Dec
4
2012
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Outrage erupts as imprisoned judge details abuses

Maria Lourdes Afiuni  Outrage erupts as imprisoned judge details abuses

Courtesy of: Maria Corina Machado / Globovisión

The case of a Venezuelan judge imprisoned almost three years ago has recently surged back into the headlines, drawing scrutiny from human rights advocates in and outside of Venezuela. Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was arrested in December 2009, after issuing a ruling that displeased President Hugo Chávez. At the time, the president went on national television to affirm that in earlier times, she would have been put before a firing squad. Soon after, she was arrested. Afiuni says that she was raped while in prison and later underwent an abortion behind bars after becoming pregnant. Controversy surrounding the case has outraged human rights activists who consider her jailing proof of the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela.

President Chávez sent his secret intelligence police to arrest Afiuni after she granted bail to businessman Eligio Cedeño, who had ties to the Venezuelan opposition and was accused of evading currency controls. Cedeño’s detention was declared arbitrary by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which decried Chávez for jailing an officer of the government without a fair trial. Despite the UN’s demands, Afiuni was held for more than a year in an overcrowded women’s prison near Caracas. She was incarcerated only cells away from more than 20 inmates whom the judge had sentenced for murder, drug smuggling and other serious charges. “I’m in this hell because I had the temerity to do my job as a judge in a way that didn’t please Chávez,” Afiuni told the New York Times from her prison cell.

Now that Afiuni has made the abuses she suffered known, the outrage has begun to grow. And now, nearly three years after her arrest, her trial has finally begun. Afiuni refused to enter the courtroom, however, claiming her rights had been violated and the case mishandled. However, due to a recent change in Venezuela’s penal code, the government has claimed the right to try her in absentia, setting a new precedent in Venezuela’s legal history. The particular change in the penal code was approved in June under the auspices of the controversial Enabling Act, which essentially gives President Chávez the right to rule Venezuela by edict.

Afiuni, who suffers from cancer, is now under strict house arrest in Caracas. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly called for Afiuni’s release, as has the American linguist Noam Chomsky, a commentator who often supports Chávez’s socialist goals. In an open letter to the Venezuelan president, Chomsky exhorted Chávez to “correct an injustice” by releasing Afiuni. Chomsky noted with outrage that the sick Afiuni “experienced grave abuses that led to a severe deterioration of her physical and psychological condition.” Unfortunately, these appeals have all been ignored by the Chávez administration.

This three year old case is another example of the government’s efforts to tighten its control over institutions like the judiciary. Earlier this year, former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge Eladio Aponte Aponte made startling claims about the Chávez administration’s control over the court system. Aponte has said Chávez and other government officials contacted judges with instructions on sensitive cases, while vice president Elías Jaua held weekly meetings with members of the judiciary. In fact, the World Justice Project released on Wednesday its 2012 Rule of Law Index Report, ranking Venezuela last in criminal justice. According to the report, “the government institutions are not transparent, and the criminal justice system is ineffective and subject to political influence.”

Examples like Afiuni’s are unfortunately common in Venezuela, but this one in particular has caught the eye of international activists, who will remain attentive as this unprecedented case proceeds. Afiuni’s next court hearing is scheduled for December 19.

 
May
1
2012
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New Leaks Tie Chávez to Drug Trafficking

57598112 013366780 1 New Leaks Tie Chávez to Drug Trafficking
Giant portraits of the mothers of victims have highlighted the problem of violence in Caracas

With the October elections approaching, Hugo Chávez is no doubt hoping that Venezuelans’ faith in his government and its social programs will carry him to victory. But as we’ve reported before, former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge Eladio Aponte Aponte’s allegations of corruption and ties to drug traffickers are adding to what were already serious concerns about increasing violence and crime in Venezuela.

