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Chavez's prosecutors request 23 year imprisonment for Súmate leader

By Aleksander Boyd

London 08.02.06 | In a clearly politically motivated decision Hugo Chavez's prosecutors are aiming at getting a 23-year prison sentence for Maria Corina Machado, leader of electoral NGO Súmate. Alejandro Plaz, Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estévez could face up to 16 years imprisonment. Allow me to provide some context. Treason charges were brought against Súmate's directors for having accepted some $54.000 from the bipartisan American National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The monies were destined to fund electoral workshops whereby education regarding electoral rights was to be imparted to the citizenry. Hugo Chavez's prosecutors, having failed to demonstrate that the acceptance of the monies had violated Venezuelan legislation, presented the spurious 'treason charges' alleging violation to article 132 of the Penal Code, which criminalises anyone who solicits foreign intervention in the political affairs of the Republic. It is hard to imagine, and impossible to argue convincingly in a functioning judicial system, how the acceptance of a grant for electoral education purposes constitutes violation to the cited article 132. In fact, Chavez can not forgive the efficiency displayed by Súmate in organizing and conducting the various signature drives that led to the petition for a recall referendum on his mandate. This is the crux of the matter and nothing else. As an observer of the American Bar Association duly noted "How are Venezuelan citizens to know whether a civic group’s seeking foreign funding for lawful activities equates to soliciting “foreign intervention”?"

Let us compare the lenght of the prison sentences expected in the above case with that of the Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, found guilty and sentenced yesterday at the Old Bailey to seven years in jail for incitement of racial hatred and soliciting murder. Abu Hamza has also been linked to the 9/11 attacks, the London bombings, the shoe-bomber and other terrorist actions by Islamo-fundamentalists.

In this year of presidential race, in which Chavez pretends to be re-elected by a landslide 10-million votes, the sooner the efficient watchdog gets crushed and out of the picture the better. But this case could well be his undoing, for only a mediocre provincial caudillo can think that jailing Súmate's four directors is going to hinder in any manner the role of that organization. Many people will be prepared to step up to the plate, what's Chavez going to do, jail them all? He better start building jails...

The case of Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estévez is but a red herring to deviate attention for the crumbling infrastructure and the immense failure of Chavez's seven year tenure.

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