Did Luisa Estella really say it's OK to invade? (Updated: Probably, but doubts remain)

0
The red suit was in the cleaners

The media in Venezuela are abuzz with the latest sentence from the Supreme Tribunal. In it, the Court says that Article 471 of Venezuela’s Penal Code, which supposedly orders jail time for people who “invade” or “occupy” land or assets that do not belong to them, no longer applies.

I have not read the TSJ’s sentence, and if I found it, I would not even dare to read it. Our judges are a lot of things, but they are certainly not good writers.

But I did find the text of the article in question. It reads:

Artículo 471
Por acusación de la parte agraviada, será castigado con prisión de quince días a cuatro meses o multa de veinticinco a quinientos bolívares:
1º. El que encontrándose una cosa pérdida, se adueñe de ella sin ajustarse a las prescripciones de la ley, en los casos correspondiente
2º. El que hallando un tesoro se apropie, con perjuicio del dueño del fundo, más de lo que le corresponde por la ley.
3º. El que se apropie de la cosa ajena que hubiere ido a su poder por consecuencia de un error o de caso fortuito. Si el culpable conocía al dueño
de la cosa apropiada, la prisión será de tres meses a un año.

Article 471
After being accused by the aggrieved party, a person will be punished with jail time ranging from fifteen days to four months, or a fine ranging from twenty’five to five hundred bolívars, in the following cases:
1º. Whoever finds something that has been lost and appropriates it without following the corresponding laws.
2º. Whoever finds a treasure in land that is not theirs and takes ownership of it beyond what he is entitled to according to the law.
3º. Whoever takes ownership of something that does not belong to them thanks to an error or an unavoidable event. If the person being charged knew the owner of the object, the prison term will be from three months to a year.

Now, explain this to me like I’m a two-year old: how does the application (or not) of an arcanely-written piece of legislation (treasures? unavoidable events?) in the case of two peasants whose legal circumstances we have yet to understand … signify the end of private property in Venezuela? El Nacional’s article even goes on to say that the circumstances of the case and the sentence itself have not been made public.

If that’s the case, shouldn’t we all take a deep breath?

I’m not one to defend Luisa Estella on anything, but it seems to me the media is jumping the gun on this one.

Unless, that is, I’m not really understanding the issue. I’m open to being educated on this one.

Update: Apparently, I was reading the wrong version of the Penal Code – do I go to jail for that? Commenter Cal points us to the correct article in the statute, and it clearly talks about invading property. My question then is: is this the only article in Venezuela’s Penal Code on illegal invasions? Because in order for invasions to be legal now, all relevant articles would have to be struck down.

1 COMMENT

  1. I read in some other paper (I’m rechecking it now but can’t find it) another text which does mention “invasiones”. Remember that the Code has been tampered with several times in recent years, so the article you mention may belong to a previous version. Hope some lawyers enlighten us.

    • Actually it wasn’t the “roja rojita” but the previous AN, which had a substantial opposition presence. The reform was approved in March 2005.

  2. Artículo 471. Quien para apropiarse, en todo o en parte, de una cosa inmueble de ajena
    pertenencia o para sacar provecho de ella, remueva o altere sus linderos o límites, será
    castigado con prisión de uno a cinco años.
    A la misma pena queda sujeto el que para procurarse un provecho indebido, desvíe las
    aguas públicas o de los particulares.
    Si el hecho se ha cometido con violencia o amenazas contra las personas, o por dos o más
    individuos con armas, o por más de diez sin ellas, la prisión se aplicará por tiempo de dos años a seis años; sin perjuicio de la aplicación, a las personas armadas, de la pena
    correspondiente al delito de porte ilícito de armas.
    Artículo 471-A. Quien con el propósito de obtener para sí o para un tercero provecho ilícito,
    invada terreno, inmueble o bienhechuría, ajenas, incurrirá en prisión de cinco años a diez
    años y multa de cincuenta unidades tributarias (50 U.T.) a doscientas unidades tributarias
    (200 U.T.). El solo hecho de invadir, sin que se obtenga provecho, acarreará la pena anterior
    rebajada a criterio del juez hasta en una sexta parte.
    La pena establecida en el inciso anterior se aplicará aumentada hasta la mitad para el
    promotor, organizador o director de la invasión.
    Se incrementará la pena a la mitad de la pena aplicable cuando la invasión se produzca
    sobre terrenos ubicados en zona rural.

  3. This is shady ground at best.. seems to allow maverick expropriations and invasions, but only when done “properly”, whatever that means,,, it’s ultimately up to whose corrupt judgments and interpretations?!.. Only in Venezuela!
    CI

  4. I suppose you could still fight an invasion on the civil law front, with, of course, very slim chances of redress, given the present state of the judiciary. Until now, you could invoke the article and even, with a little luck and substantial incentives, you could mobilize the police or, in rural settings, the Guardia Nacional to scare away or negotiate with the invaders. Nowadays, they won’t have a legal basis for intervening. I think it’s a clever move in the short place, creating a strong incentive to invade and keep the land, and of course, to do anything possible to ensure that chavismo stays in power: “they (the opposition) are going to take it from you and give it back to the oligarcas”.

