In Venezuela, less than fifty military officers are entrusted the mission of administering justice to their military counterparts. But as the Government of Nicolás Maduro sends more political dissidents and insubordinate civilians to be tried in that jurisdiction the weakest flanks of a lodge of judges arbitrarily appointed by the Ministry of Defense, who have unclear merits and a clear willingness to follow orders, are more evident.
"Let him go," "Leave him alone," the protesters shouted at the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) agents, who arrested Sergio Contreras, leader of the Free Will party (Voluntad Popular - VP) and professor at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. On that Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Contreras was using a megaphone to broadcast slogans at an opposition march on Avenida Vollmer in San Bernardino, La Candelaria parish, in north-central Caracas. He was trying to mediate between the marchers and a police squad that prevented the crowd from passing, according to witnesses of the event and Contreras' lawyer, Lilia Camejo. The photos of the police taking him by force in a motorcycle freely circulated in the social media.
He was taken to the headquarters of the National Police and then transferred that same day to the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin, political police) and, in the early hours of the next day, he arrived at the headquarters of the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), in the northeast of Caracas.
The roulette of transfers ended on Friday, May 12, at night, at the First Military Court of Proceedings of Caracas before which Contreras was presented. That court is led by Captain Claudia Carolina Pérez de Mogollón, a lawyer with a diploma from Centro de Estudios del Ejército y Fuerza Aérea Mexicana (Mexican Army and Air Force Studies Center) with a major in Human Rights and Armed Forces. Her curriculum certifies studies on Human Rights in Fundación "Juan Vives Suria," attached to the Ombudsman's Office.
Like Contreras, hundreds of civilians have been presented before military courts since the opposition protests began on April 1, 2017 ?a real intifada to demand the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to respect the autonomy of the National Assembly and call for general elections to overcome the political crisis, among other demands.
According to leaks of the meeting that Nicolás Maduro had last week with the military high command, ?which the electronic press has echoed and opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski also broadcasted?the Venezuelan president informed the officers of his intention to transfer to the martial justice the street demonstrators under arrest, whose cases the Public Prosecutor’s Office will not accept to process. That was his way to overcome the obstacle now imposed by an unexpectedly indocile Prosecutor’s Office led by Luisa Ortega Díaz against his efforts to stifle the civil rebellion that began in April 2017. Whether a deliberate strategy or not, the ongoing claims from human rights organizations allow verifying that in the fight against the revolt that began 50 days ago, the Government is opting ?without further regard to local regulations and international standards? to try civilians before military courts.
According to data from the Foro Penal Venezolano (Venezuelan Criminal Forum) - a non-governmental organization that assists political detainees -, as of May 17, 295 civilians had been presented before military courts, 161 of which were deprived of their liberty in violation of article 49 of the Constitution in force, which reads?"Everyone has the right to be judged by their natural judges in ordinary or special jurisdictions with the guarantees provided for in this Constitution and the law." In addition, there are 14 detainees in Nueva Esparta who were sent to the Sixteenth Military Court of proceedings based in Barcelona.
Six out of ten people tried in military courts were arrested in the state of Carabobo, in the central region of the country, which has been the scenario of major disturbances. It may be purely coincidental, but the judge with the longest time in position in the national military jurisdiction, Major Luz Mariela Santafé Acevedo, appointed in November 2011 and ratified in late 2016, works in the court of proceedings of Valencia, the capital of the state. According to Rocío San Miguel, director of the organization Citizen Control for Security, Defense and the Armed Forces, such an extended term can result in perversions of court practices.
Just as there is an ordinary judicial circuit, the military has its own circuit of justice that is made up of Military Courts of First Instance, led by judges who discharge the duties of Proceedings, Trial and Enforcement of Judgement, and the Court Martial, acting as Court of Appeals and Constitutional Court with national jurisdiction, led by five professional judges.
The courtroom of the court martial is made up of a presiding judge, Major General Henry José Timaure Tapia; a chancellor, José de la Cruz Vivas Sáez; a court reporter, Colonel Jesús E. González Monserrat; a first officer, Carmen Lucía Salazar Romero; and a second officer, Edmundo Ramón Mujica Sánchez.