The former judge has been turning over proof of narco-trafficking to the DEA, some of which has leaked to the press. And while Aponte has implicated senior government leaders in the past, new evidence indicates that these actions were known by the highest levels of Venezuela’s government. According to Aponte, Chávez received weekly briefs on the drug operations carried out by Venezuela’s military. Aponte has revealed a letter to Chávez from a military leader requesting an investigation into the involvement of Henry Rangel Silva, now the Minister of Defense, in the transportation of 2.2 tons of cocaine by a military convoy. The cocaine was kept at an army barrack on the border of Colombia, an area rife with drug gangs. After hearing the allegations, Chávez chose not to launch the investigation, instead, according to Aponte, he did his best to keep the story under wraps.

Aponte has also said that he was told to “turn a blind eye” to members of the FARC, a guerilla group with ties to drug smuggling that the Colombian government has fought for decades. The problems along the porous Colombia-Venezuela border are well documented, which has allowed cocaine grown and produced in Colombia to pass to Venezuela, the main port of transit for the cocaine heading to the U.S. and Europe. Just last week, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe criticized Chávez and his government for permitting Colombian terrorists and narco-traffickers to operate in Venezuela.

Previous reports said the operations were handled by Silva; General Cliver Alcalá, commander of the Fourth Armored Division of the Army; and Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and one of President Hugo Chávez’s closest allies, but these are the first allegations that Chávez himself was involved.

This comes on top of Aponte’s earlier claims that the Chávez administration controls the court system. Aponte has said Chávez and other government officials contacted judges with instructions on sensitive cases, while vice president Elias Jaua held weekly meetings with members of the judiciary. Chávez’s control over the Venezuelan courts is a concern that has been voiced by a number of human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, for many years.

Venezuelans have already identified crime and insecurity as a top issue in the upcoming elections. As the allegations continue to pour out, Chávez and the PSUV will have to do serious damage control to convince Venezuelans that they are part of the solution and not, as many are saying, part of the problem.

 
Apr
19
2012
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Former Venezuelan Judge Suggests Drug Trafficking By Government Officials

Typically, when international experts, foreign governments and Venezuelan citizens talk about the rising crime in Venezuela, it’s in regard to the rampant violence that has made the country as dangerous as some conflict zones. Even the U.S. State Department has warned citizens traveling to Venezuela of the purported dangers. However, more and more, the governments in both the U.S. and Venezuela are turning their attention to the “worrying trends” emerging in Venezuela’s illegal narcotics trade.

Now, a former Venezuelan judge has suggested to U.S. investigators that prominent figures in Venezuela’s government are involved in drug trafficking operations.

In testimony given before the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, Eladio Aponte Aponte, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Venezuela, has implied that senior officers of the armed forces and even leaders of the Chávez government are complicit in drug trafficking operations.

According to one source, Aponte said the drug trafficking operations are run directly by Henry Rangel Silva, the Venezuelan Minister of Defense; General Cliver Alcalá, commander of the Fourth Armored Division of the Army; and Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and one of President Hugo Chávez’s closest allies.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of Treasury Department was already aware of Alcalá’s and Silva’s alleged links to drug trafficking and terrorist organizations.

aponte Former Venezuelan Judge Suggests Drug Trafficking By Government Officials

Aponte arrived in the U.S. from Costa Rica, where he had been since Apr. 2. He was himself implicated in the drug conspiracy, and was dismissed as a judge on March 20 for alleged ties to accused trafficker Walid Makled. His whereabouts between his dismissal from the Supreme Court and his appearance in Costa Rica remain unknown.

The National Assembly removed Aponte from office after documents found in Makled’s apartment showed ties to the judge. Aponte gave Makled credentials that gave him access to court offices and the freedom to move around the country without restriction.

Makled is currently on trial in Caracas. He was extradited to Venezuela from Columbia after a series of diplomatic negotiations.

According to reports released by WikiLeaks, the Venezuelan military exerted pressure on Chávez to prevent Makled from being tried in the U.S. Senior army officers reportedly fear that Makled — who has already told media that senior army officers were directly involved in drug transport — might testify that the Venezuelan military aided his drug trafficking operation.

Economic issues often garner the most attention during an election season. But in this election year in Venezuela, crime is an equally important issue for most Venezuelans. If proven true, these alleged connections between the government’s top officials and narcotics trafficking could adversely impact the PSUV, who very well could lose the high ground in the debate about crime.