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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04CARACAS3270
2004-10-22 20:33:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

CONVICTIONS IN USON AND TACHIRA CASES

Tags:  PHUM PGOV KJUS VE 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L  CARACAS 003270 

SIPDIS


NSC FOR CBARTON
USCINCSO ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/25/2014
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KJUS VE
SUBJECT: CONVICTIONS IN USON AND TACHIRA CASES


Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ABELARDO A. ARIAS FOR REASONS 1.4 (d
)

-------
Summary
-------



1. (U) On October 13 a court in Tachira State convicted
eight persons on charges of rebellion in relation to the
events of April 2002. The court found on of the original nine
defendants not guilty, and five of them are free one
probation. On October 11 a military court convicted retired
Army Gen. Francisco Uson for insulting the Armed Forces and
sentenced him to five and a half years in prison. Journalist
Ovidio Rodriguez, professionally known as Napoleon Bravo, who
faces charges for disparaging comments about the Supreme
Court he made on his television program, testified October 13
before the prosecutor leading the investigation. End Summary



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


Tachira 8 Guilty


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





2. (U) The trial against nine political leaders in Tachira
State for civil rebellion ended at midnight October 13, when
the court found eight of the defendants guilty of civil
rebellion, and freed one, Wilfredo Tovar. The court sentenced
three of the defendants, Saul Lozano, Orlando Pantaleon and
Danny Ramirez, to six years in jail and five others, Elsy
Marquez de Pena, Jacobo Supelano, Jose Neira Celis, and Omar
Guillen, to three years. The judge, Gerson Nino, granted the
latter five probation, and they were set free on October 15.
They may not leave Tachira State, may not speak to the media,
and may not participate in political demonstrations.



3. (U) The case against the Tachira 9 stems from
disturbances in front of the Governor's offices in Tachira on
April 12, when a mob allegedly attacked Tachira Governor
Ronald Blanco La Cruz to forcibly remove him from office. At
the time the Governor was meeting with military and political
leaders to decide what steps to take, following Chavez
apparent resignation. Witnesses have described a confused
situation, aggravated when military officers withdrew support
from Blanco La Cruz, and allowed part of the mob into the
Governor's mansion. The defense concentrated its argument on
the question of whether the defendants led the crowd, or
tried to restrain it. There are approximately 40 additional
persons in Tachira who have formal investigations open
against them for the same incident, including one general and
several politicians. During testimony Blanco La Cruz
testified that the persons most responsible for the crime
were not on trial.



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


Defense Complaints


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





4. (C) Defense lawyer Carlos Bastidas told PolOff October 18
that the case was a political vendetta for humiliating
Governor Blanco La Cruz, who he called a close Chavez ally
and possible successor. Bastidas asserted that the judges
delayed the trial 16 months, allowing the defendants to
languish in pre-trial detention, acting under pressure from
Blanco La Cruz and the prosecutors. Bastidas claimed that the
trial would not have begun at all if the Supreme Court had
not ordered Judge Nino to begin. He also noted that the
motion to the Tachira State Appeals Court to release the
detainees has not been ruled on after 14 months, though the
court had a legal obligation to respond in 30 days.



5. (C) Bastidas said he suspects that prosecutors unfairly
pressured the two lay judges hearing the case. The first
group of lay judges was dismissed after prosecutors claimed a
witness, now being investigated by prosecutors, reported a
bribery attempt, according to Bastidas. Bastidas said he had
a text message from one of the lay judges saying she was
being pressured on the case. Bastidas also claimed that the
witnesses for the prosecution met with the head of the
Tachira court system prior to testifying, and were coached.
He said the court ran the trial well, but that the judges
only took into consideration the witnesses who worked for the
government of Tachira State, ignoring defense testimony from
deputies, generals, and police officers. He said he has some
hope the Supreme Court Penal Chamber may eventually overturn
the convictions.



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


Reactions


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





6. (C) Following his release, William Tovar made a public
plea for President Chavez to pardon the eight persons
convicted. He said it was time for Chavez to use his position
to call for peace and reconciliation in the country. Liliana
Ortega, of the human rights group COFAVIC, told PolOff
October 14 that the decision "makes crimes against the
majesty of elected officials more serious than crimes against
humanity or human rights violations." Sergio Omar Calderon,
the main opposition candidate for governor of Tachira in
upcoming regional elections, called the sentence
"unbelievable" because, "everyone knows that there was no
civil rebellion here."



