VENEZUELA: ARE THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES BIASED IN THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR DUTIES?
Report from Sumate.org
1. After the National Assembly modified, by a simple majority vote (83 to 165), the Organic Law on the Supreme Court of Justice it proceeded to designate seventeen new Justices of the Supreme Court. Out of those seventeen, twelve were meant to cover the expansion in the number of Justices from twenty to thirty-two and five were appointed to replace those Justices who had been forced into retirement following pressure from the Government.
2. By expanding the number of Justices by seventeen new members, and by adding a complete set of thirty-two new alternate Justices, all the Supreme Court's Chambers came to have a firm pro-government majority. According to statements by the Chairman of the Commission on Judicial Nominations of the National Assembly, Pedro Carreño, a Congressman and former military officer, the Administration of President Hugo Chávez-Frías, would not allow the opposition to be represented at all in the Supreme Court. "We will not score a goal against ourselves", he stated announcing the hard line position that would guide judicial designations, adding that those chosen "are judges whose revolutionary credentials are more than guaranteed".
3. Among the newly designated Justices those more notorious for their pro- government bias are: Luis Velásquez-Alvaray and Luis Franceschi, both Members of the National Assembly on the pro-government benches; Francisco Carrasquero, previously the President of the National Electoral Council; Eladio Aponte-Aponte, a retired officer and the Armed Forces' former General Prosecutor; and Deyanira Nieves, a former Caracas Judicial Circuit Judge notorious for her pro-government sentences in cases such as those regarding Carlos Melo, an opposition leader sentenced to prison, attacks to foreign embassies and the assassination of dissident soldiers.
4. On the occasion of the swearing-in ceremony of the new Justices, held on December 14, 2004, Justice Luis Velásquez-Alvaray, former Congressman, co-author of the Supreme Court Law and of the Penal Code's widely criticized revision approved in January 2005, stated that while he would formally present his resignation to his Fifth- Republic Movement party membership, he would never be able to put aside his unwavering commitment to the political process undertaken under the leadership of President Chávez. He equally indicated that he would sponsor a process of 'revolutionary justice', thereby placing himself in violation of Article 256 of the Constitution, which reads as follows: "In order to guarantee the impartiality and the independence of Justices, Judges, Public Prosecutors and Attorneys in the discharge of their duties, they shall not carry out, exception made for the right to vote, any activism of a political, professional, labor-union or similar nature, nor shall they carry out, whether directly or through a third party, any activity for gain incompatible with their responsibilities, nor any other public endeavor, exception made for teaching. Judges shall not have the right to organize."
5. The passing of the amendments to the Supreme Court Law and the appointment of the new judges was widely criticized at the national level by well-known law professors and by opposition Congressmen. The latter withdrew from the National Assembly session that was considering the amendments, in protest for what they considered to be a violation of the principle of impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
6. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization devoted to the defense of Human Rights, issued a statement on December 14, 2004, indicating that by this law the Assembly inflicted a severe blow to the independence and autonomy of justice in Venezuela. Recently, the Andean Commission of Jurists expressed in a public letter a similar concern regarding the independence of the judiciary power and its actions.
7. On February 4, 2005 , Omar Mora Díaz became the new President of the Supreme Court. In his first statement to the press , he promised to remove from the Court all the 'coup-plotting judges': "It is unacceptable that, on the basis of the principle of popular sovereignty, a Judge allows himself to become a coup-plotter. It can not be. Such Judges must be removed, whatever the cost, . It can not be that a Judge, who saw on TV how an individual by the name of Pedro Carmona-Estanga led a coup, sets him free the very next day under the spurious argument that there existed a power-vacuum. Such a man must not sit as a Judge." (El Universal, February 3, 2005 ). He added that the sentence issued by the Supreme Court, by which those military officers who had been present in the April 2002 developments (Efraín Vásquez-Velasco, Héctor Ramírez-Pérez, Ramón Pereira-Olivares, and Daniel Comisso-Urdaneta) were absolved, should be reverted. He equally suggested that such a decision should be taken by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, acting on its own initiative.
8. Omar Mora, the President of the Supreme Court, has openly declared his support for the political process Venezuela is undergoing: ". each revolution must be original . one of the mistakes made by those of us who fought for a revolutionary transformation of society was to think that we could copy foreign models in a straightforward way. At a certain point in time we wanted to copy the Bolshevik model and we failed; afterwards, we tried to copy the Chinese revolution and we failed; then, as the Cuban revolution made a strong impression on the 1960's generation, we tried to copy it in a mechanical way and equally failed. The virtue of this process of revolutionary transformation Venezuela is presently undergoing is that it is an original experience . In '66 and '67, I was put in jail four times by the Police (DIGEPOL), and three times by the Metropolitan Police . I was even sent to Cachipo, an anti-guerilla camp located in the East. I was an active member of the Communist Youth, then clandestine. I was in jail for six months after having being charged with collaboration with the guerrilla, with the Front then active in Falcón State . I started when I was thirteen and continued to be a militant until the Communist Party broke up. As a hard-liner, I joined the PRV, but then it was infiltrated by intelligence organizations and collapsed. From then on and until today, I have taken an independent stand on the left." (El Nacional, February 3, 2005 , Page A-5).
9. During recent years and in what can only be seen as a pro-government bias, the Administrative Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court, responsible for the legal oversight of the Administration's acts, has not issued a single precautionary ruling in favor of any party who had presented a complaint against public administration . On the other hand, every action brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of Justice involving the President has been either dismissed or rejected, in most cases without even allowing the initiation of the relevant procedings.