The Venezuelan Opposition and Democracy
Manuel Rosales, main opposition leader, defeated presidential candidate in the December 2006 elections, and currently mayor of the city of Maracaibo, has attracted the attention of the Venezuelan legal authorities. He is suspected of corruption and unjustified enrichment during his mandate as governor of the state of Zulia between 2002 and 2004. Corroborating the suspicion against him, instead of appearing in court and proving his innocence, Rosales preferred to escape, while accusing President Chávez of having ordered his detention.1
The public prosecutor of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Katiuska Plaza, emphasized that Rosales had failed to justify the origin of the funds that had substantially increased the value of his personal patrimony. Rosales, if found guilty, runs the risk of getting between 3 to 10 years imprisonment. Being questioned about the matter by the US news agency Associated Press, Rosales' lawyer, Álvaro Castillo, did not want to give further details.2
Rosales, whose trial was transferred to Caracas (because he had met with four judges of the state of Zulia), is suspected, amongst others of donating to relatives and friends more than 300 vehicles that belonged to the State; starting businesses in Miami whose assets surpass US$ 11 million; and taking bribes from the German enterprise Siemens for the construction of the Maracaibo subway. The said multinational corporation acknowledged having paid certain amounts in order to obtain the contract, without mentioning any name, however.3
Omar Barboza, president of the political party Un Nuevo Tiempo to which Rosales belongs, confirmed the escape of the Maracaibo mayor, and accused the Bolivarian government of intending to eliminate a political adversary. Nevertheless, he failed to mention that the legal proceedings against Rosales in 2009 are actually nothing else but the consequence of preliminary proceedings initiated five years ago in September 2004.4
Cilia Flores, president of the National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), repudiated the allegations made by Barboza: "He [Rosales] committed a number of offenses that are not of a political nature; they are acts of corruption, offenses of unjust enrichment". She added that Rosales, besides escaping from his personal responsibilities towards Venezuelan law, has already abrogated his responsibilities as mayor of the city of Maracaibo.5
Minister of Information Jesse Chacón, affirmed that the evidence against Rosales are sufficiently numerous to bring him before the judge: "A number of elements of an offense have been provided which are comprised in a dossier; about homes, ranches and malls that are registered under his name and under the name of his relatives. The problem is not in the accusations against him but rather, in that he is expected to defend himself". Chacón rejected the intentions of politicizing what is a matter of corruption: "The question is whether or not pieces of circumstantial evidence exist, sufficient to initiate proceedings and in the case of Rosales, we know that they do exist".6
Chacón acknowledged that he was not surprised by the opposition's behavior: "[The opposition] has always behaved like that. The same could be observed on the occasion of the coup d'état of April 11, 2002. On April 12, all of them appeared in the communication media, saying that they had all participated in the coup. But on the 14th nobody spoke out - 'no coup d'état had taken place here' " - he added in a sarcastic tone referring to the refusal of the opposition-controlled Supreme Court of that time to admit the fact of a violent coup staged by putschist Pedro Carmona Estanga.7
In fact, Manuel Rosales was actively involved in the coup d'état of April 2002 against President Hugo Chávez. He signed the decree that dissolved all the institutions of the country. Afterwards, the Supreme Court absolved him through a verdict that aroused the indignation of the Venezuelan society. On April 3rd, 2009, the Venezuelan legal authorities sentenced three commissioners and six policemen who are responsible for the assassination of demonstrators in April 2002. This was the first sentencing of those responsible for crimes perpetrated during the coup.8
Rosales is required to appear in court - at the latest on April 20th, 2009, to respond to the 26 charges against him. Otherwise, he is going to be considered a fugitive from justice.9 He has temporarily abandoned his duties as mayor for a period of 90 days.10 According to some information, he is said to be in Colombia.11
The accusation Rosales' lawyers presented to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos) was not accepted by them - an instance that illustrated their disagreement with his intention to politicize this which is simply a matter of common delinquency.12
Preventive imprisonment for Raúl Isaías Baduel
On the 1st of April, 2009, the military intelligence services arrested ex-Defense Minister Raúl Isaías Baduel and retired general and a bitter slanderer of Hugo Chávez. He is suspected of "conversion of funds to his own use" from the Armed Forces, totalling over US$14.5 million, during his ministerial mandate. General Ernesto Cedeño, chief military prosecutor, pointed out that there are "sufficient elements for conviction" to sue Baduel.13
