymously. “The murder, kidnapping, intimida- tion of and/or threats to social com- municators, as well as the material destruction of communications me- dia violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict free- dom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their per- petrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation.” Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression. Principle No. 9. Inter- American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ favors the Government The Constitutional Chamber of the Venezuelan Supreme Court [TSJ] was created, following the experiences of other countries, with two essential aims: that there be a court dedicated exclusively to verifying whether the laws and other like acts adhere to the Constitution; and to standardize other courts’ interpretations of the constitutional standards and provi- sions. The objective, in sum, was to strengthen the constitutional checks and balances over majorities in the National Assembly and to create legal certainty, stability, and consistency in the interpretation of the law. In that respect, precisely, there was much talk in 1999 of the creation of a “super chamber” that would provide oversight of the National Assembly and the rest of the country’s judges. It was envisioned that the future ac- tion of that Constitutional Chamber would either allow democracy to flourish in Venezuela, or enable op- pression and despotism to be firmly planted with the appearance of lega- lity and the force of res judicata. It has been nearly fifteen years sin- ce the inception of the Constitutio- nal Chamber. After the definitive takeover of the TSJ and the Judiciary by Hugo Chávez between 2003 and 2004—which was consolidated with the hasty enactment of the Organic Law of the Supreme Court in May 2004 and the appointment of new revolutionary justices in December of that same year—it has been made clear to all that the true role of the high court is to ensure, by fair means (that is, by law) that there is no al- ternating of power, no pluralism, no clean elections, and no democracy in Un Estado de Derecho Photo: serarte.wordpress.com photo: centraldenoticiavenezuela.blogspot.com
  7. 7. 1312 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections Venezuela. A new decision handed down by the Constitutional Chamber on June 20, 2013 serves as a reminder to all Vene- zuelans that the revolutionary gover- nment started by Hugo Chávez and continued by Nicolás Maduro has its biggest protector and unconditional ally on the 5th floor of the building at la Esquina de Las Dos Pilitas in Cara- cas. Without anyone having to request it, and without any legal action having been filed, the Constitutional Cham- ber decided sua sponte, by taking judicial notice, to remove from the Electoral Chamber the case file of the challenges raised by Henrique Ca- priles and Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) against the rigged and corrupt elec- tions of April 14, 2013, and to be the court that would hear the case at the first and only instance. The reasons and arguments for re- moving this electoral case file are nonexistent. There was merely an empty invocation of principles and generalities, with nothing to explain why the competent court—that is, the Electoral Chamber of the same TSJ—was kept from exercising the duty expressly assigned to it under the Constitution. Specifically, judg- ment No. 795, in a “joint opinion,” begins by acknowledging that the power to remove cases from a lower court is exceptional and extraordi- nary, but explains that the Chamber “will make use of this power not only in cases involving the potential vio- lation of constitutional public policy, in view of various actions in which the courts could be used improperly for the resolution of conflicts, or for purposes of preventing potential procedural disorder in the respective trials, but also when the underlying matter in a particular case is of spe- cial national significance, is related to the higher values of the legal sys- tem, bears relation to public interests and the operation of institutions, or where the claims giving rise to those cases have an effect on democratic institutions or the exercise of the fun- damental rights of citizens, particu- larly their political rights.” With this breadth, with this absolute discretion as a referential framework, the Cons- titutional Chamber did not have to explain much (in fact, nothing) about the reasons for which it removed this specific electoral case file; it simply is- sued its ruling, invoking the principles of “protection of the political rights of citizens,”“public interest,”“institu- tional peace,” “public constitutional order,” and “national and internatio- nal importance of the outcome of the case” (text of the judgment available at: http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/ scon/Junio/795-20613-2013-13-0538. html). Thus, there is no doubt that the Cons- titutional Chamber in this country can do whatever it wants, and decide whatever it wants. When there was talk of a “super-chamber,” no one really thought of this. There is no fo- reign example of an institution like this. The truth of the matter is that whoever controls the Constitutional Chamber can turn their most pre- posterous and arbitrary ideas, deci- sions, or orders into law, into gospel truth.With the backing of the highest court, any dissidence will be conside- red contempt of court for failing to obey a judgment—in short,for failing to obey the law. It bears noting that this is not the first time the Constitutional Cham- ber has done something like this. In 2004, judgment No. 566 of April 12 did something very similar and re- moved a case file from the Electoral Chamber when it had been asked to vacate some CNE decisions that sys- tematically prevented the announce- ment of a recall referendum against Hugo Chávez. It was a judgment that caused a stir at the time because it was issued by the