Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence


9:18 pm - January 14th 2011

by Conor Foley    


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Just before Christmas I met a Venezuelan lawyer who was in Brazil lobbying for an imprisoned colleague. The story has been written up in the Guardian and it makes extremely disturbing reading.

Since many British leftists still retain some affection for Hugo Chavez I think its point needs to be re-stressed amongst the liberal left.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has spent the last year in prison without trial because she granted bail to a prisoner who had himself spent three years in pre-trial detention.

This is beyond the legal limit under Venezuelan law and there is some evidence that the charges against him may have been politically-motivated, because of his relationship to Chavez’s daughter.

For exercising her judicial functions, Afiuni was publicly denounced by Chavez who called for her to be imprisoned for 30 years. He alleged that she had taken a bribe, but last May prosecutors said they had found no evidence of illicit payments. She was nevertheless accused of “spiritual corruption” and remains in prison. There is no trial date.

Afiuni is being held in prison with many convicted criminals who she herself sentenced. She is extremely vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. Some prisoners have threatened to burn her with petrol, others to cut off her head and to bathe the jail in her blood. Anyone who has ever visited a prison in Latin America will know that these are not idle threats.

Afiuni’s imprisonment has been condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who say it is politically motivated and shows how an over-mighty executive has blurred the separation of powers and eroded democracy. A report last year by the human rights arm of the Organisation of American States said independent judges had been culled and replaced with government loyalists.

You can write to Venezuela’s Minister of the Interior and Justice at the following address: Sr. Tarek El Aissami, Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Interiores y Justicia, Av. Urdaneta, Edif. Sede MIJ, Piso 1, Carmelitas, Caracas, Venezuela, Fax: +58 212 506 1557

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Foreign affairs ,South America

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Reader comments


Chavez is obviously not alone as a leading politician in getting annoyed about the judiciary. Readers may recall that Blunkett, as Home Secretary until he resigned, evidently also felt irresistably impelled to slag off the independent judiciary in Britain.

“Some sentences handed down to convicted criminals suggest to members of the public that judges have ‘lost their marbles’, Home Secretary David Blunkett has warned.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2980232.stm

“In his memoirs this week, David Blunkett says he received what he regarded as a ‘very strange snub’ from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, in August 2003.

“‘The judges did not wish to go ahead with a dinner in the autumn, arranged to try and run through issues informally and quietly,’ wrote the Home Secretary.

“Quite right too. Judges often have to decide whether a Home Secretary has acted unlawfully. A private meeting with a serial litigant to discuss issues that might come before the courts would be entirely improper.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1531796/Judges-were-right-to-snub-Blunketts-dinner-date.html

Yes Bob.

“Slagging off” judges is just as bad as arbitrarily imprisoning them.

What cjcjc said!

4. Left Not Liberal

For an alternative take see:

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5275

5. Left Not Liberal

On the Guardian’s coverage of Venezuela see

http://www.redpepper.org.uk/Carroll-in-wonderland-how-the/

“‘Slagging off’ judges is just as bad as arbitrarily imprisoning them.”

The weird thing is that the Blair government went to a lot of constitutional effort to separate out the judiciary from the other executive functions of government.

The Lord Chancellor ceased to be head of the judiciary:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Chancellor

And a Supreme Court was established, distinct from the House of Lords, which is part of the legislature and no longer the final court of appeal as well:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Court_of_the_United_Kingdom

While all that was in progress, Blunkett, as Home Secretary, was slagging off the so-called “independent” judiciary. I suppose the charitable explanation is that he was confused and didn’t really understand what was going on. The alternative credible explanation is that, like Chavez in Venezuela, he also has uncontrollable Stalinist tendencies.

The sad truth is its been obvious to those without blinkers for at least a decade that Chavez is little but a run of the mill tinpot dictator, but because he waves a red flag around the socialists of the world turn a blind eye, like they do with Castro.

It is very telling that the western statist left adore these characters and goes hand in glove with their own control freakery and authoritarian bent when they get to wield power themselves.

Conor i wish you all the best with spreading the message, and hope that the libertarian left would grow up and see who their real enemies are. Peace.

@ Left Not Liberal – sheesh, you certainly live up to your name. I’ve read the articles you link to and what could have been some enlightening stuff is instead clear and obvious sock-puppetry. In neither article did I notice this point: “Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has spent the last year in prison without trial because she granted bail to a prisoner who had himself spent three years in pre-trial detention.” being addressed. Now I don’t know what import is put on Magna Carta type rights in Venezuela but “justice without delay” springs to mind here.

