Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice States Judiciary is Lost

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Just this past week, Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Blanca Marmol de Leon stated that the judiciary is lost:

The independence of Judges is lost, they are not autonmous. They are scared because they can be fired or jailed.

Justice Marmol points out a basic requirement for a society to live with an enforceable degree of freedom from power:

The vertebrae of democracy is an autonomous & independent Judicial Power and I see with great worry that we are losing that in an accelerated fashion.

The arrest and jailing of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni Mora in 2010 is a compelling corroboration of Justice Mora’s worries. Judge Afiuni was hearing the case of Eligio Cedeño, who was jailed in 2007 and accused of improper currency exchange.

Venezuelan law mandates a 2 year limit on pretrial detention. Cedeño was held for more than the 2 year limit. Thus, Judge Afiuni, applying Venezuelan law, conditionally released Cedeño on bail.

The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was furious, stating:

“A judge who frees a criminal is much, much, much more serious than the criminal himself.” “This judge should get the maximum penalty… 30 years in prison. That judge has to pay for what she has done.”

Perhaps wanting to show the world his modernized side, Chavez further stated that Simon Bolivar would have simply had the judge shot. Shortly after Chavez took an interest, Judge Afiuni was charged with corruption and abuse of power. She remains in prison today.

Everyone but the government of Venezuela saw the arrest of Judge Afiuni as nothing more than an attack on the independence of the Venezuelan judiciary. A UN human rights panel found that:

Reprisals for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and creating a climate of fear among the judiciary and lawyers’ profession serve no purpose except to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of New York Human Rights Watch spoke similarly:

Throwing a judge in prison for doing her job and issuing a decision that upholds fundamental rights protected under both Venezuelan and international law is not something you’d expect in a functioning democracy

Judge Afiuni based her decision on Venezuelan law. The “bribe” theory of the government, thus, becomes significantly less credible.

Without an independent judiciary, as Justice Marmol correctly points out, democracy becomes just a word in which a single power can define it at its arbitrary whim.

 

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