Constitutional Chamber under emergency circum- stances, without the establishment of the quorum required by the Cons- titution and the law, in order to block the referendum. On that occasion in 2004 when the Constitutional Chamber “sorted things out,” the result was a slap on the back for the CNE and for Hugo Chávez. It is the same result that should be expected now. More than 8 years have passed since then, and never—never—has the Constitutio- nal Chamber ruled against the gover- nment and the so-called revolution in a case in which anyone identified with the opposition or national dissi- dence has had an interest. With all of the accumulated experien- ce, with so much clearly established evidence of the lack of independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Chamber and its unconditional, ser- vile support for the revolutionary go- vernment now unlawfully controlled by Nicolás Maduro,it is incomprehen- sible that the Executive Secretary of the MUD, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, in learning of the removal of the case file, stated: “we hope that the Cons- titutional Chamber has intervened in order to facilitate, not to impede, a fair hearing and decision of the res- pective cases.” What will it take to show that the Constitutional Chamber is not a real court? Is it so difficult to understand that the absence of the rule of law in Venezuela begins and ends when there is no justice—or rather, when justice, like the PDVSA, the FANB, etc., etc., etc., is “red”? Undoubtedly, Ra- món Guillermo, the Constitutional Chamber will indeed act as a facili- tator—not to ensure the proper ad- ministration of justice, but rather to favor the revolution. THE PRISON SYSTEM IN VENEZUELA In Venezuela we increasingly hear that persons depri- ved of liberty, forgotten and excluded human beings, are nothing but the dregs of humanity. The violation of the human rights of prisoners is an ongoing prac- tice; deaths and injuries are daily occurrences. The constitutional responsibility of the Venezuelan State to protect inmates is becoming a dead letter. When compared to Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, the death rates in Venezuelan penitentiaries during 2011 paint a disturbing picture. In those three coun- tries’ prisons, there were 207 deaths among a total of 821,949 inmates,whereas 2011 saw 560 violent deaths in Venezuela, out of a prison population of 42,155. Overcrowding is one reason for this situation. The country’s 34 prisons were equipped to house 14,500 inmates up to 2012, meaning that they are overpo- pulated by approximately 360%. Between 2000 and 2011, the prison population tripled from 14,196 to 42,255 inmates. This makes it difficult to provide the proper custody and housing of prisoners in Venezuela.The care of in- mates is also limited in terms of their rights to a place to rest, food, recreational time, education, and social rehabilitation. Another factor that aggravates the prison crisis is procedural delay. Figures from the Ministry of Inte- rior and Justice (MPPRIJ) published in 2011 stated that 64% of detainees were being prosecuted, and only 29% had been convicted. This situation is exacerbated by the constant deferral of court hearings for reasons directly associated with the Judiciary: poor prison management, the impossi- bility of transporting inmates, and the unavailability of basic security tools (handcuffs) or guard staff. In addition, firearms and drugs have been brought into the prisons with increasing openness, and it seems to be a situation in which there is consent on Foto: articulo350.blogspot.com Photo:www.liderazgoyvision.org.
  8. 8. 1514 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections the part of members of the Boliva- rian National Guard (GNB) and the MPPRIJ guards. Weapons of war and other small and light weapons reserved exclusively for military use have been found in the prisons. In 2008 alone, 1815 fi- rearms were seized in 70 prison raids. The Ministry of Penitentiary Servi- ces (MPPSP) was created in July 2011 to address this situation, but to date there have been no major changes in the situation. In just the first year of its existence, inmate deaths increa- sed by 18% and injuries increased by a substantial 51%. The humanization and unclogging of the prisons has been the main stated objective of the MPPSP since its crea- tion. However, two of the most signi- ficant prisons riots in recent history have occurred on its watch. Inmates confronted the authorities and re- sisted their takeover of the prisons, exchanging gunfire. The result was multiple injuries and a considerable number of deaths, both among inma- tes and GNB officers. Eleven plans for dealing with the pri- son crisis have been drawn up since 1999, which demonstrates the com- plexity of the problem. The weaknes- ses exhibited by the nascent Ministry also make clear the magnitude with which this problem surfaces on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of a stronger, more forceful authority, the vice, corruption, deaths, and injuries will continue. prisons. In 2008 alone, 1815 firearms were seized in 70 prison raids. The Ministry of Penitentiary Services (MPPSP) was created in July 2011 to address this situation, but to date there have been no major changes in the situation. In just the first year of its existence, inmate deaths increa- sed by 18% and injuries increased by a substantial 51%. The humanization and unclogging of the prisons has been the main stated objective of the MPPSP since its crea- tion. However, two of the most signi- ficant prisons riots in recent history have occurred on its watch. Inmates confronted the authorities and re- sisted their takeover of the prisons, exchanging gunfire. The result was multiple injuries and a considerable number of deaths, both among inma- tes and GNB officers. Eleven plans for dealing with the pri- son crisis have been drawn up since 1999, which demonstrates the com- plexity of the problem. The weaknes- ses exhibited by the nascent Ministry also make clear the magnitude with which this problem surfaces on a day- to-day basis.In the absence of a stron- ger, more forceful authority, the vice, corruption, deaths, and injuries will continue. Pro-Government Party Physically Attacks Representatives from Alternativa Democrática and Bars them from Speaking at Congressional Session Liderazgo y Visión Photo:elrepublicanoliberal.blogspot.com
