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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04CARACAS2064
2004-06-22 21:42:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

GOV REACTS HARSHLY TO HRW REPORT ON JUSTICE SYSTEM

Tags:  PHUM PREL PGOV VE 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L  CARACAS 002064 

SIPDIS


NSC FOR CBARTON
HQ USSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
USAID DCHA/OTI FOR RPORTER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/25/2014
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV VE
SUBJECT: GOV REACTS HARSHLY TO HRW REPORT ON JUSTICE SYSTEM


Classified By: A/POLITICAL COUNSELOR MARK WELLS FOR REASONS 1.4 (d)

-------
SUMMARY
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1. (C) Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human
Rights Watch, released a report in Caracas June 17 strongly
criticizing Venezuela's new Supreme Court law, and calling
for implementation of the OAS Democratic Charter if the
Venezuelan authorities did not act to preserve the balance of
powers. The GOV reacted harshly to Vivanco's statements,
accusing him of being a US agent, and the National Assembly
threatened to declare Vivanco "persona non grata." Vivanco
later met with the Charge, and discussed the possibility of
the OAS taking action against Venezuela. End Summary



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HRW on TSJ


--------------------------





2. (U) Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human
Rights Watch, released a report in Caracas on June 17 about
the Venzuelan justice system called "Rigging the Rule of
Law." The report strongly criticizes the politicization of
the justice system, and the potentially negative effects of
the new Organic Law of the Supreme Court (TSJ). The report
discusses those aspects of the law which HRW alleges will
erode judicial independence. These include:

-- the naming of 12 more TSJ judges by simple majority vote
in the National Assembly (NA), which the report calls "court
packing";

-- the power given to the Moral Council (Attorney General,
Controller General, Human Rights Ombudsman acting together)
to suspend TSJ judges for "grave offenses"; and

-- the right of the NA to annul appointments of TSJ judges
under certain circumstances. The report argues that these
potential effects are more serious because of the TSJ's role
as administrator of the lower courts.



3. (U) The report also criticizes a series of past problems
in the justice system, including:

-- the prevalence of untenured judges, hired and fired at
will by the Judicial Committee of the Supreme Court;

-- the politicization of judicial decisions by supporters of
President Chavez in the judicial system;

-- the cancellation of a system of exams whereby judges
gained permanent positions; and

-- the failure of the Supreme Court to review the decision to
shut down Venezuela's second highest court and remove its
judges.



--------------------------


HRW Recommendations


--------------------------





4. (U) The HRW report calls on President Chavez to instruct
his supporters to suspend implementation of the new TSJ law
and to modify the new TSJ law so it does not undermine
judicial independence. The report also advises the TSJ itself
that it should review the new law with an eye to finding it
unconstitutional, reactivate the examination system and hire
permanent judges, cease dismissing judges for political
reasons, and review the appeals of judges who have been
dismissed. If the GOV and TSJ fail to act, the HRW report
calls on international lending agencies to refuse to work
with the Venezuelan judicial system on any improvement
projects. The report also calls on the SecGen of the OAS to
invoke article 18 of the Democratic Charter to begin an
investigation of the situation in Venezuela.



--------------------------


GOV Reaction


--------------------------





5. (U) The GOV reacted with indignation to the HRW report.
VP Jose Vicente Rangel called Vivanco "a mercenary ... at the
service of the imperial powers." He also called him a
"provocateur who doesn't represent anyone." Rangel further
stated that HRW's statement confirmed that "the real enemy of
the process of change in Venezuela is George Bush." NA
President and close Chavez advisor Francisco Ameliach called
on the NA to declare Vivanco "persona non grata." He said the
HRW report "practically constitutes a declaration of war,"
and said that when he heard Vivanco speak "my blood boiled."
The semi-official GOV paper VEA called Vivanco a CIA agent,
though it offered no proof or explanation.



--------------------------


Meeting with Charge


--------------------------





6. (C) Vivanco and HRW counsel Daniel Wilkinson attended a
luncheon hosted by the Charge on June 18. EmbOffs and
Canadian PolOff also attended. Vivanco discussed the
possibilities of the OAS taking action against Venezuela for
undermining judicial independence. He said it seemed the OAS
was tired of Venezuela, and anxious to bring its presence in
Venezuela to a close. He was particularly negative about the
likelihood of Brazil taking a proactive stance, due to its
long standing status quo foreign policy. Vivanco thought it
was vital that countries such as the US, Canada, and Mexico
take a strong stand on this issue in the OAS, since it was
critical to the future of Venezuelan democracy. The Charge
pointed out that the USG is extremely concerned about this
issue, but the OAS is unlikely to take any steps to distract
attention away from the presidential recall referendum in the
short term.


7. (U) The Washington Post of June 22 contained a synopsis
of the report as an op-ed co-authored by Vivanco and
Wilkinson. The full report is available on the HRW web-site,
at www.hrw.org.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





8. (C) The HRW report is an excellent synthesis of the
threat facing the Venezuelan justice system, and its
democracy in general. The harsh and churlish response of GOV
officials may prevent internal damage among MVR
unconditionals, but must give international supporters pause
for thought. Should the referendum fail, the GOV destruction
of judicial independence, and the likely increase in
political persecution through the courts, will likely be the
next big issue.

SHAPIRO


NNNN

2004CARACA02064 - CONFIDENTIAL