March 19, 2004
March 18, 2004
"Coroner's Report: Venezuelan protester's autopsy reveals signs of torture"
By Pilar Diaz and Mónica Castro
from today's El Universal
The coroner's report of the autopsy done on Juan Carlos Zambrano, killed in Lagunillas, Campo Turiaca, in Zulia State, "shows signs of vindictive cruelty (saña), it horrified us because his arm and his pancreas were crushed, his testicles burned. On top of fractures in the collar-bone, the jaw, and the shoulder plate (omóplato)," said William Barrientos, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Zulia State Legislature.
The autopsy also determined that in Carlos Zambrano's stomach there were traces of human feces, and hair. He also presented burn marks on his back.
"Zambrano's common-law partner," Barrientos added, "who is underage, 17 years old, told us she was raped repeatedly in front of her husband by the military police officials who arrested them."
Marcial Arguellez, a friend of Zambrano, was arrested together with the Zambrano family, filed a formal complaint about the tortures he was subjected to. "They made him eat hair," Barrientos explained that detainees had their hair cut and fed to them, and they were forced to drink filthy water and had panes of ice pressed to their backs.
Anatomy of a cover up
He added that representatives of various Human Rights organizations in Zulia have shown their worry over the way investigations are being handled.
"The case is on the back burner, the only ones who have made official statements so far are the survivors and no one else. There has still been no protective injunction handed down to protect the family of the young man who died and the others who were attacked, moreover, the neighbors have called to inform us that the camp where the tortures were executed is being dismantled and moved part by part."
He added, "We're worried they will hide the evidence and change the initial scene where the facts took place. The commanding officer of the post has already been changed, and part of the troops and the officials have also been moved. There's been no opportunity to introduce any of the reports we have into evidence."
Separately, Barrientos also denounced that "Prosecutor Reina Trujillo has confiscated the bullet that killed AD leader Evangelina Carrizo", obstructing the investigation.
March 17, 2004
You know I have been in command for 20 years. From that experience, I've reached few certain conclusions:
1-that America is ingovernable for us, 2-that he who serves a revolution plows in the sea, 3-that the only thing worth doing in America is to emigrate, 4-That this country will fall inexorably into the hands of the unbridled mob to then turn to nearly imperceptible two-bit tirants of all colors and races. 5-that devoured by all the crimes and deadened by our ferocity, the Europeans shall not again deign to conquer us.
6- If it was posible for one part of the world to return to primitive chaos, that would be this latest period in the Americas. The first French Revolution led to the beheading of the Caribbean, and the second shall have the same effect on this vast continent. The sudden reaction of exagerated ideologies will bring us what few problems we've been missing. You shall see that everyone will give in to the torrent of demagoguery. Damned be the people! Damned be the governments!
Recognize the quote? No, it's not Cardinale...
Soon-to-be political prisoner Henrique Capriles
One by one, the government crosses the "yellow lines" that differentiate democracies from dictatorships. Now, the regime has decided to throw my mayor in jail. Henrique Capriles is the only politician I've ever voted for who's actually won! And, big surprise, the acting prosecutor in the case is our beloved Danilo Anderson, "environmental crimes" "prosecutor."
What angers me most is the shamelessness of Anderson's lies. The prosecution claimed Capriles has to be jailed because he's "at high risk for flight." But can anyone imagine an occupation that puts a suspect at a lower risk from fleeing than "mayor"? It's aggressively non-sensical, and that, of course is the whole point. Absolute power doesn't need to justify itself.
I see myself writing this and Camus' words come back to hang over me like an indictment...I know, I should have known, I have no excuse for not having seen it. I'd gone over it, I knew the plague is not made on a human scale, and therefore people always say the plague is unreal, a bad dream that must pass. I should have known that plagues don't always pass, and from one bad dream to the next, it's the people who pass, and the humanists first of all, because we haven't taken precautions.
