On February 15th, Venezuela decided to deepen socialism. President Chávez won the referendum to abolish term limits, clearing his way to seek re-election in 2012. Many thought that this event would lack importance, since Venezuelans against Chavez could still race against him on the next presidential election. But Hugo had different plans for his rivals.
After winning the referendum he suddenly declared that the “Bolivarian Revolution” was embarking on its third phase. Hardly anybody really knows what is this third phase about, but scrutinizing the evidence of these past two months, it is easy to notice that the third phase is about gathering more power on Chavez’s hands and repressing anybody who opposes the revolution.
Let’s take for example the situation with Raúl Isaías Baduel. A former Chávez defence minister, on April 2nd he was arrested at gunpoint in front of his wife by military-intelligence agents. Accused of corruption, he has been treated as a traitor since he decided to depart from Chavez’s policies about two years ago. Another important case is the one concerning Manuel Rosales. Actually the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second city, he has gone into hiding to avoid arrest on corruption charges.
Chavez’s supporters say Rosales should defend himself in Court. However, it is a matter of public knowledge that Chávez has said he would personally jail Rosales. Therefore, it is also a matter of public knowledge that he can hardly expect a fair trial. Chávez controls the judiciary. A fact to prove that assertion is the verdict against three of Caracas’s former police chiefs to 30 years in jail without parole. They were accused and convicted without evidence and before the judgement was issued, they spent several years in windowless cells.
On the other hand, Richard Peñalver, a member of Chávez political party is free and without charge even when all the country has seen a very famous video where he is clearly shooting with an armed gun on April 11, 2002.
It is very important to remind Chávez, the Venezuelan Judiciary and all the members of the government, that Venezuela is a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, and even if the government is clever enough to bury such treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also establishes the right to a fair trial, which comprises the following:
1. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.Sooner or later, justice will overcome. If you think that’s just a saying, ask Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s president from 1990 to 2000, who on April 7th became the first elected Latin American president to be found guilty of human-rights abuses by a court sitting in his own country.
2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
3. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality:
(a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him;
(b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;
(c) To be tried without undue delay;
(d) To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it;
(e) To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
(f) To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court;
(g) Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.
4. Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.
5. When a person has by a final decision been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his conviction has been reversed or he has been pardoned on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact shows conclusively that there has been a miscarriage of justice, the person who has suffered punishment as a result of such conviction shall be compensated according to law, unless it is proved that the non-disclosure of the unknown fact in time is wholly or partly attributable to him.
Three judges unanimously found that Fujimori had authorized the activities of the Colina group, an army death-squad, which killed 15 people in 1991 and murdered 10 people from a college the following year. Although the killings occurred while the army was battling a terrorist group, Fujimori’s sole knowledge of the death squad made him, in the words of the Court, the “indirect perpetrator” of these killings.
The court sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment. He immediately appealed, but the evidence is so overwhelming that the decision is unlikely to change.
Let’s remember that Fujimori was extradited from Chile in 2007, where he had flown from voluntary exile in Japan in the hope of launching a political comeback. Fujimori was extremely popular during most of his decade in office, since he tamed hyperinflation, opened up the economy and launched two decades of rapid economic growth. But Fujimori’s regime collapsed after he illegally sought a third term, winning a rigged election in 2000. Investigators found that more than $1 billion was stolen from public funds and stashed in secret accounts during his rule.
Fujimori has lost support from the Peruvians. However, Keiko, his daughter, is one of the several contenders for the 2011 presidential election. She says that if elected would pardon him. As today, that would be an unpopular measure, since around 70% of those asked think Fujimori is guilty.
Democracy is still struggling in Latin America. Venezuela and Peru are just a couple of examples. Nevertheless, people must not lose their expectations that democracy will succeed. Peruvians have to trust that the Court’s verdict regarding Fujimori will mark a lasting triumph for the law.
Regarding Venezuela, Chávez should look himself on Fujimori’s mirror. As I said before, Fujimori was very popular during most of his decade in office and actually did something for Peru’s economy. However, he commanded gross human rights abuses, violating the right to life, also established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Chávez is challenging the separation of powers in Venezuela, ordering violations to the right to a fair trial and more recently, to the freedom of speech.
As Fujimori, Chávez now can sought a third term, but the day will come that Chávez will have to answer for his actions before a tribunal. And Chávez will not be the only one that will have to answer, since according to Venezuela’s current constitution every public officer is directly responsible for his own acts.
Today they are safe and sound. But the Chávez and his fellows should bear in mind that, like Antione De Riveral said:
The sword of justice has no scabbard
And one day, maybe not very far from today, justice will prevail.