Chavez is a dangerous Stalinist. I hope that he can eventually be removed democratically but I suspect he will find reasons to “suspend” any mechanism that could remove him.

Chavez wins elections but is prevented from implementing his reforms by the level of corruption amongst the state elite. He tries to work inside the system but increasingly relies on executive power to get his way.

Meanwhile liberal imperialists like Foley and Carrol from the UK pine for the day when the educated pro western rich regain power and are allowed to feather their nests in peace. These are after all liberal values.

Can Foley explain why the judge let the mega rich parasite go in the first place?

10. Left Not Liberal

Falco, you obviously didn’t read the first article throughly enough then as it noted that the length of pre-trial detention infringed Cedeño’s right to an expedient trial (though for two years rather than three) and it located this in flaws in the Venezuelan judicial and criminal justice system. What the article took issue with was the labeling of the arrests of Cedeno and Afiuni as a crackdown on dissidents by the Western media and human rights NGOs. Admittidly, Chavez shouldn’t have been publicly denouncing Afiuni before her arrest, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a case to answer if there is evidence that she took a bribe from a charged suspect.

I won’t be wasting my time writing to Venezuela’s Minister of the Interior and Justice. There are far more pressing issues out there.

@Dirk #7

“The sad truth is its been obvious to those without blinkers for at least a decade that Chavez is little but a run of the mill tinpot dictator”

Who keeps winning re-election democratically (as confirmed by impartial international observers) and – as on the one occasion where he was defeated in a referendum – accepts the result if it goes against him.

@Falco #8

“Chavez is a dangerous Stalinist. I hope that he can eventually be removed democratically”

Well, the attempt to remove him undemocratically with US assistance and funding a few years ago didn’t work did it? Perhaps it was because the majority of the ordinary people of Venezuela would rather have Chavez (for all his faults) than a foreign-controlled élite governing them.

So, fflp, Dirk, Chavez is either a Stalinist dictator or a courageous but thwarted fighter for progress? You haz ideological dogma. Facts: you needz them.

Some pretty atrocious people have come to power through democratic means in the past. It doesn’t give politicians a free pass. Unfortunately, Chavez is providing a classic example of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom hypothesis – how collectivist economic policies and an authoritarian intellectual atmosphere (whether left or right) can lead to the dismantling of the rule of law and individual freedom.

14. Left Not Liberal

“Chavez is providing a classic example of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom hypothesis – how collectivist economic policies and an authoritarian intellectual atmosphere (whether left or right) can lead to the dismantling of the rule of law and individual freedom.”

Yeah, but then again Hayek had rather odd notions of what constituted the rule of law and individual freedom. Furthermore, attempts to implement Hayekian inspired economic policies have been accompanied by some fairly brutal political repression haven’t they?.

Thank you Conor (you liberal imperialist!).

Might I intervene between cjcjc and Bob B? Slagging off judges by politicians is very dangerous and leads to a path of evilness. Politicians write the laws that define how judges and magistrates perform their duties. Politicians can complain as citizens that “something is wrong”, but they should conduct themselves professionally as law makers. Which means that politicians should keep their gobs shut on occasions.

A law maker analyses a problem and tries to come up with the solution that causes least harm. That is the utilitarian way how government works. Chavez is not an honest law maker.

As Bob said, New Labour attempted to separate judiciary from government, but those pesky politicians insisted on having their words.

A UN report by three independent human rights experts judged Cedeño’s detention to be arbitrary, as well as illegal in its length. He submitted this report to the court and Afiuni looked at this evidence and granted bail. (I make no comment on whether he was guilty or not of currency violations, but its worth noting he was also a prominent financial supporter of various opposition groups.)

Afiuni was not a well known judge, or a political activist. She was a bog standard jurist following the law. Chavez made a televised broadcast stating she took bribes, and demanded a 30 year prison term, making clear new laws would be introduced if necessary to ensure this. The Attorney General has made similar attacks, Afiuni has been denied a public defender, and everyone down to the court bailiffs on the day on the bail hearing has been hassled and arrested. UN report here. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=33273&Cr=judges&Cr1 and NY Times report which touches on the paucity of evidence against her here. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/world/americas/04venez.html

I don’t know how Chavez supporters can defend this. If, say, Tory-funding Stewart Wheeler had been held without trial for 3 years in the UK, and Gordon Brown used a BBC broadcast to declare the guilt and order the arrest of the magistrate who later granted him bail (backed up by Baroness Scotland making retrospective changes to the law) there’d be a meltdown on the left. Chavez is being given a free pass here as he’s notionally a socialist and the US right don’t like him.

@BenSix – i said nothing about him being a stalinist. Think u might be confusing me for someone else.