So, contented in my flower-eating insouciance, I resisted. I didn't write about the growing numbers of Cubans in Venezuela, about the evident ideological spell the Cuban model has on Chavez, about Chavez's weirdly out-of-character sycophancy towards Fidel Castro or about the increasingly Granma-style tactics in the government media. I saw it, I knew intellectually those things were true, but deep down, I couldn't believe it. I thought everything was possible for me, which meant, as a matter of course, that all plagues were impossible.
Now I see clearly that it's not that the critics were alarmists, it's that the reality was alarming. I wonder how I could have missed it all, how I managed to see it and not see it, and again I know, almost before I write it, that I've only proven Camus right once again.
I thought myself free, and no one can be free so long as there are plagues.
There are too many Cuban hands pulling too many strings in Venezuela to ignore any more. There are too many ideological convergences, too many shared positions, just too damn much evidence to gloss over. Cubanization just can no longer be dismissed as an opposition scare tactic; it's an ongoing reality.
Of course, the usual suspects will roll their eyes and point to Washington. They'll rant about the $53K Washington gave Sumate and ignore the $900 million Fidelito has given Fidel, in unpaid-for oil. They'll point to a hypothetical CIA infiltration and ignore the stacks of DIEX entry forms documenting the literally 10,000 Cubans who have entered the country to work under various guises. Those who see US guilt as a given will certainly not be swayed. From a safe distance, it's much easier to see-and-not-see.
As I write this, my mind drifts to Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza's Aquellos Tiempos con Gabo, his wonderful memoires of his 40 year friendship with Garcia Marquez. Mendoza retells in chilling detail the experience he and Gabo had when, fresh from a stint in Caracas to cover the January 23, 1958 uprising, the two of them moved to Havana just after Fidel and Che had taken the city. Plinio recreates meticulously the way the exhuberant, cheerful, tropically enthropic mood of liberation in Cuba during those first few months after the revolution slowly gave way to the crushing weight of Communist ideological intolerance. Slowly at first, but later on incredibly quickly, "they" took over every institution, one-by-one, purging them of independent thinkers and demanding unquestioning, canine obedience from the "good communists" who came in to replace them. One office at a time, one act of arbitrary intolerance at a time, Fidel's revolucion justicialista ossified into the ruthless dictatorship it eventually became.
Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza would recognize what is happening in Caracas today. He knows what it is to live through a plague that suppresses people's futures, their movements and their discussions. Little by little, a generation of Venezuelans is learning what Camus and Plinio learned a long time ago and Evangelina Carrizo learned last week: that the bad dream doesn't pass, it's the people who pass, and the humanists first of all.
March 16, 2004
This chamber, on the basis of what has been argued, and given that the present motion solicits it take on two cases currently before the Electroral Chamber of this same tribunal, and given that both chambers have the same rank, being respectively, the summit of the constitutional and electoral jurisdictions, declares that the present request to accept the cases is legally non-available, and as such we declare it.
Original: Esta Sala, con base en los antes señalado, dado que en la presente solicitud se le solicita avocarse al conocimiento de dos causas que cursan ante la Sala Electoral de este mismo Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, y dado que dichas Salas cuentan con igual rango, siendo ambas, en su orden, las cúspides de la jurisdicción constitucional y electoral, declara que la presente solicitud de avocamiento es inaccedible en derecho, y así se declara.
By the book
By Elizabeth Araujo, who's never shot anyone.
From today's TalCual Editorial, translated by me.
It shouldn't surprise us that Hugo Chavez traveled to the Burro Island (the site of a notorious 50s-60s eras political prison) to repeat exactly what Perez Jimenez (50s dictator) or Romulo Betancourt (60s elected president) said in similar situations: there are no political prisoners here, only common criminals. It's the classic rhetoric that blossoms when false justicialista revolutions start to hit rock bottom. In this case, their absence of scruples is associated with a lack of imagination; their sensibility crumbles under the weight of their cruelty.
This government has captured - whether through money or terror - all the institutions that are legally mandated to enforce the constitution. On top of that it lies insolently when it ignores the pleas of the mothers who were granted an audience with the Prosecutor General Isaias Rodriguez because their children, jailed at the recent protests, share a dangerous confinement with people pushed by penal idleness and resentment to act like brutal killing machines.
