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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04CARACAS3677
2004-11-29 12:20:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Caracas
Cable title:  

RESULTS OF JUDICIAL REFORM IN VENEZUELA: MOVING

Tags:  PGOV PHUM KJUS VE 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L  CARACAS 003677 

SIPDIS


NSC FOR CBARTON
USCINCSO ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/25/2014
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KJUS VE
SUBJECT: RESULTS OF JUDICIAL REFORM IN VENEZUELA: MOVING
FORWARDS OR BACKWARDS?

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

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



1. (C) The administration of justice in Venezuela faces
criticism on two principal grounds. The first is the claim,
voiced by the political opposition, NGOs, judges, and the
World Bank, that the justice system is not politically
neutral, and that prosecutors and judges are acting according
to political orders from the Executive Branch. The second
complaint is that the justice system is not efficiently
protecting citizens from crime, and that impunity can be
bought through money or influence. These complaints call
into question ten years of judicial reform programs
(described septel). This cable looks at the present
situation of Venezuela's justice system and areas for future
improvement. End Summary.



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


Judicial Independence


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





2. (C) Human Rights Watch released a report in June calling
Venezuela's Supreme Court Law a danger to judicial
independence. The law expanded the number of justices from 20
to 32 and made it easier for sitting judges to be removed or
suspended by other branches of government. Given the
structure of the Venezuelan judiciary, the law is widely seen
as an attempt to ensure the political reliability of the
judiciary. The report also focused on the Supreme Court
Judicial Committee's firing of temporary and provisional
judges without due process. The report cited the fact that
over 80% of judges in Venezuela are provisional or temporary,
and alleged that the Judicial Committee has removed many of
them for apparently political reasons.



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


With Us or Against Us?


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





3. (C) Beatriz Perez, a trial judge in the penal courts of
Caracas, told PolOff August 4 that a fellow judge,
ideologically identified with the GOV, had asked her, "Are
you with us, or against us?" Perez speculated that she was
asked the question because she had not signed the petition
for the Presidential recall referendum. Perez, who tried a
case against Chavista street leader Lina Ron in 2000,
described an atmosphere inside the Caracas courts where
judges did not talk to their colleagues, for fear of
political retaliation. Vicente Mujica, alternate Appeals
Court judge and a law professor at the Central University,
told PolOff November 5 that judges went to work afraid,
knowing they would have no support from their judicial
superiors if they took decisions against the political
interests of the GOV. Mujica complained that only judges
politically loyal to Chavismo are assigned to training.



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


This is Political!


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





4. (C) Caracas 9th Appeals Court Judge Cesar Sanchez told
PolOff June 3 that, in reference to the cases arising from
the Feb-March disturbances, a colleague had told him, "This
is not judicial, its political." Sanchez criticized the
firing of tenured judges on a technicality, after a ruling
freeing an opposition leader arrested in March. Sanchez said
judges get around the political pressure by delaying cases,
and trying to get themselves taken off political cases.
Caracas 2nd Appeals Court Judge Jesus Ollarves told PolOff
June 21 that he received threats after ruling on the same
case. Ollarves, nonetheless, returned to the Court recently
to take two high profile decisions against the apparent
wishes of the GOV.



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


TSJ Solution

SIPDIS


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





5. (C) Candido Perez, head of Administration at the Supreme
Court, and Ricardo Jimenez, head of IT at the Court, told
PolOff November 8 that corruption and the tenure of judges


would be addressed in a new Judicial Reform proposal the
Supreme Court was proposing to the World Bank. Jimenez said
the new proposal would solve the problem of provisional
judges by creating a National School of Magistrature (ENM).
All prospective judges would be evaluated to determine if
they should be admitted, trained for 18 months, and then
given an exam, on the basis of which they would be assigned
as tenured judges, alternate judges, or judicial assistants.
Edgar Lopez, judicial correspondent for El Nacional, told
PolOff November 21 that Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rincon
rejected a proposal to have a respected jurist lead the ENM,
allegedly to reserve the position for himself, or someone
else who would screen applicants politically as well as
academically.



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


World Bank Doesn't Buy It


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





6. (C) David Varela, resident representative of the World
Bank, told PolOff November 16 that a Supreme Court proposal
for a Judicial Modernization project had been rejected by the
Bank due to concerns about judicial independence. Varela
cited the Supreme Court Law, and the high percentage of
provisional judges as reasons the plan was rejected. Varela
said that the Bank could not accept the idea that the Supreme
Court would use the loan to solve these problems, when it had
taken no steps to do so during this year. He said there was
no prospect of any but low level World Bank involvement with
the Venezuelan courts until steps were taken to increase
independence.



