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A very bad day for Chavez in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

Thursday 17, June 2004 - It was not a good day for chavismo. Not only a few of their covers were blown away but their reactions to these events was really not the best way to counter such a public relations debacle.

The news were centered around the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the Judicial system in Venezuela, report strong enough that it lead the HRW to call for application of the democratic chart of the Americas to Venezuela. The rest, well, it was the ill tempered reactions of Venezuelan officials that thought they would never be denounced so publicly, so "gotcha!". And it did not help that other news gave very appropriately further examples of the lack of restraint from the chavista administration.

The HRW report

Really nothing new for the readers of this blog: the new law on the judicial power basically delivers it into the hands of the legislative which is the same to say as in the hands of the executive, removing any pretense as to the separation of powers. The reasons are varied but the main ones is that it has become very easy for the legislative to remove any High Court Justice that meets its displeasure. This added to the fact that a simple majority vote of the National Assembly (NA) is enough to sit a new judge. And more.

The HRW report is very complete and very informed (in Spanish). It must be remembered that HRW has been following the Venezuelan government for quite a while, thus this is not a "sudden" interest of HRW. The summary of the report even goes to the extent of acknowledging again the abuses of the Carmona fleeting coup. I quote:

"In the 2002 coup, Venezuela’s democratic order was attacked by some of Chavez’s opponents,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "But today the biggest threat to the country’s rule of law comes from the government itself.”

And even more to the point:

The Organization of American States (OAS) should closely monitor the situation of the Venezuelan judiciary. Unless concrete steps are taken immediately to reverse these threats to judicial independence, the secretary general of the OAS should use his authority under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to address the issue. Article 18 authorizes the secretary general to take actions, with the prior consent of the government concerned, to analyze threats to a country’s "democratic political institutional process,” and seek a collective response from the OAS.

During Venezuela’s 2002 coup, the Charter was crucial in mobilizing member states to join the chorus of condemnation that helped restore President Chavez to office. "The Charter helped save Venezuelan democracy from Chavez's foes during the 2002 coup,” said Vivanco. "Now it could help protect Venezuela from this new threat.”

Reactions from the chavista side

As expected with the sorts that are ruling the country, the reactions were basically vehement and tried to turn international attention elsewhere. The most curious declaration came from the absentee president of the NA, Francisco Ameliach, who probably missed 90% of the sessions where the questioned law was discussed and voted. Our ineffable Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangel was not as delicate: he accused Vivancos of being a mercenary of imperialism:

"un mercenario al servicio de los poderes imperiales"

The Vice should be well advised to check out the web pages of HRW where he could notice that HRW has also written rather damaging reports on the US activities (the Empire) on such points as abuses of the US forces in Afghanistan, or urging the US Congress to restore some liberties clearly undercut since September 11, not to forget abuses in Iraq. My guess is that Vivancos has more influence, more recognition, more trust outside Venezuela than the Vice whose screaming might help him with some of the local crowds but can only undermine him further overseas.

CNN among others reported on such a momentous announcements and the reactions.

It should be noted that Jose Vivanco came to Venezuela himself to make the announcement, showing a certain courage by not hiding behind some safe desk. And his recommendations are not that outrageous: the High Court should annul the law and send it for re-discussion by the NA to make it a little bit more presentable to the International Body. In an interview to Union Radio he declared that he was sorry by the reaction of the Vice, seeing them for what they were: a show of immaturity by the government to try to dodge the issue instead of addressing them (his words more or less). While of course the NA is called to vote a "persona non grata" status in order to expel Vivanco (who probably will fly out of the country before the inefficient NA manages such a vote).

Vivancos in a press interview also noted that HRW is observing several ongoing issues in Venezuela, such as the pseudo trial on Sumate, also reminding that invoking the American Charter on democracy was not a bad thing since it previewed intercontinental remedial action before any sanction could be taken (article 18).

On other news, more examples were feeding the HRW water mill

The judicial front today was rather active with a few more indictments and weird inter courts maneuvers. On one hand Juan Fernandez was cited and accused of conspiracy and all sorts of things with a dossier requiring 32 volumes. Yet his lawyers think the case does not stand. Why? Well, to begin with Mr. Fernandez as a leader of the failed PDVSA strike in December 2002 has been very careful of giving all the installations to the government with a notary act. Second, how come that if he is accused of such crimes, the indictment comes more than one and a half years later? But so is "opportunistic" justice in Venezuela.

In a more mundane but graver perhaps development, Elinor Montes, the woman that was savagely beaten by a female National Guard in images that went around the world was cited to tribunal as a "witness". Rumor has that the female guard, who has been awarded a medal for her "heroism" in February 27, might have been convinced to sue Ms. Montes of attacking her, or such nonsense. The existence of a video TOTALLY exculpating Ms. Montes and strong enough to land the female guard in jail is no problem for the corrupt judicial system. After all the Baruta mayor has been rotting in jail even though a TOTALLY exculpating video exists for his case too.

However some interesting news came up as the High Court requested the dossier on Sumate from the Military prosecutor. A sign that maybe, just maybe something my be shifting somewhere.

And other news did not help

Baduel, the Army commander and supposedly a Chavez faithful declared to Reuters that the Army will respect the result of the recall election if Chavez loses. That Baduel felt compelled to declare that was rather strange. A trap? A sing of internal dissentions in chavismo? This was coupled with declarations from the Brazilian foreign minister ratifying the importance of International Observers in Venezuela on August 15. Now we start understanding better why Chavez canceled his Sao Paulo trip this week end.

But my favorite one of the day for it revelations of what is going on within Chavismo was the defenestration of deputy Roger Rondon from his chair of the NA's Energy Committee. The censure motion on the corresponding minister was of course denied. Rondon replied that he has information that could sink the government but that in spite of all that was done to him his fidelity to the Revolution was not into question. Rondon had denounced irregularities in oil sales through state oil company PDVSA and the dismantling of Bitor SA -a PDVSA subsidiary. Really Mr. Rondon?

An epilogue of sorts

All what is happening was illustrated very well by a comment from President Carter when he reported to his Center after coming down to monitor the Signature Process. In a very elegant way he penned how Chavez controls, or at least tries to control EVERYTHING in Venezuela, on how everything depends on Chavez's will.

CNE President Carrasquero and Jorge Rodriguez called to tell us we had violated our role and that we would be disqualified from further duties as observers. I made a brief televised statement explaining the reason for our visit [as a consequence of Carter inspecting reports of irregularities].

When Dr. McCoy, Dr. Diez, and I met with President Chavez for supper, we described the situation to him, he called Carrasquero, and a meeting was scheduled for the following morning.

Indeed. A simple phone call from El Supremo...

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