As they deny any knowledge that on the week between February 27th and March 4th there were political protests, insisting instead that all detainees have been jailed for common crimes, Hugo Chavez together with Jose Vicente Rangel, Dario Vivas and Aristobulo Isturiz (to mention only three conspicuous citizen rights activists) do nothing but stomp on the memories of the twelve Venezuelans who were murdered, and they mock the 467 people wounded by bullets shot by the National Guard, DISIP political police but also by armed pro-Chavez civilian groups decked out in military uniforms. Evidence for this has been documented in testimonies that now sit in the human rights organizations, but also in the images obtained by domestic and international television, which show disproportionate aggression, and which will remind some of the represion that made a "celebrity"out of Argentina's General Videla.
Obviously, in order to for this play book to be put into action, leading to the hair-raising scenes we all witnessed, you need the complicity or a certain amount of moral cowardice from officials such as the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Prosecutor General, some Supreme Tribunal magistrates and the generals of who knows how many suns. Thanks to them, these disproportionate attacks on a peaceful demonstration come suggest a state of total impunity, and escalates the use of this method for directing a country.
I guess I'm virtually alone in the opposition in not seeing Jorge as a 100% pliable government stooge, so I take his parting comment seriously: "Given that the judicial route is the slowest of all the routes available," he says, "and everyone knows this, I wonder why it is that we are going down the judicial route."
Still, put in other words, "no acatamos un carajo..."
The endlessly malleable constitution
Article 335 reads, in full: "The Supreme Tribunal shall guarantee the supremacy and effectiness of constitutional norms and principles; it shall be the top interpreter of this constitution, and shall protect its uniform interpretation and application. The interpretations of the Sala Constitucional on the content and scope of constitutional norms and principles are binding on the other chambers of this tribunal and all the courts."
The following article (336) sets out a long list of attributions for the Sala Constitucional, including:
#10. "Revise the definitive, final rulings on constitutional injunctions (amparos) and judicial review rulings dictated by the tribunals of the republic, in the terms established by the applicable framework law."
A couple of things to point out. First off - and pace Freddy Bernal - the Sala Electoral's "preliminary injunction" is not a definitive, final ruling: it's a preliminary injunction. Second, the electoral chamber is not a lower ranking tribunal of the republic, it is part of the Supreme Tribunal. Nor was the "letter" Bernal bases his claim on an official Constitutional Chamber decision, since it was taken without the reglamentary 4-magistrate quorum.
But the real point here goes deeper. The revision process set out in Article 336, numeral 10 is an exceptional, last-appeal power meant as a final procedural guarantee for bedrock constitutional principles.
The government now wants to use that article to violate bedrock constitutional principles, including the single, most important principle of them all, the democratic cornerstone of the constitution as a whole: popular sovereignty.
The government and the CNE will have to argue that the far-fetched "repairs process" dreamed up inside CNE is somehow more of a constitutional bedrock value than voting.
In fact, they will have to make the case that moving ahead with a "reparos process" on the basis mandated by the Sala Electoral, (which is the same basis previously endorsed the Carter Center and the OAS) violates basic constitutional principles. In other words, that the constitution itself (articles 5, 72 and 297) is unconstitutional.
This is what the revolución bonita has come to: the highest legal authorities in the land, the ultimate constitutional "guarantors" of democratic legality, going all out to keep the people away from deciding the country's future through the ballot box. The protectors of constitutional order trying to write out of existence key parts of the document they are sworn to protect. The nation's chief magistrate explaining why popular sovereignty is such an alien, repulsive, fundamentally unconstitutional principle that the sala constitucional must use extraordinary faculties to prevent such "injury" from being inflicted on the constitutional order.
1999 Chavez vs. 2004 Chavez
A bit of history for the forgetful, or late comers: Five years ago, when Hugo Chavez proposed holding a referendum that was plainly and openly unconstitutional (under the then-valid 1961 constitution) - the government simply jumped over the entire existing legal framework. Chavez did not even argue that the opposition was misunderstanding the law - instead, he claimed the laws in principle cannot limit the sovereignty of the people.
