Archive for July 20th, 2011

In Venezuela, “Prison is a death sentence at random”

July 20, 2011

A week ago, there was an interview with Supreme Court Justice Blanca Marmol de Leon in El Nacional, which shows, from within,  how distorted and dysfunctional the Venezuelan system of Justice is. Some excerpts:

Thirty six years ago one of her clients told her “I had to pay to sleep on the stairs of Catia Prison. Three decades later, the variety of businesses in our prisons has become more sophisticated, to the point of what we have seen in the Rodeo prison: a prison governed by the inmates and some authorities unable to regain control. ”
Marmol Leon said that the primary responsibility for the prison crisis is that of the Executive Branch: “Even if the criminal courts act swiftly to avoid procedural delays, it is in their power to prevent the risk of dying from the extreme violence in Venezuelan prisons .

For example, if the judge orders the transfer of a prisoner to court, but there is no transport, his hands are tied. The diagnoses have been around for a long time, what is needed is consistent decisions on the part of the government. ”

Marmol Leon ads: Rocío San Miguel had been advised of the possibility of prisoners escaping from El Rodeo, particularly the promoters of the riot. At the end there are many questions we do not know, like how many died or how many escaped.

How could prisoners escape from from El Rodeo if the area was cordoned off? How is it that only now they have realized that dozens of prisoners were eligible to be released? The criminal court judges do not know if when we condemn a man to three months in jail, we are condemning him to death, because in Venezuela prison is a death sentence at random.

Sentencing judges could be moved to prisons in order to streamline processes. We can not forget that most Venezuelan judges are afraid. Repeating what was said by Couture, the Uruguayan jurist: In a country where judges are afraid, the people can not sleep. In Venezuela, no one can sleep peacefully and those that do, it is because they have not thought about the severity of deterioration in the administration of justice, because they have not noticed that if there are fearful judges who are eager to please those hold political  and economic power, all citizens are in danger of imprisonment and death.

No citizen in Venezuela has the assurance that a judge will respect their rights. Remember that if a judge agrees to the freedom of a person the government wants to maintain he can be removed and even imprisoned, as happened to Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Most judges ado not have the professional or ethical strength to administer justice, and they do not hesitate to give up the freedom of a person in exchange for their tenure as Judges.

On the regression of Venezuela’s judicial system in the last few years:

The involution is such that the presidents of the criminal judicial circuits are instructed to tell the judges how to decide the cases.

And then when she is asked where these instructions come from, she says:

From the Supreme Court. So I’ve been told.

If there is no independent judiciary, there can be no rule of law.  I is impossible. There is no rule of law because there is no autonomy and independence of public powers, which is essential in a democracy. In Venezuela we have less democracy because we have fewer independent judges.

What can we expect from the judges if the majority of Supreme Court judges admit that they are politically engaged with the government? The highest authorities of the judiciary can not be committed to any government or with any political ideology.

I just saw the sentence against Oswaldo Alvarez Paz. The goal is to criminalize dissent.

The authorities of the Supreme Court proclaimed socialist ethics, but the salary is increased by a bonus of food, apparently, outside the law. I think the Emoluments Act is unconstitutional, but is in effect and we must comply it. Our salary was reduced to 12,000 Bolivars per month and that this resulted in absurd situations. For example, an assistant judge earns more than a judge and a retired judge earns more than an active one.

On her salary before it was cut:

A basic salary of 30,000Bolivars (about US$ 7,000) and a premium for experience.

There you have it, straight from the inside of the Court!!