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


Political Prosecutors?


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





7. (C) The role of judges in political cases is most
important in terms of their willingness to confront
prosecutors who are pursuing weak cases, and their
willingness to order suspects be detained. Under Venezuelan
judicial procedures, prosecutors initiate investigations and
accuses suspects. There are persistent claims of political
prosecutions in Venezuela, largely associated with a small
group of prosecutors who are assigned all controversial
cases. Speaking to PolOff November 10, Danilo Anderson, one
of the most active of the political prosecutors, rejected the
notion that there is a political directorate in the Attorney
General's office (Note: Anderson was killed November 18 -
Caracas 03577). Prosecutors simply follow the orders of
Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, Anderson said. Anderson
maintained that the prosecutions are simply based on the
evidence, and that it was up to the judges to decide if cases
have merit. Ali Marquina (protect), a prosecutor presently
suspended, told PolOff August 30 that Rodriguez had removed
prosecutors who were not considered loyal to the GOV. (Note:
The A/G is nominally part of an independent branch of
government, the Citizen Power, but Rodriguez was Chavez' Vice
President in 2000.)



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


Or Just Scared?


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





8. (C) Carmen Alguindigue, number three in the Attorney
General's Office until February, told PolOff November 4 that
there was virtual sit-down strike in the Attorney General's
office, as prosecutors were afraid to take on any cases,
since they did not know what connections those involved might
have. Alguindigue claims to have been fired for failing to
show loyalty to the GOV. She alleged that the chaotic
internal organization of the Attorney General's Office
encouraged corruption and incompetence, as there was no way
to track cases to make sure they were receiving the correct
treatment, or to verify that necessary investigations were
being done. The result of this situation, according to
Alguindigue, was ineffective criminal prosecutions,
corruption, and a breakdown in public faith in prosecutors.



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


Police Deficiencies


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





9. (C) Alguindigue also said problems with the police
affected the administration of justice. They are not
generally competent to carry out investigations, she


asserted, or control a crime scene. Anderson made the same
complaint to PolOff, and also complained about the lack of a
ballistic archive in Venezuela. Alguindigue suggested that
basic criminal investigative techniques should be focus of
training for Venezuelan police forces.



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


Prisons


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





10. (C) Beatriz Perez noted that one of the principal
causes of delayed justice in Venezuela is the corruption in
the prisons, where prisoners are forced to pay guards to take
them to their hearings. If they cannot pay, according to
Perez and others who have voiced these concerns, the suspects
miss their hearings, which can extend cases by months.
Interior Minister Jesse Chacon has acknowledged this problem
in the press, and promised to solve it.



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


What Can Be Done?


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





11. (C) Rogelio Perez Perdomo, Deacon of the Metropolitan
University Law School, told PolOff November 4 that any money
invested in the judicial system would be wasted in the
present political situation. Perez Perdomo studied the first
Judicial Modernization Project the World Bank financed
(septel), and found that it did improve the efficiency of the
courts, and improved public service. He said, however, that
it did nothing to speed justice or improve its transparency,
alleging that real problems are in the Attorney General's
Office. Ligia Bolivar of the Human Rights Center at the
Catholic University Andres Bello, also called on the World
Bank to demand serious reforms before agreeing to finance any
project.



12. (C) The Ambassador, meeting with Attorney General
Isaias Rodriguez, suggested continued collaboration between
the Embassy and the Attorney General's Office to mprove
training and organization. The Ambassado also suggested
that the Embassy would like to etablish ties with Venezuelan
law schools to help increase understanding f the adversarial
system. Rodriguez strongly endorsed both ideas. Rodriguez
also suggested that the Embassy talk to Interior and Justice
Minister Jesse Chacon about collaborating on projects to
improve the prison system.



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


Comment


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





13. (C) After 10 years of overlapping, ill-coordinated,
incomplete reforms, the Venezuelan justice system faces a
crisis of confidence over its political independence, and its
overall effectiveness. The failure of judicial reform to
produce a strong, effective and respected administration of
justice system is a result of the politicization of the
judiciary and the Attorney General's Office, and of the
failure to effectively reform institutions to comply with the
Penal Procedures Code. The key issue, as the World Bank
found, is to what extent there is political will to institute
an independent judiciary.
Brownfield


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2004CARACA03677 - CONFIDENTIAL