It's worth pondering the reasons they gave all that time ago. Chavez reasoned that the people's democratic will expressed at the ballot-box is "supra-constitutional," "originario", pre-existing and over-ruling all settled bodies of law. 1999 Chavez argued that voting justifies itself, because when people vote, they exercise their collective sovereignty directly, and that sovereignty by definition outranks all pre-existing legal norms.
Fast forward five years. We now have new constitutional mechanisms in place to allow referenda - so there's not even any need to come up with tortured (if clever) arguments to back up the call for a vote. Moreover, the requirements to convoke a recall referendum have been amply met - it's not just me saying that, it's the Carter Center saying that, and the OAS, and now the Supreme Tribunal's "natural judge" over CNE.
The chavistas have done a 180 degree ideological turnaround. Suddenly, the expression of popular sovereignty at the ballot box constitutes such a heinous, unacceptable offense against the principles of the 1999 constitution that the Supreme Tribunal's chavista cronies feel compelled to step in to another Sala's turf to prevent it.
All that despite the fact that the radical, people-power rhetoric that justified the 1999 referendum is now officially enshrined in the constitution. Article 5 reads, in full, "Sovereignty resides intransferably in the people, who exercise it directly in the ways stipulated in this constitution [among them, I hasten to add, the recall referendum process set out in Article 72. -ft], and indirectly, mediated by suffrage, through the institutions of the Public Powers. The institutions of the state spring from, and are subject to, the people's sovereignty."
1999 Chavez would have been furious at 2004 Chavez's unending leguleyismos, at the obscene grasping at technicisms to prevent the expression of the sovereign's will. This episodes completes the bonfire of the noble ideals Chavez put at the center of his government in 1998 and 1999.
Or maybe, as some say, there's no contradiction at all. You just need to substitute in "chavistas" whenever the constitution says "people." After all, as the government keeps reminding us: Venezuela es del pueblo. But, of course, Chavez es el pueblo.
March 15, 2004
Venezuelan Election Court Rules Signatures Valid
March 15 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela's Supreme Court's Electoral Chamber ruled that disputed signatures seeking a recall for President Hugo Chavez are valid, giving a boost to opposition efforts to oust the former paratrooper. The government said it would appeal.
Venezuela Court OKs Recall Signatures
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's Supreme Court gave a major boost Monday to opponents of President Hugo Chavez, ruling that signatures on recall petitions need not be validated.
The high court overturned a decision by the National Elections Council to force more than 870,000 citizens to confirm they signed the petitions seeking a vote to recall Chavez. The court ordered the council to accept those signatures as valid unless citizens come forward to say they had not signed a petition.
Top Venezuela Court Ruling Lifts Referendum Hopes
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's Supreme Court on Monday raised opposition hopes of securing a referendum against leftist President Hugo Chavez by overruling electoral authorities' objections to more than 800,000 pro-vote signatures.
Opposition leaders welcomed the ruling by the court's Electoral Chamber as opening the way for a recall vote this year on Chavez's rule. But the populist president's supporters immediately appealed to higher levels of the court against what they called a flawed decision.
The preliminary ruling is the start of what promises to be an intricate courtroom battle inside the Supreme Tribunal...just like a Grisham courtroom battle, with the exception that at least 9 of the 20 magistrates on the court are openly on the side of the government.
Who's who in the Supreme Tribunal?
The first thing to understand is that under the 1999 Constitution (i.e. CHAVEZ'S constitution) the Supreme Tribunal is composed of four chambers, salas in Spanish. Two of them are relevant here: the Sala Electoral and the the Sala Constitucional. The Sala Electoral has been siding with the opposition, the Sala Constitucional is on Chavez's side.
Sala Electoral head (and new opposition hero) Alberto Martini Urdaneta
The Sala Constitucional is first among equals on the court. At the same time, the salas are also supposed to be autonomous from one another. According to precedents set in the Sala Constitucional's own jurisprudence, each sala is supposed to have exclusive jurisdiction over its constitutionally delimited area of endeavour. It would seem straightforward to assume that the whole purpose of having an electoral chamber would be to decide on electoral cases like the one now in front of the court.
