It is estimated that there are more than 130 political prisoners in Venezuela. One of the reasons Chavez is arresting greater numbers of his political opponents is that there are virtually no negative consequences for him doing so. The State Department and Human rights organizations have reported the existence of political prisoners in Venezuela but action on their behalf has not ensued. The main staff person from Human Rights Watch was expelled from Venezuela several years ago. Since then nothing has really been done to advocate on their behalf.
This is what The Human Rights Watch' last report tells about political prisoners in Venezuela:
In 2009 several prominent opposition figures were targeted for criminal prosecution, raising concerns that without independent courts they have little chance of a fair trial. The targeted leaders included the former governor of Zulia state and opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential election, Manuel Rosales, whose arrest on corruption charges was ordered in March 2009. In an October 2008 speech, Chavez had publicly appealed to the attorney general and the Supreme Court to take this action against Rosales: "[A] type like that should be in prison…. I'll put myself in charge of the operation, and the operation will be called "Manuel Rosales, you go to jail"
To avoid arrest, Rosales left Venezuela and was granted political asylum in Peru in April 2009. Raúl Baduel, an army general who commanded the military operation that returned Chavez to power during the April, 2002 coup attempt, is currently in Ramo Verde Military Prison facing trial by a military court on corruption charges. Baduel was an outspoken critic of constitutional reforms proposed by Chávez and his supporters in the National Assembly.
The following two cases illustrate the arbitrary nature of the Chavez regime; namely that Hugo Chavez prosecutes everyone who challenges his dictatorship. The first example is of General Raul Baduel, mentioned by HWR. The second one is Alejandro Pena Esclusa. Both prisoners have different backgrounds and different political view points.
Baduel is a former Minister of Defense in Mr. Chavez' cabinet. He is in prison now, after being convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail. Mr. Baduel was convicted of misuse of funds, a crime that by law needs to be handled by a civil court. He was tried in a military court composed of lower ranked officers (an unacceptable procedure even by military standards). It has also been said that the officers who tried Baduel, have been under investigation since 2007 for extortion,. The investigation of these officers began under the orders of General Baduel who was then Minister of Defense.
Baduel's defense has also claimed that military prosecutors based their charges on testimony given by military intelligence officers who themselves respond directly to the Chavez government.
It has also been claimed that the charge that General Baduel misused funds surpassing the budget originally allocated to him, has not been proven with substantial evidence.
Alejandro Pena Esclusa is a man with different political ideas than Baduel but equally critical of Hugo Chavez. He is considered to be a center-right individual.
Pena Esclusa was arrested allegedly because an individual convicted in Cuba for bombing a hotel in Havana, named him as an accomplice in a plan to disrupt the September 2010 Venezuelan elections. He was then arrested and charged with possession of explosives. His defense has accused members of the political police of violating his client's constitutional rights at the search by not allowing his lawyer to be present or to inspect the search order. The judge ignored that rule and later also denied bail to Mr. Pena Escluza. The defense claimed that every request it presented to the court was denied including cross examination of witnesses. In March, Mr. Pena Esclusa's wife along with other wives of political prisoners petitioned the Inter- American Commission for Human Rights of the Organization of American States that their husbands be recognized as political prisoners.
Mr. Pena Esclusa is now sick with prostate cancer and unable to get radiation therapy or proper treatment. He is likely to die as the Venezuelans, human rights organizations, and members of the OAS watch with impotence and indifference.
Why this failure?
There are a number of reasons for this. First of all it is the fault of the political opposition who has often placed the blame on certain prisoners, have attacked them for past deeds or associations, or have somehow attempted to justify their imprisonment. It is also the fault of the international community, particularly of the OAS for its unwillingness to confront a regional leader. Last, it is also the fault of the U.S. government for its fear of being perceived as interfering too much in the internal affairs of another country. To add to this, we can say that Human Rights organizations have remained passive and incapable of dealing with the Chavez government as they have faced intimidation and rejection.
The case of the political prisoners reflects this pathetic combination of factors more than anything. Baduel, given the fact, that in the past he was associated with Hugo Chavez and was instrumental in saving Chavez from the attempt at coup d'état in 2002, has become the target of members of the political opposition. Yet, in 2007, during the referendum on the indefinite reelection of Chavez, Baduel stood publicly against a "yes" vote which in turn helped bring about the first electoral defeat of Hugo Chavez. Yet, some people in the political opposition have questioned whether the charges against Baduel were justified rather than politically motivated.
The case of Pena Esclusa has also encountered indifference among fellow countrymen. Pena Esclusa like Baduel is somehow controversial because in the past he had ties to Lyndon LaRouche. Pena Esclusa and LaRouche severed ties years ago. Now, all these past associations are absolutely unrelated to their convictions or indictments. Justice is a separate matter.
If Chavez has proven anything beyond any reasonable doubt, it is that independent justice is no longer the law of the land in Venezuela.
Accusations against those who do not follow Chavez's will are common everyday. As an example, a banker, Eligio Cedeno, was accused in 2003 and detained in 2007 on charges of corruption. Thereafter, he was conditionally released. A court ordered a retrial and reinstated a detention order but the appeals court for Caracas ordered his release in October 2009 because his detention exceeded a two-year limit. A judge, Maria Lourdes Afiuni, granted Cedeno conditional release pending trial. Shortly after, intelligence officers arrested the judge on charges of corruption, aiding an evasion of justice, abuse of authority, and conspiracy. Chavez made a personal call to send Judge Afiuni to prison for a period of 35 years. Meanwhile, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) issued a fugitive arrest warrant against Cedeno.
Thus, in Venezuela there is no real distinction between the government's caprice and the law. Valid law is not what emanates from the written law or by an interpretation of an independent court of what the law is. In Venezuela the law is identical with Chavez' will, just like in totalitarian regimes.
The famous phrase by Pastor Martin Nimoller, who during World War II cried over indifference to injustice,has been repeated so many times that it is sometimes easy to dismiss it as a cliché. Yet, it has remained very relevant as if history never happened. Just to remind the readers, this is what Nimoller said:
"First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade-unionists and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
If the political opposition and the democracies that gather around the OAS umbrella have chosen to believe that there is some value in Chavez' justice, they better wake up.
If the Venezuelan political opposition is not bothered by the pain of injustice, sooner than they expect Chavez will jail them while the rest will find a rationale for their imprisonment. Less and less people will be there to speak for them. Most probably, nobody.
Source: The Americas Report, Menges Hemispheric Security Project, Center for Security Policy.