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


General Uson Guilty


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





7. (U) Separately, a military court found retired Army
General Francisco Uson, former Minister of Finance, guilty on
October 11 of insulting the armed forces , and sentenced him
to five and a half years in prison. The charges stem from
comments Gen. Uson made in a television interview in relation
to the Fuerte Mara case of March 2004. In that case, eight
soldiers received serious burns while in a punishment cell in
Fuerte Mara, Zulia. Two later died. Gen. Uson responded to a
journalist's questions about how a flame-thrower worked, and
explained the procedures for signing one out, after
journalist Patricia Poleo alleged a flame-thrower had been
used to burn the soldiers.



8. (C) Uson's defense lawyer, Gonzalo Himiob, told PolOff
October 15 that the prosecutors' evidence had consisted of an
edited version of the interview, which he said manipulated
what Uson said. Other evidence presented, he asserted, was
irrelevant or counterproductive to the prosecution, while
none of the defense witnesses was challenged by the
prosecution. Himiob also asserted that the trial was closed
to prevent the public from witnessing the weakness of the
prosecution case. He said he believed Minister of Defense
Gen. Jorge Garcia Carneiro ordered the judge to convict Uson,
but had no evidence. Himiob said the conviction sent a
message to the Armed Forces that those who spoke out against
the GOV would be jailed. He also said the respect Uson
commanded within the Armed Forces, and his inside knowledge
of Chavismo made him dangerous for the GOV. Himiob said they
would appeal, but had no hope of success.



9. (C) Himiob said he disagreed with arguments that Uson
should have been tried in a civilian court. Several
commentators, including Bastidas, have argued in the press
that since Uson was retired, military courts did not have
jurisdiction over him. Himiob told PolOff that military
officers are always under military jurisdiction, whether
active or retired. He also said that conditions in the Ramo
Verde military prison were much superior to those in civilian
prisons, and that, due to his rank, he received excellent
treatment. Given how long Gen. Uson may be in prison, Himiob
said he preferred to keep the case in the military courts,
despite his claim that Gen. Garcia Carneiro had imposed a
guilty verdict.



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


Accusations Against Military Courts


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





10. (C) Captain Alfredo Hernandez Osorio received the Uson
case in his military control court in Caracas, on May 22. He
sent it to the military appeals court because Uson was a
general, and thus had to be tried there. The President of the
appeals court rejected the case, and sent it back to another
military control judge. On May 23 Capt. Hernandez was
arrested, and, he alleges, taken to Minister of Defense Gen.
Jorge Garcia Carneiro. Hernandez told PolOff that the
Minister screamed at him, "The rule of law is bullshit, this
is not juridical, its political!" The next day he was fired,
together with four other judges.



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


Napoleon Bravo Called to Account


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





11. (U) On October 13 journalist Ovidio Rodriguez,

professionally known as Napoleon Bravo, testified before
prosecutor Luisa Ortega for four hours in relation to
statements he made about the Supreme Court, in which he
suggested the building would be better used as a house of
prostitution. No formal investigation has yet been opened
against Rodriguez.



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


Comment


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





12. (C) The conviction of 8 members of the Tachira 9 is
important for the GOV's strategy of giving a juridical base
to its claims that the opposition are coupsters. The GOV is
anxious to force the current opposition leadership out, and
bring in a "loyal" opposition. The Tachira convictions will
send a shiver through the 400 persons in the sights of
prosecutor Danilo Anderson for the "Carmona decree."



13. (C) The Uson conviction is a serious blow to freedom of
expression, especially by ex-military officers. Uson has been
convicted of insulting a public institution based on
technical responses to a journalist's questions. The
conviction also sends a message to those retired officers who
play an important role in the opposition, and the "traitors"
such as Bolivar State Gov. Antonio Rojas Suarez, who Chavez
says have abandoned the revolution. Calling Rodriguez in to
testify for allegedly insulting the Supreme Court reinforces
the message that words have judicial consequences when
directed against the institutions of the Venezuelan state.
Brownfield


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2004CARACA03270 - CONFIDENTIAL