There are 19 courts of proceedings, five trial courts and seven enforcement courts in the entire military jurisdiction. Its judges, 45 magistrates, have jurisdiction over the future of military accused of committing a crime, but with the new doctrine that the Government of Nicolás Maduro tries to impose, they also have jurisdiction on civilians accused of military crimes. Obviously, not all of them are currently deliberating on the fate of the 161 civilians referred to military courts during street protests. According to reports from social media, this has happened in Caracas and in states like Carabobo, Barinas, Táchira and Nueva Esparta. However, everything suggests that the number of cases and regions involved will increase.
These judges have been handpicked by the Ministry of Defense. Although the Internal Regulation of the Military Criminal Judicial Circuit provides that the members of the Court Martial will be appointed by the Supreme Court, it is done through a list sent by the Ministry and not through a contest, as established by the Constitution, Ali Daniels, director of the Access to Justice organization, explains.
Moreover, according to Official Gazette 40.462 of July 28, 2014, it was the Ministry of Defense who appointed without objections Military Public Prosecutor Siria Venero, Military Public Defender Oscar Alfredo Gil Arias, and the Presiding Judge of the Court Martial. All remain in office and have been holding their position for nearly three years, contrary to the convention that provides for the constant rotation of these positions, which the Bolivarian Revolution has virtually turn into a mantra.
"The Supreme Court of Justice endorsed this usurpation of its own duties, and with confidently published a press release informing that this Court swore in the new presiding judge of the Court Martial without explaining that it did not appoint him and submissively accepted the unconstitutionally decision of the Minister of Defense," says the Access to Justice spokesperson.
Ironically contrasting, since 2011, the Ministry of Defense stopped publishing military justice appointments in the Official Gazette. As provided for by the Internal Regulations of the Military Criminal Judicial Circuit, since that date, the appointments of judges, magistrates and military public defenders - in short, members of the jurisdiction, excluding administrative and accounting staff - appear on the Supreme Court’s website.
The modality is not new though. Previous cases now look like tests to measure the willingness of the military justice apparatus to take civil cases.
Among them, one case of September 2016 stands out. At that time, the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party circulated a video on the media showing a recreation of military staff suffering, like any other citizen, the problems of the economic and political crisis that the country is going through. That is why producers Marco Trejo, César Cuellar and James Mathison were arrested and referred to military courts.
On that occasion, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, Maikel Moreno,?sanctioned this week by the US Department of Justice?, ordered "to remove this case from said jurisdiction and refer it to its natural jurisdiction, as the ordinary criminal jurisdiction, for the process to continue ensuring the protection of rights and constitutional guarantees."
In spite of this precedent, now the Judiciary - under strict control of the Executive - agrees to accept the prosecution of civilians by military courts. The change is likely to be due to the need to evade the sphere of influence of General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz. From the dependence of military judges with the Ministry of Defense, another line of command is deduced, one that connects them with the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Nicolás Maduro, president of the Republic.
The night that Sergio Contreras was presented at the Military Court, Captain Claudia Carolina Perez de Mogollón charged him with crimes of Military Rebellion, Treason against the Homeland and Subtraction of Elements from the Armed Forces. He was sent to the military prison of Ramo Verde, in the mountains southwest of Caracas, where the most well-known political prisoner of the Bolivarian Revolution and party companion, Leopoldo López, former mayor of Chacao municipality (northeast of Caracas), has also been confined for three years.
His family has not been able to see him. They demand – still without success - to know about his health and imprisonment conditions. His lawyers expect the delivery of copies of actions and appointment of the defense to go to Ramo Verde and try to see him. Meanwhile, the 45 days given to submit the final decision of the investigation, to finally know the fate that the military justice chose for Contreras, go by.
Two entrepreneurs from Peru, Yosef Maiman and Sabih Saylan, participated as intermediaries in the irregular payments of Odebrecht, through offshore structures, to the former president of that country. They are part of a "shell companies" structure built by Mossack Fonseca, as shareholders of the private cable TV and telephone operator in Venezuela, Inter. Even the Panamanian law firm suspected that it was being used for money laundry. Meanwhile, another firm of the group contracted works with the Chavista State.
Without human rights officers at the ports of entry or legal system that protects the refugee, Venezuelans migrating to the Caribbean island find relief from hunger and shortages. In return, they are exposed to labor exploitation and the constant persecution of corrupt authorities. On many occasions they end up in detention centers with inhumane conditions, from which only those who pay large amounts of money in fines are saved. The asylum request is a weak shield that hardly helps in case of arrest. Yet, the number of those who try their luck to earn a few dollars grows.