@The Judge – As your aware, most dictators are democratically elected, and then swiftly start eroding the democratic process by which they came to power, exactly as Chavez started doing from day one. A popular mandate doesnt equate to liberty.

It really does boggle the mind how so many supposed democrats come out as apologists for repression when it wears their colours.

@17 Dirk: “As you’re aware, most dictators are democratically elected…”

I’m not sure about that.

Mugabe was elected by process but other African presidents have used force to take control. Dictators use their power to ensure that elections elect them, but that is not democracy.

“Yeah, but then again Hayek had rather odd notions of what constituted the rule of law and individual freedom. Furthermore, attempts to implement Hayekian inspired economic policies have been accompanied by some fairly brutal political repression haven’t they?.”

Not really, some dictatorships (whether fascist in the case of Chile, or Marxist in the case of China) borrowed some of Hayek’s economic ideas without improving their human rights record significantly at the same time. Despite their utter moral illegitimacy, they still improved the lot of their people and, in the case of Chile, eventually transitioned to a prosperous democracy.

“Unfortunately, Chavez is providing a classic example of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom hypothesis – how collectivist economic policies and an authoritarian intellectual atmosphere (whether left or right) can lead to the dismantling of the rule of law and individual freedom.”

Oh please…

21. Left Not Liberal

“Not really, some dictatorships (whether fascist in the case of Chile, or Marxist in the case of China) borrowed some of Hayek’s economic ideas without improving their human rights record significantly at the same time. Despite their utter moral illegitimacy, they still improved the lot of their people and, in the case of Chile, eventually transitioned to a prosperous democracy.”

Er no, in the case of Chile Hayek’s ideas were introduced through the destruction of demoncracy and establishment of a murderous police state. And it didn’t improve “the lot of the people” – it led to mass unemployment, grinding poverty, the destruction of chilean industry and the near meltdown of the national economy. This catastophy was only partially reversed when Pinochet kicked out the Hayekians and started introducing neo-developmentalist policies. In Stalinist China, the ditching of the iron rice bowl was achieved through the butchery at Tiananmen Square.

The notion of the separation of powers of government has a long history. The explicit intention is to prevent or constrain abuses of government power so totalitarian regimes reject such constitutional structures in favour of joined-up government, where the exercise of judicial functions depends on the current sentiments of the governing elite instead of the laws as determined by a process prescribed in the adopted constitution. For PR reasons, this is often presented as “people’s justice” or some similar notion to convey a suggestion of popular appeal.

Separation of powers characterised the constitution of the Roman Republic but not the practice of Imperial Rome, where the decisions of the emperor – or his surrogates – tended to prevail. Modern currency of the idea is usually attributed to: L’esprit des lois (1748) by Baron de Montesquieu, who was under the mistaken impression he was describing how Britain’s constitution functioned at the time:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_powers

English text of Montesquieu: L’esprit des lois (large file):
http://www.efm.bris.ac.uk/het/montesquieu/spiritoflaws.pdf

“Er no, in the case of Chile Hayek’s ideas were introduced through the destruction of demoncracy and establishment of a murderous police state. And it didn’t improve “the lot of the people” – it led to mass unemployment, grinding poverty, the destruction of chilean industry and the near meltdown of the national economy. This catastophy was only partially reversed when Pinochet kicked out the Hayekians and started introducing neo-developmentalist policies. In Stalinist China, the ditching of the iron rice bowl was achieved through the butchery at Tiananmen Square.”

Sure, in your opinion. But in my opinion, you should read less Naomi Klein and more proper history and political economy. It might also help you to spot a burgeoning dictatorship BEFORE it puts you up against a wall and shoots you. With luck, Chavez will never be able to reach that stage.

Try this for a separate, independent narrative of developments in the Chilean economy under the governance of the military Junta:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chile_under_Pinochet

Good article- another left poster boy dymythed. He’s also an conspiracy theorist : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9QtZkT8OBQ (U.S. weapon test caused Haiti earthquate, next weapon for Iran)

Here’s another woman imprisoned for a year without trial:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jan/16/denise-mcneil-yarls-wood

She’s just a black, working class illegal immigrant, however.

27. the 12th Beatle

@19…..your so true Nick, you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs, or in the case of Chile, torturing some kids. Its just economics really.

28. Left Not Liberal

Shut it Briar. Only wealthy rightwing bankers and their buddies in the judiciary stir the indignation of concerned liberals.

