Justice in Venezuela

Barack Obama or Stephen Harper might get angry about court decisions they don’t like, but I wouldn’t expect either to toss the offending judge in prison on trumped-up corruption charges.  (One Democratic Congressman wants to impeach the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court over the Citizens United ruling, but I doubt Justice Roberts is losing any sleep over it.)

Under “Bolivarian Socialism,” things are different:

As a judge María Lourdes Afiuni thought courts had the ultimate power to jail people, but as a prisoner in a cramped cell she now believesVenezuela has a higher judicial authority: Hugo Chávez.

The judge has spent a year among murderers and drug traffickers in Los Teques women’s jail, just outside the capital, Caracas, and if the Venezuelan president has his way she has another 29 to go.

Afiuni does not doubt her fate lies with Chávez, who demanded her detention after she freed a banker accused of corruption. “There is no judicial independence,” she told the Guardian. “I’m here as the president’s prisoner. I’m an example to other judges of what happens if you step out of line.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, say the jailing of the 47-year-old single mother is politically motivated and shows how an over-mighty executive has blurred the separation of powers and eroded democracy.


Few had heard of Afiuni until 10 December 2009 when she granted bail to Eligio Cedeño, a banker charged with evading currency controls. He had been in jail for almost three years without trial, exceeding legal limits. He fled and is now in the US seeking asylum.

Chávez, who had taken a close interest in the case, was furious. He went on TV the day after the release and said Afiuni was a “bandit” who took a bribe. “This judge should get the maximum penalty … 30 years in prison! That judge has to pay for what she has done.”

He told the head of the supreme court that the case should be treated with “firmness”. Afiuni was charged with corruption and abuse of power. In May prosecutors said they had found no evidence of illicit payments but accused the judge of “spiritual corruption”. There is no trial date.

Good thing Chavez was elected, because I was starting to think he might be a dictator or something.

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