Richard Blanco's Death Sentence

Quico says: It’s hard to write something cheerful about Venezuela these days. The tenor, the saña, of the chavista onslaught on civil liberties is now so aggressive it’s hard to know what to do with the huge well of despair that comes over you when you contemplate it.

The new rules of the game are clear: every time there is a protest there will be violence. Chavista thug squads like the one in San Cristobal will make sure of that. And every time there is violence at a protest, the opposition will be blamed for it, and its leaders will be tried. Luisa Ortega Diaz vows to charge them with “civil rebellion” – an offense that could justify jail terms measured in decades.

Over 2000 Venezuelans have already been charged with criminal offenses related to protests so far in the Chávez era. The number looks set to rise quickly.

Protesting is, in effect, banned. The constitution’s civil rights guarantees are, in effect, suspended.

It’s not, of course, the first time Venezuela has had a regime that imprisons large numbers of people for political reasons. But it is the first time a repressive government refuses to grant any differential treatment to its political prisoners, as opposed to run-of-the-mill choros.

Under Pérez Jiménez, political prisons were, at least implicitly, recognized as such: segregated from common criminals and housed together in political jails. Even Gómez, whose political prisons were famously brutal, didn’t (as a rule) mix in political prisoners with street thugs.

Rómulo Betancourt and Raúl Leoni – whose governments were locked in a no-kidding shooting war with guerrillas openly committed to the violent overthrow of the democratic regime – recognized that political prisoners had to be afforded certain guarantees while detained.

Even Carlos Andrés Pérez, when he jailed the violent coupster who trampled on his vow to uphold the constitution and caused the deaths of dozens of people, not to mention attempted to kill him, nonetheless put Chávez in a wing of Yare Prison devoted only to people incarcerated for politically motivated offenses.

El Comandante apparently forgot all about that. Richard Blanco – the opposition municipal official in Caracas whose job involved overseeing public order – has been thrown, on highly dubious grounds, in the same jail Chávez spent a couple of years in. But Blanco is not being segregated from the run-of-the-mill criminals who’ve made Yare Prison a by-word for violence and brutality. Just tossed in to fend for himself, together with the 11 other municipal employees similarly charged for protesting and denied bail pending trial.

Putting a near-cop like Blanco in a jail like that amounts to a death sentence. Chávez knows it. Luisa Ortega Diaz knows it. Everybody knows it.

Update: A historically minded reader tells me at least some political prisoners in the Gómez era were tossed in with common criminals. I guess that means we’ve reached the level of democratic development we had then.