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Venezuela: Chavez canít win convictions

By John Sweeney

Caracas 14.09.05 | Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez said that prosecutors will soon accuse ďthree or fourĒ persons for their alleged involvement in drafting the decree that former Fedecamaras President Pedro Carmona invoked on April 12, 2002 when he assumed the presidency of Venezuela for barely one day. Rodriguez declined to name the individuals about to be officially accused. However, persons publicly named in relation to Carmonaís decree in the past include constitutional lawyer Allan Brewer Carias, former Supreme Court President Cecilia Sosa Gomez, and attorney Carlos Ayala Corao, among others.

Rodriguezís remarks focus attention on a very important fact. More than three years after the violent events that occurred on April 11-13, 2002 in Caracas, President Hugo Chavez has yet to win even one major conviction on treason and rebellion charges against anyone allegedly involved in the alleged conspiracy to topple his government in a coup. Thatís a remarkably poor legal track record for a president that controls the Supreme Court and the entire judiciary, and also has an Attorney General that says and does anything the president wishes.

Itís also a major future legal headache for President Chavez and many of his associates. Under Venezuelan and international law there is no statute of limitations for murder. Chavez may control Venezuelaís judicial system, but he doesnít control entities like the International Criminal Court (ICC), where someday he could be prosecuted on charges of mass homicide and human rights violations in connection with the events that occurred in downtown Caracas on April 11, 2002. Attorney General Rodriguez is among numerous senior chavistas who also could be tried someday by the ICC on identical charges, since he participated in meetings where Chavez, other senior government officials and military officers planned the violence that occurred on April 11, 2002.

Chavez desperately needs a criminal conviction against someone in order to legally validate his claim that he was the victim of an attempted coup. If he obtains one or more convictions against civilian and military figures in Venezuelan courts, Chavez would have a legal argument he could use in his defense if he is ever prosecuted and tried by the ICC. For example, Chavez could argue that he canít be convicted of crimes someone else Ė his political opponents Ė were already convicted of in Venezuelan courts. However, Attorney General Rodriguez and the chavista-controlled courts have been unable to win any convictions.

If Chavez controls all judicial institutions in Venezuela and is so effective at destroying his political opposition, why has Attorney General Rodriguez failed so singularly to convict anyone on charges of participating in the alleged coup against Chavez in April 2002? There are two possible explanations.

One explanation is the attorney generalís severe limitations as a lawyer and prosecutor. Chavez named Rodriguez as his attorney general because he was certain that Rodriguez was politically loyal and easily manipulated in matters of law. Rodriguez has not disappointed the president. Prosecutors that have worked with Rodriguez consider him an incompetent lawyer, but he remains Attorney General because when Chavez snaps his fingers Rodriguez springs to attention. However, the attorney generalís incompetence as a lawyer and prosecutor is not the main reason why the Chavez government has failed to win any convictions yet on treason and rebellion charges associated with the violence of April 11-13, 2002.

The main reason why the Chavez government has been unable to win even a single conviction against anyone is that the governmentís case against the alleged conspirators is a complete fabrication. The government has never had a strong case against anyone the president has accused of being conspirators. The charges filed against four military officers in 2002, which subsequently were dismissed by the Supreme Court, were never based on any credible documentary or forensic evidence that there was a conspiracy to commit a coup. Instead, Rodriguez took snippets of congressional testimony, and transcripts of several television and print news interviews, to fabricate charges against leading military and civilian figures who opposed Chavezís dictatorial Marxist regime.

Moreover, if the Attorney Generalís office had conducted an impartial and fair investigation of the events that occurred on April 11, 2002, itís very likely that criminal charges of conspiracy to commit murder would have been filed against President Chavez, plus his then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello and then-Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, among others. Chavez knows that someday this likely will come out of the past to haunt him in a venue like the ICC. This explains why he keeps pushing for prosecutions and convictions of innocent people on charges that are so bogus even the presidentís chavista-controlled courts canít figure out how to secure a crooked conviction.

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