The network of intermediaries contracting with the Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation (Corpovex) to bring CLAP boxes seems infinite. In Sabadell, a town near Barcelona, a virtually cash shell company got 70 million dollars for outsourcing the shipment of food to Venezuela thanks to the administration of Nicolás Maduro, which buys the contents of the boxes at discretionary prices and without control. Last year alone, the government spent 2,500 to 3,500 million dollars, but only the leaders of the "Bolivarian revolution" know the actual figure.
The chemical analysis of eight Mexican brands that the Venezuelan government supplies to the low-income population through the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP), gives scientific determination to what appeared to be an urban legend: it may be powdered, but it is not milk. The fraud affects both the coffers and the public health, by offering as food a mixture poor in calcium and proteins, yet full of carbohydrates and sodium.
Even Diosdado Cabello has false followers. The Government of Venezuela has been able to measure itself in political cyberspace. Hence, it has created an authentic machinery of robots at the service of the governing party in social media that is mainly controlled by public officials and coordinated from ministries. This is the result of several studies, testimonials and applications that measure the "Twitterzuela" convulsion.
Venezuelan Álvaro Gorrín escaped on his yacht in 2009 after the intervention of Banco Canarias, but he and his board members did not resign themselves to losing everything to the Venezuelan government. Between the support of an influential New York law firm and the expertise of Appleby to create companies in tax havens, the then fugitive from the Venezuelan justice drew a strategy to rescue something from the ruins.
They lose their freedom as soon as they set foot on any Trinidadian beach, and their “original sin” is an alleged debt that these women can only pay by becoming sexual merchandise. They are tamed through a prior process of torture, rotation and terror, until they lose the urge to escape. The growth of these human trafficking networks is so evident that regional and parliamentary reports admit that the complicity of the island’s justice system in this machinery of deceit and violence multiplies the number of victims.
In front of the curtain of collapse of the major financial group in Portugal, José Trinidad Márquez, a native of Caracas, offered the stellar performance to his lifetime career of fraud. After swindling the high management of the bank, he’s taken refuge presumably in some part of Spain, where the press baptized him as “the golden middleman” or “the man with thousand faces”. With his well trained routine of a petroleum expert, who offers himself to try and arrange business connections with PDVSA, perfected over the course of more than two decades, he’s earned himself millions of dollars, as well as criminal accusations in various countries.
Nicolas Maduro’s main contractor was arrested last Friday, right after landing at the international airport of Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic, on the gates of Africa. It may be his penultimate trip, if he is finally deported or extradited to the United States, as U.S. authorities expect. It would be the worst of all endings after many years travelling and earning miles but, above all, millions of dollars thanks to opaque corporate structures, whereby he managed preferential currencies, public works, food supplies for the CLAPs, contracts with PDVSA, and even the trade of Venezuelan gold and coal since 2013.
A small bank in Antigua and Barbuda, but controlled by Venezuelans, is at the center of some of the financial operations of Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Created in 2008 and with a diffuse trace for years, North International Bank began to take off in 2016 when it was authorized to operate in Caracas. Since then, it has been channeling millions of dollars to and from the coffers of the revolutionary ‘nomenklatura.’
For some months now, parliament members of different opposition political parties have been offering to make informal proceedings on request before agencies like the Colombian Attorney General's Office and the United States Department of the Treasury. They issue letters of good conduct to those responsible for negotiations on the imports for CLAP combos, so that such agencies absolve or stop investigating entrepreneurs like Carlos Lizcano, a subordinate of the already sanctioned Alex Saab and Alvaro Pulido. The fact that the most active defense of the main social program and focus of corruption of the government of Nicolas Maduro comes from the heart of the National Assembly 'in contempt' is just one of the ironies of this story.
The former chavista governor of the State of Bolívar from 2004 to 2017 changed overnight from excessive media exhibitionism to low profile. His departure to Mexico completed the circle of the retirement plan he had been preparing while on civil service. He was now staying in the same country where the businesses of his daughter's husband flourished, which he had significantly fostered from his positions in Guayana. Now, with financial sanctions imposed on him by Canada and the United States, Francisco José Rangel Gómez prefers to stay under the radar.