But, of course, it's not so simple: too much is at stake.
Sala Constitucional head and Supreme Tribunal chairman: Iván Rincón, chavista duro.
The current Tribunal was selected after the 2000 elections, when chavismo had a 109-56 majority in congress, but not the required 110-55 (2/3rds of the chamber) needed to select all the magistrates all on its own.
Back then, the government was not as sectarian as it is now, and Chavez allowed his then number 2 man to cut an old-regime, old-style, fourth republic deal with a part of the congressional minority to get the needed majority. The government would keep 14 magistrates on its side - proportional to its majority - and the opposition would get six. Within the opposition, only AD and Proyecto Venezuela participated: AD got four magistrates, the smaller Proyecto Venezuela got two.
The AD-PV-Government carve-up outraged the rest of the opposition at the time but, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like a smart move.
AD party boss Henry Ramos Allup is not a complete idiot. He knew that base of six opposition magistrates put the opposition within striking distance of the government if only some of the more moderate chavista appointees bolted from an increasingly radical government. In fact, that's exactly what happened.
The hands of Luis Miquilena
Towards the beginning of the current political crisis, all the way back in December 2001, Chavez's key political operator, the man who had brought him from the political wilderness into Miraflores, his most trusted lieutenant, the man he chose to run the Constituent Assembly and then sent to the all-important Interior Ministry, number 2, in short, walked away from the government. That's when Chavez's trouble started.
Miqui - más sabe el diablo por viejo...
Luis Miquilena was well past 80 even then, and though these days you never see him on TV, his hands are all over the machinations that are deciding Venezuela's future. Miquilena has been a left-wing political operator for literally seven decades, yet he remains sprightly and clear headed, if a bit curmodgeonly. He was a relative moderate in the early, moderate phase of Chavismo, and he placed key personal loyalists throughout the state aparatus on behalf of the regime.
So when Miquilena turned his back on Chavez, a number of the justices turned with him, leaving the government with an unstable tie in the full 20-member court. In fact, on sporadic occasions, the court has even ruled against the government by 11-9, exasperating Chavez who called their decision at the time "a turd." That precedent is surely worrying Miraflores now.
Now that, as oft predicted, the entire National Crisis has come crashing onto the Supreme Tribunal, the exact arithmetic of Miquilena's friendships becomes critically important. There are surely waverers, even if most counts suggest a 10-10 split.
Miquilena's shift was also decisive in the National Assembly, where the government's sizable lead shrunk to a near-tie within months of his decision to leave the fold. Since, the government has attempted to use the Natonal Assembly to pack the court illegally with 12 new hardline pro-Chavez judges. But the opposition thankfully had sufficient numbers in the National Assembly to fillibuster the attempts, again drawing furious ire from the government and the chavista assembly leadership. Again, the hands of Luis Miquilena were crucial in allowing the opposition to resist as long as it has.
Today, we see that the opposition has been right not to abandon the state's institutions, even as chavismo works to destroy them. Its fight in the Assembly prevented a total takeover of the court before this critical moment. Its "unpalatable choices" of 2000 mean it has at least some sympathizers in the courts.
This should not be taken to mean that Chavez has basically played fair, allowing these institutional spaces to be occupied by opponents willingly. To the contrary, the government has a long and dark record of subverting constitutional principles in issuing more or less direct orders to nominally independent institutions. It also has a long habit of attempting to re-write the rules of the game in its favor, arbitrarily, whenever it fails to railroad the opposition altogether. The episode of the "assisted" signatures needs to be kept in this context, in the context of a government that has re-written the Assembly's rules of procedure eight times in three years, each time to take procedural spaces away from the minority in the chamber, who represent the majority in the country. Now, the chavista assembly leaders propose a ninth and more radical reform to turn the Assembly into what Chavez has always wanted it to be, a rubber-stamp.
Pissing on the "little blue book"
The reality is that Chavez doesn't care a damn about the procedures and rules in the constitution. Everyone in Venezuela knows this. The constitution is a stage prop for Chavez, nothing more. Still, its rules constrain him, and more and more he finds that he can't force people to do what he wants just by issuing an order, like he could in the military.
