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Military (in-) justice in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

06.10.04 - Shoot the messenger in the new Kafka paradise. There are sometimes small events that reflect best what a country is living, how it is losing any soul it has left. The trial of General Uson is such an event.

Authoritarian regimes share many attributes. One is their profound disgust for any criticism that is thrown at them. In such cases, one of the first measures is to apply the aphorism :"shoot the messenger" as if this would make bad news go away. In such regimes, we can observe anything from shutting down a newspaper to the "unfortunate" demise of a crucial witness. The bolivarian republic of Venezuela under the enlightened rule of El Supremo helped by his army, "forjadores de libertades"(1) is no exception.

Today the trial of General Uson started, and not very auspiciously. Apparently general Uson, briefly budget minister in early 2002 until the April events sent him packing, had the audacity to emit an opinion in a talk show as to what happened in Fort Mara. As readers of this blog might remember, early this year a few soldiers were burnt alive in a punitive cell of Fort Mara in Zulia. One of the unfortunate soldiers, Angel Ciro Pedreaņez, lasted for a few weeks in atrocious pain until he finally died (2). To this date no convincing explanation has been offered by the army. Nobody has been arrested. No list of people under investigation has been published. Nothing that would lead the reader to hope that clarity would come in this most horrendous case, if anything in the hope that it will not happen again.

But general Uson is on trial for having expressed an opinion, a theory, on how the burning could have happened. He was only one of the many pundits expressing the wildest theories, all of them still running around though two prominent journalists of the opposition have been cited as witness, probably in the hope to tarnish them and indict them eventually at a later date.(3)

The excuse is that Uson has tarnished the reputation of the Venezuelan army.

Now, readers of this blog know that I have very little regard for the Venezuelan armed forces today, not that I had much before 1999. Any doubt about any moral fiber left within was dispelled on February 27 2004 when the National Guard became your average repressive force. The Venezuelan armed forces have fallen into a state of servility at the foot of El Supremo, at least as long as money flows to them. Uson himself is no hero of this blogger, having served under Chavez in 2002 when the regime had already become unpalatable. However, one can only wonder at what type of justice is taken place behind closed doors in Army barracks. One can wonder also what type of message is the Army trying to send to other officers who might have an idea as to what happened at Fort Mara, not to mention civilians that might have had access to some information. With this trial the Venezuelan armed force are behaving exactly as if Venezuela were a military dictatorship.

Readers of this blog should not be surprised at this last revelation.

(1) "forjadores de libertades" (liberty forgers) comes from the Independence wars who set our very military characteristic as a society. Apparently, for the different armed forces that we had to endure in our history, liberty meant independence from Spain, and that was pretty much all until the second half of the XX century.

(2) Many posts through March described this very painful moment in Venezuela.

(3) Patricia Poleo (the one who uncovered the first real scandal in the Chavez administration, the protection of Vladimiro Montesinos) and Marta Colomina (strident anti chavista since the first day).

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