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!!

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

  1. Al Carajo Says:

    The drawing on this article is great, except that the magazine on the AK-47 was painted pointing backwards. Was that on purpose?

  2. tleon Says:

    Last evening I had the opportunity to view the History Channel on Direct TV. The title of the show was “Hitler, The Rise”, which documented how Hitler came to power and the abuses at that time.

    What I could not believe however was the contrasts between Hitlers rise to power and that of Hugo Chavez. I think this documentary should be manatory viewing for every person in Venezuela, to fully understand what has happened to thier country and what the future will be under Chavez and his thugs.

    Perhaps the so called “Bolivarian Revolution” should instead be call “Rise of the Fourth Reich”

  3. megaescualidus Says:


    Not only prisons are death sentences at random. The public health system could also be another death sentence if you happen to be admitted into it. The following link (, as has been voiced in many other instances, relates the deteriorated state of the public health system in Venezuela. Many Venezuelans don’t have access to a private clinic and so their only option is a public hospital. Reliable electric power from the grid and hospitals with backup generators is so mundane in advanced countries nobody even thinks about it. In Venezuela, as Dr Viera in the video mentions, you could be on the operating table when, God forbid, electric power goes out. Since this particular hospital in Pto Ordaz (and, I’d dare say, most public hospitals) lacks backup generators, when this has happened all bets are off. As Dr Viera says, when this has happened with him operating, staff in the operating room only had their cell phones to illuminate the work they were doing on the patient. Isn’t this amazing? Isn’t this another death sentence at random to Veneauelans lacking the means to pay for private health care?

    • m_astera Says:

      At best, that sounds like poor planning and incompetence on the part of the hospital and all of the staff there. For around 4000 Bs you can buy a deep-cycle battery, an inverter, and a charger that will run at least a few bright emergency lights for 24 hours or more. All three items are easily available in Porlamar, so I imagine they are available in most of the country.

      Cell phones for light? Spare me.

      • megaescualidus Says:


        The Hospital, like many Hospitals, is run by a chavista. His last concern is equipping the Hospital with infrastructure, and consumables. Even if he really wanted, his budget is probably tiny. Hospital employees could cuff up the money and start buying, from their own pocket, Hospital infrastructure, like the 4000 Bs battery you mentioned. They could also buy, from their own money, consumables (syringes, gause, gloves). They could also stop asking for a more dignifying salary. They could do a lot of things. I think the situation is so dire that the staff is probably more concerned about making ends meet than with supplying consumables or infrastructure.

      • m_astera Says:

        OK, I understand that. And also that if a chabista is running it, a good portion of the funds is probably going right into his pocket.

        I was talking about a small backup power system, 3 pieces, not just a battery. I put one in my casa so I can continue to have lights and a computer during power outages.

        Alternatively, for less than 100 Bs one can buy an emergency light that plugs into the wall socket and will give an hour of decent light when the power goes out. And for less than that, a small headlamp with an LED that runs on two AAA batteries.

        I’ve had a number of jobs where I had to supply some of my own equipment if I wanted to do things right. If you can buy a cellphone and charger, you can spend 1/10th of that on a rechargeable light or a headlamp if the alternative means someone dying while you are trying to do your job.

  4. Dr. Faustus Says:

    Going back to the term ‘compassion,’ it can be argued that the term stems from the moral codes adapted by Christianity. It is the individual that is important, not his ethnic origin or tribe. The individual human being has intrinsic value. The idea started around the 1st century. The affect of ‘Bolivarianism’ on Venezuela, however, is to focus on the group. Are you with us, or are you against us? Do you accept our philosophy, or are you opposed? Today the jails of Venezuela are merely a statistic, a collection of human beings on a judicial piece of paper to be dealt with as a single entity. The indvidual does not exist in such an environment. He’s a number, nothing more. What happens to the individual in that group is simply irrelevant. He lives, he dies, he suffers. It doesn’t matter. The Bolivarian Revolution will go on, with him or without him. The Nazi Party understood this, so did the Russian communists. Millions of ‘individuals’ died as a result. You can look it up.

  5. A_Antonio Says:

    “Prison is a death sentence at random”; and in open spaces delinquency can sentence you to death at will. Looks like Venezuela has no solution.

  6. Mike Says:

    Seems to me that by granting the release of Peña Esclusa and maybe other political prisoners, HC is negotiating with God, as in: please, let me live and I will become a compassionate, human rights supporting Comandante. Yeah, right!

    Problem is, God doesn’t negotiate and of course sees through his lies. Maybe continuing with the devil is his better option.

  7. bobthebuilder Says:

    They do say a country can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. In Venezuela’s case it sums up the path of country as a whole: insecure, chaotic, run badly & getting worse by the day.

  8. moctavio Says:

    Barreda: It happened to me and I hope one day I will be able to tell the story.

    • SV Says:

      This is the most interesting part. I hope it didn’t have to do with your decision of leaving the country but I am afraid it had.

      • moctavio Says:

        It did, it certainly did.
        I said it indirectly in my farewell post:
        Crime and the absence of the rule of law. I stared at both of these in the face and it is something I don’t wish on anyone. You feel like you are not playing on a level field. If the crooks don’t get you, the other “crooks” will and you have no way to defend yourself. There are no instances, no appeals, you have no rights. Time to leave.

  9. A. Barreda Says:

    “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.”

    The whole thing, but this part in special, gave me the jitters. There’s a chinese curse that says “May you come to the attention of those in authority”. So far, I have always thought that being a law abiding citizen was enough to avoid any problem with those in power, but after reading this post, I’m starting to think differently.

    After reading this article, the key question for me is not about human rights or justice, it is about something very personal: What if it happens to me? What if the next guy send to jail for speaking out his mind is not OAP but me? What if it is my brother or my mother? What then?

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