Anyone who cites the execrable and self-admittedly extremely biased Rory Carroll uncritically deserves barely a second thought. The fact is, horror stories about Venezuela have been circulated by the Venezuelan oligarchy and their international echo chamber since the minute he got into office and 99% of the time they have been proven to be at best hypocritical missive or gross, misinterpretations out of context, at worst outright fabrication of the most egregious kind (this is not to deny genuine problems in Venezuela, which has many, just that they are blown out of all proportion and mixed in with a heady brew of complete abject lies). The US establishment use all the many, many avenues of deception at their disposal without waver or mercy when a governnment isn’t 100% in their pocket – especially if they are that most feared of ‘threats’, a democratically elected, popular opponent.

For liberal conspiracy to be parroting this nonsense – it really does itself a gross disservice.
Supposed ‘progressives’ (conor and rory carroll are like peas in a pod) repeating propaganda aimed at subverting democratically elected popular movements are far more dangerous than the loony right.

And anyone dismissing someone with an ounce of social conscience as a ‘leftist’ also deserves no love. As far as Im concerned Conor is a charlatan and enabler of oppression.

Tx Joe for your measured and constructive contribution

you’re welcome.

32. Just Visiting

As someone with no knowledge of Venezualan politics before seeing this thread – as if you like a neutral observer – what do I make of it?

Well, purely on the basis of the facts being presented – Conor seems to have the much stronger case.

Because
i) no one has found fault with :

> A UN report by three independent human rights experts judged Cedeño’s detention to be arbitrary, as well as illegal in its length. He submitted this report to the court and Afiuni looked at this evidence and granted bail.

ii) No one on the other side has explained why Chavez felt this case and not others was a trigger to him making such a public stand :

> Chavez made a televised broadcast stating she took bribes, and demanded a 30 year prison term, making clear new laws would be introduced if necessary to ensure this.

iii) no one has raised any facts /details / proof at all of the alleged bribery allegation.

And lastly, 99% of those defending Chavez, are criticising in broad generalisation the motives of others (the USA), rather than addressing the issues of this specific case – always a bad sign that someone is arguing from their worldview, not evidence.

Just my tuppence

“@19…..your so true Nick, you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs, or in the case of Chile, torturing some kids. Its just economics really.”

Not at all. There is never a good excuse for violence or torture. Sweden and Denmark completed some of the most dramatic and successful neo-liberal reforms the world has ever seen without violence. In fact, free market reforms are more likely to be successful if pursued peacefully and legitimately.

But some regimes use violence and torture regardless of what policies they are pursuing, so they might as well be advised on good policies while they are at it. Especially if those policies, as was the case in Chile and will hopefully be the case in China, eventually lead indirectly to human rights reforms too.

‘ eventually lead indirectly to human rights reforms too.’

Hahaha…really? Arguing that the neoliberal ‘reforms’ in Chile lead to the return to liberal democracy that existed BEFORE the vile dictatorship is like giving stalinism the credit for the return of the Czech Republic to democracy in 1989.

How do these far-right loons manage to justify their gymnastic contortions to themselves? ‘We had to destroy democracy to save it’ (see Franco, Honduran coup junta c. 2009 et al)

35. Billy gruff

‘’Afiuni is being held in prison with many convicted criminals who she herself sentenced. She is extremely vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. Some prisoners have threatened to burn her with petrol, others to cut off her head and to bathe the jail in her blood. Anyone who has ever visited a prison in Latin America will know that these are not idle threats.’’
This is hugely horrific and sad, and no doubt Afiuni will be abused in this kind of jail. It is wrong on human rights grounds that she is in this type of jail or any jail in the first place. There’s no denying that.
But how long have her and her colleagues been sending people to these jails without trail? How long have they turned a blind eye to the conditions of these jails? —along time before Chavez. Chavez has done naff all however.

36. Left Not Liberal

“Sweden and Denmark completed some of the most dramatic and successful neo-liberal reforms the world has ever seen without violence.”

And the solidification of the social democratic state in Western Europe after the second world war was of course accompanied by bloodshed and terror. Except that it wasn’t. Socio-economic transformation is of course a different story in the debt and crisis-ridden orders of the global south, but the point is that Hayek’s “road to serfdom” thesis is a load of ahistorical crap.

STOP PRESS- Afiuni to be released thanks to pressure from an ‘international organisation’. Good work.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence http://bit.ly/ic7ACr

  2. Emily Davis

    RT @libcon: Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence http://bit.ly/ic7ACr

  3. Richard Maddrell

    RT @libcon: Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence http://bit.ly/ic7ACr

  4. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence http://bit.ly/ic7ACr

  5. conspiracy theo

    Venezuela: Stop Attacks on Judicial Independence | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/h1jvQs





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