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:
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.
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.