Thursday, May 20, 2010

On May 17th, the regime in Venezuela finally got Justice Afiuni into court for her much-delayed preliminary hearing. (For those who need a summary of the case before May, please check the post for March 29th, below).

The government lawyers immediately announced that there was no evidence of any payment made, or promise of payment to Justice Afiuni by anyone.

It was the general opinion among lawyers that this concession meant that Justice Afiuni would have to be freed, since without payments or promises of payment, where's the corruption?

But these lawyers were reckoning without the assigned judge, who has been assigned to many of the "political" cases, and who has no permanent position as a judge--she serves at the discretion of the President.

That judge, Leyvis Azuaje, held that the very fact that a prisoner was released by Justice Afiuni could well be a benefit to Judge Afiuni! So, she was committed to trial on all charges.

One informed observer, Ligia Bolívar, the director of the Centre for Human Rights of the Catholic University Andrés Bello said the decision showed that Venezuela is no longer functioning as a society of laws.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary also supported Justice Afiuni, stating in her report of June 3, 2010 that:

"Particular attention must go to grave violations of human rights. The Special Rapporteur expressed her grave concern about the case of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni and said she was awaiting the response of the Venezuelan Government. "

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chavez Stenographers

President Chavez of Venezuela has reverted to repression---as in the Afiuni case described below---and has lost support worldwide as a result. Inside Venezuela, he's polling in the low thirties, even with his weekly seven-hour tv show on every channel, and effective control of the national budget for self-aggrandizement and buying clients beholden to his state-provided largesse.

This leaves "solidarity" sites with a dilemma. Do they double down and pretend, or do they make a timid criticism now and again?

James Suggett's article in the main solidarity organ in English, "Venezuelanalysis" follows a well-worn path of faithful stenography for the Venezuelan state and its leadership.

First, Suggett claims that the real problem in the Afiuni case is the "international media" which are criticizing Venezuela rather than minding their own business.

While blaming the international messenger will sometimes work with the dullwitted, it is useless in the Afiuni case. The day after Justice Afiuni was pulled down from the bench and tossed in jail, her cause was taken up by the Caracas Bar Association as well as several UN human rights experts. Several days later, the Latin American Judges' Association issued a statement decrying the treatment of her. Venezuelan newspapers also deplored what occurred.

What the Suggetts of the world desire is that the cries of those being repressed in Venezuela are not heard outside. That is because for Suggett et al., there can be only ONE voice coming from Venezuela, and that voice belongs to Chavez. This is Chavez' actual belief, expressed in his speech of January 23rd, 2010, available on youtube under the heading "I am the People!". It is mimicked by his sycophants. When any voice not approved by the Leader is reported by the international media, it's a conspiracy.

Suggett's defence of his Leader's jailing of Justice Afiuni follows the furrow plowed by Chavez the day after her arrest, when, (already!) he called her a bandit and demanded thirty years jail, while talking darkly of firing squads in "Bolivaran times".

Vague allegations of "corruption" and " conspiracy" were standards of Stalin's justice, and Suggett doesn't disappoint. He tells us about a banker, one Cedeno, who was brought into Justice Afiuni's court. He thinks that squirting out the words "fraud" and "banker" will convince most readers that there must be some guilt there.

And, there may be! But Cedeno was in Venezuelan custody 32 months without a trial. He is presumed innocent. The Venezuelan Constitution mandates that pretrial detention can be for twenty-four months maximum, at which point EVERY ACCUSED PERSON has a right to bail.

So Justice Afiuni granted Cedeno bail. What legal alternative existed? What would an honest judge do? If there were a legal argument in favour of continued detention, shouldn't the prosecution have come into court and made it?

The article then says " there was evidence that Afiuni had conspired to help Cedeño avoid facing the charges amidst the escalating fraud scandal in which he was implicated."

Not just fraud! Escalating fraud! And not "of which he was accused!" No, he is "implicated".
And Justice Afiuni "conspired"!
The source for this information is ""private conversation" with an official of the Red de Apoyo, a solidarity network.

So, here's how Suggett works. He writes what he's told by people who themselves would have no reason to know. He passes their conclusions on to the solidarity network, making no attempt to find out if any evidence really exists.

In a country which respects civil liberties, if the Prosecutor charges someone with a crime, the person gets a TRIAL. If there is evidence, it is presented at the trial. And people with no criminal record should generally get bail, so that punishment doesn't precede proof.

Well then, why not PRODUCE THE EVIDENCE? The Venezuelan Code of Penal Procedure requires a preliminary hearing within 60 days of formal arraignment. That arraignment happened for Judge Afiuni in early January, but no preliminary hearing has occurred.

Three excuses have been given by the prosecution so far: "there is no transportation" to bring Justice Afiuni to court, or "the court information (la causa) has been misplaced", or "the hearing judge is indisposed".

So, Justice Afiuni has been in custody for five months without a preliminary hearing, guaranteed by law, after setting one three times. She was entitled to a hearing by Mid-March at the latest. The New York Times and the Washington Post are on the case, and "there is no transportation available" to bring the accused to court.

Our solidarity reporter/stenographer doesn't mention any of this; he'd rather rely on "private conversation" . And he'll tell us all about the Penal Code when he's describing the allegations, but won't mention violation of those sections which protect civil rights.

Suggett channels the official story once again, claiming: "More importantly, she (released the prisoner Cedeno) in an unannounced hearing without notifying the prosecution from the Attorney General’s office, in violation of the penal procedural code."


The idea that one of the most famous prisoners in Venezuela got taken from jail to court, and then into Justice Afiuni's own courtroom, and it was all a big secret to the prosecution, is ludicrous.

And lo and behold! The prosecution was making a practice of failing to appear at Cedeno's trial for YEARS before he came into Afiuni's court. Reuters reported, in March 2009:

"Cedeno's trial was set to take place on March 12, but was again postponed by
Judge Gabriela Salazar of Court 23 in Venezuela after prosecutors from the
General District Attorney's Office of Venezuela were absent for the trial. This marks the fourth time no prosecutor appeared and the fourth time no advance notice or explanation for the absences was provided by Venezuelan prosecutors."

The real claim of the Chavez government is this: prosecutors can ignore a judge's order to attend a hearing, No matter what rights are being violated, unless the Prosecutor deigns to attend, nothing can happen to the prisoner except continued detention without trial.

No one who believes in civil liberties could possibly accept this.
Suggett's blindness to any possible human rights issue leads him to crtiticize New York Times reporter Romero:

"Romero asserted that Judge Afiuni and Eligio Cedeño were political prisoners. This is clearly inaccurate, especially since no evidence was presented that they were politically active."

Could there be a more impoverished, wilfully blind idea of who is a political prisoner? As a matter of international human rights law, for one thing, it doesn't depend upon whether the prisoner was politically active; it depends on how the authorities treat him or her.

If the authorities don't want an independent judiciary, they will arrest independent judges. It is the authorities wshose motivation is political. A judge to whom this happens, like Justice Afiuni, is being politically persecuted.Can Suggitt really be so blind as not to know this?


It's too bad that the Venezuelan Revolution, after some useful reforms, has turned down the usual path towards one party, one person dictatorship. Believers like Suggett may eventually recognize their mistake and move on; their victims are those, like Justice Afiuni, who sit in a dank cell while Suggett writes his apologetics.