Like Rosales, General Baduel, instead of responding to the charges, lashed out at Hugo Chávez, whom he accused of being responsible for his detention.14 In reality, Baduel was summoned to appear in court five times but did not respond to any of the citations. Cedeño emphasized that this is the reason for his arrest.15 Chávez, on his part, categorically repudiated the allegations made by the opposition.16 The accusations by Rosales and Baduel against the President are not very convincing for a simple reason: The Venezuelan legal authorities also issued a warrant for the arrest of Carlos Giménez, a former governor who is politically affiliated with the President, and who was removed from office in June 2008, owing to a corruption issue.17
The Venezuelan opposition's call for a coup d'état
The Venezuelan opposition has opted for destabilization. They issued a call for "democratic resistance" in the face of the Bolivarian government's administrative, economic, and social reforms. In fact, the National Assembly decided to entrust the management of the ports, airports and highways to the central government in order to counteract the secessionist plans of some governors.18
The mayor of the capital city, Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, issued a call for a coup d'état: "I call upon the National Armed Forces that they should bear in mind the concept of disobedience". He announced the creation of a "national front" against Hugo Chávez.19 He claimed that the Bolivarian leader is a "great nightmare" for Venezuelans. He would not however, condescend to explain why the electorate chose to vote in favor of that "great nightmare" fourteen times out of a total of fifteen elections since 1998 when Chávez was elected for the first time.20
The Venezuelan opposition is playing a dangerous role as they refuse to acknowledge both the sovereign will of the Venezuelan people and the authority of Hugo Chávez. He is, beyond doubt, the President who enjoys the most remarkable democratic legitimacy in Venezuelan and Latin American history. By falling prey to the chains of the past and succumbing to coup-temptation, the opposition appears in the eyes of the world as the main obstacle to democracy.
1El Nuevo Herald, «Fiscalía ordena arresto de alcalde y líder opositor», March 20th, 2009; Fabiola Sánchez, «Acciones contra opositores elevan tensiones en Venezuela», The Associated Press, March 20th, 2009.
2 Fabiola Sánchez, «Venezuelan Prosecutor Calls for Arrest of Opposition Leader on Corruption Charge», The Associated Press, March 19th, 2009.
3 Casto Ocando, «La corrupción chavista no se investiga», El Nuevo Herald, March 21st, 2009; Fabiola Sánchez, «Ordenan trasladar a Caracas el juicio al líder opositor Manuel Rosales», The Associated Press, March 25th, 2009.
4EFE, «Rosales en lugar ‘seguro', pero el gobierno insiste en que huyó», April 1st, 2009.
5Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «CNE podría aplicar abandono de cargo a Manuel Rosales»,March 31st, 2009.
6Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Si Rosales está en Venezuela debe dar la cara ante la justicia», March 31st, 2009.
8Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Carlos Escarrá ratificó que Rosales no está en el país y evade justicia venezolana», April 6th, 2009; Fabiola Sánchez, «Condenan entre 17 y 30 años a policías por muertes de manifestantes», The Associated Press, April 3rd, 2009.
9EFE, «Rosales deberá comparecer ante la justicia el 20 de abril», April 1st, 2009.
10The Associated Press, «Alcalde venezolano opositor se separa del cargo por proceso», April 3rd, 2009.
11Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Carlos Escarrá ratificó que Rosales no está en el país y evade justicia venezolana», op.cit.
12Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Cancillería aclara que CIDH no admitió denuncia de Manuel Rosales», April 3rd, 2009.
13 Jorge Rueda, «Detienen a ex ministro de Defensa en Venezuela», The Associated Press, April 2nd, 2009.
14The Associated Press, «Ex ministro responsabiliza a Chávez de su detención», April 3rd, 2009.
15Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, «Privación preventiva de libertad de Baduel garantiza la investigación», April 3rd, 2009.
16 Fabiola Sánchez, «Ex-Defense Minister Blames Chavez for Detention», The Associated Press, April 3rd, 2009.
17EFE, «Ordenan arresto de ex gobernador afín a Chávez», April 5th, 2009.
18Agence France Presse, «Oposición venezolana declara resistencia democrática a gobierno de Chávez», March 25th, 2009.
19EFE, «Ledezma llama a militares a no respaldar a Chávez», March 28th, 2009.
20EFE, «El frente antichavista ‘no es una aventura'», March 31st, 2009.
Translated by Iris Buehler and revised by Les Blough
Salim Lamrani is a professor at Paris Descartes University and Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University and French journalist, specialist on relations between Cuba and the US. He has just published Doble Moral. Cuba, la Unión Europea y los derechos humanos, [Double Standards. Cuba, the European Union and Human Rights]; (Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2008).