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Fernando Vegas Torrealba: A Venezuelan Magistrate on a U.S tour

By Gustavo Coronel

19.04.06 | Just when I thought I had seen everything about the regime of Hugo Chavez, new events surprise me: Venezuelan crime exploding out of control, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, Jorge Rodriguez, advising Ollanta Humala in the Peruvian elections and a magistrate of the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice making a tour of the U.S., to speak in favor of the Chavez socialist revolution. In special, the tour of the magistrate Fernando Vegas Torrealba constitutes an open violation of the principle of separation of powers, one of the essential components of a democratic government.

Magistrate Vegas Torrealba came to the U.S. to speak in Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC and several west coast cities. He is one of the 32 members named to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice by the National Assembly in 2004, in an action that was clearly illegal both in the mechanism of selection of the candidates and in the manner the Assembly decided their designation. The expansion of the Supreme Tribunal, from 20 to 32 members, guaranteed the control of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice by Hugo Chavez since the new members were essentially chosen on the basis of their loyalty to the regime rather than on the basis of their academic and professional credentials. The ethical quality of the group is suspect. One of the main members of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Luis Velazquez Alvaray, is currently accused of thievery by other members of the regime. Last year he had proposed a modification of the Constitution to name Hugo Chavez president for life. Now, after being accused of corruption, he has counter attacked, calling the Tribunal “a nest of drug traffickers”, adding: “they should put a bomb in that place”. A few months ago, during a formal session, the members of the Supreme Tribunal, dressed in full regalia, stood up and started singing in choir: “Uh, Ah, Chavez is not leaving”, hardly a dignified action on the part of the highest magistrates in the nation.

The invitations to the presentations by Magistrate Vegas Torrealba intimated that he had come to talk about legal and constitutional matters. In fact, he came to talk on behalf of the political regime Hugo Chavez has imposed on Venezuelans, a regime characterized by authoritarianism, abuse of power, corruption and anti-Americanism.

I attended his presentation in Washington DC, given at the School of Law of American University and listened carefully to what he said. If we are to judge by the attendance in Washington DC, his tour was not very successful. At American University he had about 20 listeners. Apart from four or five outsiders, myself included, all others were students at the School of Law or members of Vegas’ entourage. His presentation included, among others, the following statements:

1. Hugo Chavez is eliminating social exclusion in Venezuela.

My comment: Chavez has completely excluded most of the middle class, the upper classes and all political dissenters from his version of society. In making this assertion the Magistrate was consciously distorting the truth.

2. Chavez has made good on his electoral promises.

My comment: Chavez has not fulfilled any of his electoral promises. Corruption is now greater than ever, unemployment is the second highest in Latin America and abandoned children still roam the streets of Venezuelan cities in tragic numbers. The Magistrate knows this is the case but he preferred to offer a sugary version of Chavez’s dismal performance.

3. Chavez has conducted a peaceful revolution.

My comment: Chavez was not elected to conduct a revolution but to lead a democratic society without committing the errors of past governments. Chavez violated his mandate to conduct a democratic presidency by installing a socialist revolution, an authoritarian regime that has committed the same errors of the past, except that they are highly magnified, due to the immense amount of money in the hands of the regime and the ineptness of the government team. Many Venezuelans have died at the hands of Chavez’s repressive forces. Chavez repeats incessantly: “This is a peaceful revolution but an armed revolution” and threatens us with ruling Venezuela until 2021, something that he cannot possibly do under democratic rules. The Magistrate came to the U.S. to defend an illegal, undemocratic regime.

4. The new 1999 Constitution was written with the full participation of the people.

My comment: The Magistrate went as far as adding that some common folk could recognize their own words in the final version of the Constitution. This was a particularly false statement, designed for political propaganda. The truth is that the 1999 Constitution was drafted by the inner circle of Chavez and sent to the Constituent Assembly, which approved everything Chavez had proposed. After approval the Constitution was added a declaration of principles and suffered 70 changes, some minor, some more significant, none of which were approved by the Assembly, even less so by the people. This assertion by the Magistrate that the Constitution was written with the full participation of the people is untrue.

5. In April 2002 the people coming down from the hills put Chavez back in power.

My comment: This is an inaccurate version of the true events. Chavez was put back in power by the military, after an internal power struggle between military officers. The participation of the people after Chavez was brought back was limited to looting and vandalism of small businesses in the poor sections of the city.

6. Chavez successfully controlled the petroleum strike in 2002.

My comment: Chavez himself confessed before the national Assembly that he had consciously provoked the crisis at the Venezuelan State-owned petroleum company by naming an incompetent president that he knew would be rejected by the managers of the company. Magistrate Vegas Torrealba should know about this admission of a criminal act but he preferred not to mention it.

7. Now there is less violence in Venezuela.

My comment: Of all the assertions made by the Magistrate this was the most censurable. He said that, before Chavez, victims of violence in Venezuela were about 100 per weekend and now, after Chavez, they did not exceed 20 per weekend. This is a lie. The truth is that crime in Venezuela is rampant, out of control, exercised both by common criminals and members of the police forces. More than 12,000 Venezuelans are murdered per year, an average of some 300 citizens per week. Venezuela today is one of the most violent countries in the world and Caracas one of the three unsafe cities in the world. I cannot explain how Magistrate Vegas could make the assertion he made, one that was strongly challenged by some of the students present and by myself.

Magistrate Vegas made several other assertions and answered several questions from the audience. A gay student from Venezuela said that he had had to leave the country because he could no longer get the drugs he needed for being HIV positive, giving his experience as an example of social exclusion under Chavez. Another participant stated that she had been working for the Venezuelan Attorney General when she signed the referendum against Chavez. Because of this she was dismissed summarily. Chavez has promoted the publication of a list of all Venezuelans who signed against him and has promoted their dismissal and other retaliatory measures, a typical fascist action.

I asked the Magistrate one question that seemed to me the most important in relation with his speaking tour: Didn’t he consider this tour a conflict of interest, an ethical dilemma, given that he is a member of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, an independent body that should act as check and balance of the other powers, especially the Executive? Coming to the U.S., as a panegyrist of Hugo Chavez is not a job for a Magistrate of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, who could conceivably be called in the future to give an opinion about a case involving other powers. Magistrate Vegas answered my question saying that he would prove his independence in court. I strongly disagreed. I believe a Magistrate of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice has to prove his independence in everyday life, at all times.

I consider the U.S. speaking tour of Magistrate Fernando Vegas Torrealba a sad example of the low ethical standards prevailing in the main Venezuelan political institutions, all of them under the control of Hugo Chavez.

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