What follows will not be pretty. And it could take weeks to sort out - weeks the opposition can barely afford with that August 19th deadline looming. The chavistas are clearly in charge of the Sala Constitucional by 3 solid votes to 2. The sala electoral just voted 3-0 in favor of the referendum. The question now is, which sala makes the final decision?
According to Dr. Duque Corredor, who knows more about these things than most, the correct procedure if the Constitutional Chamber tries to poach the case from the Sala Electoral would be for the Sala Electoral to call for a session of the full court to decide which of the two chambers should have jurisdiction. Here the math is far less certain. For sure the chavistas will try to keep the matter away from the full court if they can, it's just too risky for them - but it is not a foregone conclusion that they would lose in the full chamber: indeed, they might win.
For what it's worth (i.e. not a lot these days) the constitution is remarkably clear on this one. Article 297 of the "librito azul" doesn't leave much room for interpretation: "Jurisdiction over contentious electoral affairs shall be exercised by the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the other tribunals determined by the law." If only we had any faith at all that the hardline chavistas in the court would even listen to juridical reasononing at this point...
It'll be close, though...complicated but close...stay tuned...
Go through the list and adopt a lie today!
Please download this Lie Substantiation Form, fill it out and email it back to me.
Also, please be sure to contact me if you find any inaccuracy in the document, or if you run into a lie that cannot be substantiated.
Click on the piece and you'll realize that these racists comments were a crass attempt at poking fun at Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, a leader documented to have set up several large training camps that to teach teenagers how to torture and kill people. Apparently Mugabe, who is documented to have manipulated food-aid distribution to punish dissident ethnic groups - literally starving his opponents to deat - fell asleep during a Chavez speech at the G15 summit in Caracas. He also dropped a replica of Bolívar's sword, a very high State honor Chávez had chosen to bestow him.
The trouble, you see, is not that Chavez singles out mass-murderers for condecoration, no. The problem is that Aló, ciudadano, the detestable Globovisión-CNB call-in show hosted by maracucho loud-mouth Leopoldo Castillo - decided to poke fun at the blunders.
Now Castillo's language is out of line, no doubt. One should know better than to describe a scene featuring two black presidents as "Planet of the Apes." Monkeys are noble creatures who couldn't conceive of the planned cruelty of people like Mr. Mugabe.
Yes, I accept that mono is a racial slur in Venezuela, and I do think what Leopoldo Castillo did is wrong even if he cloaked it as "simios." It's deplorable and sad. But so is attempted genocide. One wonders where these people's moral compass has gone when they pay more attention to one ill-judged comment on one Venezuelan broadcast than to the years of torment Mugabe's detractors have had to endure. I can't for the life work out how Venezuelanalysis gets worked up over Castillo, but can't seem to work up any righteous indignation over Mugabe's brutal, bloody, murderous, long, exceedingly well-documented campaign of dictatorial aggression.
Apparently these things are not "an offense to the African people."
Does Venezuelanalysis wish to comment on the merits President Mugabe exhibited to be judge especially honorable and worthy of the liberator's sword? Can they natre understand the message Chavez sends to the world and to his domestic detractors, when he embraces those who repress dissent with mass-scale violence?
Government supporters need to face up to their authoritarianism problem.
March 14, 2004
What I need is help from you, gentle reader. Have ten minutes to spare? Select a lie, Google it, run it through the eud.com search engine, do what it takes to find the details surrounding it. Pick lies dealing with subjects you're especially familiar with. Miguel, help me document the Intevep lies, Tuti, help me with the education policy lies. Just send me an email with the number of the lie you want to help me document, then dig up the information and email that to me as well.
The idea is to eventually turn the list into a nicely produced, high-impact printed brochure - some collaborative agit-prop, if you will. I can't do it alone, though, so do give me a hand! The internet opens up great possibilities for collaboration of this kind - together we can do stuff I alone just can't. So join in, adopt a lie today!
(ps: Mora, please let me know which specific lies you're willing to work on.)