  9. 9. 1716 VENEZUELA ALERT VENEZUELA ALERT For free, fair, and competitive elections For free, fair, and competitive elections The debates in the Venezuelan Na- tional Assembly have been held amid repeated physical attacks by con- gressmen from the Socialist Party of Venezuela against members of the opposition movement Alternativa Democrática. The first cases of assault took place on the congressional floor in January, when Congressman Julio Borges was hit by a member of the pro-govern- ment party without any words being exchanged. Later, on April 16, 2013, while the ple- nary session of the National Assem- bly was underway, Congressman Wi- lliam Dávila of Unidad Democrática was brutally attacked with a micro- phone to the face, which was thrown from the session hall by pro-gover- nment congressmen. Congressman Dávila received 14 stitches as a result of the injury,the severity of which can be seen at the following link: http:// globovision.com/articulo/hieren-a- diputado-william-davila-durante-se- sion-de-la-asamblea-nacional. The President of the National Assem- bly made no subsequent mention of the matter, nor did he impose any sanction for the attack. On the con- trary,while leading the debate during the session, he maintained that as long as he is the head of the Natio- nal Assembly he will prevent MUD representatives from exercising their right to speak, unless they publicly acknowledge Nicolás Maduro as the Head of State. During the session he arbitrarily denied four congressmen their right to speak. This attempt at censorship is clearly in violation of the constitutional rights of the con- gressmen under the Constitution and the Internal and Debates Regulations, and it sets a grave precedent for the free exercise of parliamentary du- ties. Congressmen, regardless of their political positions, have been elec- ted by the popular vote, and it is an abuse of power for another legisla- tor to attempt to set conditions that undermine his or her constitutional and legal rights to fully perform the tasks entrusted to him or her by the citizens. Subsequently, on April 30, 2013, the opposition congressmen—who had their microphones taken away on the floor of the Assembly—held a peace- ful protest using placards and whist- les to reject their exclusion from the legislative debate, in an attempt to keep their voices from being silenced. This peaceful demonstration by the Unidad Democrática congressmen provoked a violent reaction from a group of pro-government con- gressmen who abruptly rushed at them to beat them. Congressman Julio Borges was then the victim of an attack for the third time (See: http://www.noticias24. com/venezuela/noticia/165826/ video-cronica-reuters-una-pelea- entre-diputados-venezolanos-acaba- con-11-heridos/). On this occasion, ac- ting Congressman Michael Reyes (the man wearing the tricolor jacket in the videos) abruptly attacked Borges, hitting him while he crouched over trying to protect himself. You can see how the attack took place without any type of prior exchange—verbal or otherwise—taking place between the two men. Congresswomen Nora Bracho and María Corina Machado were simi- larly attacked by pro-government representatives Jesús Faria and Nan- cy Asencio, respectively. In the latter case, Congresswoman Machado was thrown violently to the ground and kicked several times by the pro-go- vernment congresswoman. On May 2, 2013 she had to undergo surgery for several fractures to her nasal septum. Unidad Democrática Congressmen Eduardo Gómez Sigala and Ismael García were also physically assaulted in the midst of the fight. Congresswoman Machado, with her face beaten, later stated at a national press conference that the pro-govern- ment congressmen had attempted to grab any cameras and smart phones from them that might contain pho- tos or videos that could be used as evidence of the violent acts.This hap- pened because only the government news channel is allowed to record congressional sessions, and it exhibi- ted its bias by failing to broadcast the images from the session while the conflict was taking place. In addition, while the congressional session was underway, there were individuals carrying firearms, who were not members of the institution, within the plenary. The main access door to the hall was also strangely locked, limiting the congressmen’s ability to enter and exit freely. This entire set of facts makes it evident that the attack on the MUD con- gressmen was deliberately planned by the congressmen who carried it out. The President of the National Assem- bly, Representative Diosdado Cabello, expressed his regret that opposition congressmen had been injured. Ne- vertheless, contradictorily, he stated that it did not mean that the victims themselves had not been the aggres- sors. This behavior by the President of the National Assembly and the group of pro-government congressmen is a direct attack on the democratic legal framework. It makes it necessary to alert the international community as to how these attacks on parlia- mentary immunity complicate the governance of the country. It shatters the institutional dignity of Congress, which is supposed to be a forum de- dicated to dialogue, and should be a guide and an example for national reconciliation. Although the right of the con- gressmen from Alternativa Democrá- tica to speak in the National Assem- bly has been restored, no sanctions have been imposed against the as- sailants. Photo:www.infolatam.com

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