      • It will work both ways, I’m afraid. Some people just won’t even consider going to courts where they are sure they won’t be heard, and will try “other means” to retake their land. “Paramilitarismo” is not far.

  5. It is clear that the Art. was an obstacle to the favorite instrument for “land reform” used by the present administration. They could have just changed the law, but using the TSJ bypasses any parliamentary discussion.

  6. The decision has been posted:
    http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/scon/Diciembre/1881-81211-2011-11-0829.html
    I found this part interesting:
    “En consecuencia, bajo las consideraciones expuestas, al verificarse que el artículo 471-a y el artículo 472, ambos del Código Penal, que contienen los tipos penales de invasión y de perturbación a la posesión pacífica, no hacen distinción en cuanto a los casos en los cuales las acciones que se presuman delictivas, versen sobre la disputa de bienes destinados a la actividad agraria o que pudieran presumirse de vocación agrícola, -en cuyo caso deben excluirse de los supuestos configurativos del tipo, pues en tal caso, los hechos objeto del proceso resultarían atípicos- y en consecuencia, se desprenda la falta de competencia material (ratione materiae) del juez penal, por lo que se entienden normas contrarias al deber de tipificación suficiente y a la garantía del debido proceso, establecido en el artículo 49 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, contentivo, a su vez, del principio de legalidad y del derecho a ser juzgado por los jueces naturales en las jurisdicciones ordinarias o especiales, -49.6 y 49.4 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela-, aunado a la necesidad de generar seguridad jurídica en la interpretación del ordenamiento jurídico, esta Sala Constitucional, en uso de la potestad prevista en el artículo 334 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, desaplica por control difuso de la constitucionalidad los artículos 471-a y 472 del Código Penal Venezolano, en aquellos casos en donde se observe un conflicto entre particulares devenido de la actividad agraria, conforme a las previsiones establecidas en el artículo 197 de la Ley de Tierras y Desarrollo Agrario, resultando aplicable el procedimiento ordinario agrario establecido en el Capítulo VI del texto legal mencionado y competente para conocer en estos supuestos los juzgados de primera instancia agraria, teniendo el presente fallo carácter vinculante para todos los tribunales de la República, incluso para las demás Salas de este Tribunal Supremo de Justicia. ”

    I am not sure I completely understand the reasoning.

    • As JC said, “Our judges are a lot of things, but they are certainly not good writers.” That was one sentence??? Dios mio.

      I’ll take a stab at it. The Land Law takes precedence over the Penal Code, because the judges say so, and the Constitution (Article 49) gives the judges the right to judge. That’s the essence of what I see.

      Citing Art. 334 makes zero sense, because that allows judges to declare laws unconstitutional if the violate the Constitution, because the Constitution is a higher authority. You can’t – well, you know what I mean – declare a law unconstitutional simply because it contradicts another law. (Assuming that’s even true.) Art. 336.8 could support the argument to override Art. 471 of the Penal Code, but not Art. 334. (Look, I’m a better Venezuelan constitutional lawyer – though I’m neither Venezuelan nor a lawyer – than Luisa Estella!)

  7. leguleyos al poder!
    Tonu the intent or as they use to call it, the spirit of the desition is clear! mud the legal grounds that there are and allow for an aditional vuelta de tuerca, in our relentless descent into anarchy and socialism.

    La ranita you know!

  8. I think the legalization of illegality happens at a much more fundamental level than this controversy suggests. We should be lucky to have a country where an explicit ruling from a recognized court is the thing that makes land squatting legal – that right there presupposes a level of order and organization we don’t have.

    The breakdown is much more systemic. It starts with the fact that for years the Men With The Guns have plain old ignored court rulings on land disputes that their political higher-ups don’t agree with. It runs through the fact that nobody sees the court system as effective redress when their property rights are vulnerated. And it goes through the use of contract killings as the only really effective remedy within reach of the aggrieved parties. Luisa Estela’s ramblings are an afterthought in all this – a simulacrum of post-hoc legality patched on to a system that collapsed long ago.

    • Totally agree with you Quico…
      We are riding the ESTERTORES of a social contract and legal system that existed, but basically is turning to la Ley de la Selva.
      The lack of responsability shown everyday by the govermnet in promoting ths decay is very worrysome and key to their criminalilty, big time

  9. I got the sense from an interview I read in Ultimas this morning that the sentence basically “disapplies” that article in the case of agrarian conflicts. Not sure this helps things much, as any rural invasion would likely chalk itself up to being part of a “conflicto agricola” and I can’t imagine chavismo could come up with a hard and fast definition of who’s legitimately seeking land and who’s a drunken redneck testaferro being hired to snatch up somebody else’s land. I agree though, it would help for me to read the sentence, which I have not done.

  10. Jomo Kenyatta
    (1889 – 1978), prime minister of Kenya “When the white man came we had the land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed and when we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

  11. The jueza categorically denied these rumors today so this thread is just a waste of time based on information that never existed except in certain people’s minds.

Leave a Reply