Power, impunity, and hacks

The public face of why there is crime in Venezuela
The public face of why there is crime in Venezuela

If there is one arm of the Venezuelan state apparatus that comes out looking like royal crap in the Human RIghts Watch report, it is the public prosecutors.

In example after example, they are portrayed as being either complicit, or grossly incompetent. Routinely, charges are pressed on dubious evidence, possible misconduct is ignored, and a general pattern of indifference and mediocrity takes shape.

Here are the money quotes:

  • Judges often confirmed charges against detainees based on dubious evidence presented by prosecutors, without subjecting the evidence to rigorous review or inquiring into how suspects presented before them had sustained visible injuries. (P. 3)
  • “Prosecutors and judges routinely turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting that detainees had been subject to abuses while in detention, such as ignoring obvious signs of physical abuse, or interrogating detainees in military installations, where it was clear they did not have access to lawyers.” (P. 3)
  • “Prosecutors and justice officials who should have operated independently from security forces—and whose role should have led them to identify and intervene to stop violations against detainees—instead turned a blind eye, and were in some cases actively complicit in the human rights violations being committed by security forces.” (P. 4)
  • “Prosecutors contributed to various due process violations, such as participating in interrogations without a defense lawyer present, which is contrary to Venezuelan law. Both prosecutors and judges failed to
    scrutinize evidence that had been planted or fabricated by security forces, and held hearings to determine charges for multiple detainees who did not have prior adequate access to legal counsel.” (P. 4)
  • “In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, armed pro-government gangs detained people at or near protests, and then handed them over to security forces. Those security forces, in turn, falsely claimed to have caught the abducted individuals in the act of committing a crime, and prosecutors subsequently charged them before a judge.” (P. 13)
  • “While, in a few exceptional cases documented by Human Rights Watch, detainees were released before being brought before a judge, in the overwhelming majority of cases prosecutors charged them with several crimes, regardless of whether there was any evidence the accused had committed a crime.” (P. 19)
  • “According to various lawyers and detainees—as well as judicial files to which Human Rights Watch had access—prosecutors’ accusations, and the eventual charges brought against detainees, were based almost exclusively on police reports and, in several instances, on what detainees plausibly said was planted evidence. In addition, individuals who were detained separately, at different times or in different locations—and who in many cases did not even know each other—were sometimes charged by prosecutors in a single hearing with the same crimes, sometimes using the same piece of evidence for all of the accused, such as a piece of barbed wire.” (P. 21)
  • “Instead of thoroughly reviewing the evidence provided by prosecutors and detainees—the latter’s physical appearance alone in many cases provided compelling evidence of abuse— judges routinely rubber-stamped the charges presented by prosecutors.” (P. 21)
  • ““I was beaten, threatened, and detained in front of the National Guard—which is supposed to be a state
    body—and they simply turned around and walked away.” He added, “They know [about this] at the prosecutors’ office and the police, and they are not doing anything.” Placing a complaint, he said, “may even be counterproductive. It could lead to vengeance.” (P. 25)
  • “Despite the abuses he suffered, the victim told Maldonado he did not want to file a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, fearing he would be falsely charged with committing a crime for having participated in the protest.” (P. 44)
  • “On March 7, a hearing was held in Guánchez’s hospital room. A prosecutor charged him with public incitement to commit crimes (instigación pública) and attacks undermining security on public roads (atentado contra la seguridad en la vía). The prosecution evidence was a police report that said Guánchez had a teargas mask in his backpack, and that they had found “in the place where he was detained” (en el lugar donde fue detenido) 19 Molotov cocktails, 12 miguelitos, and 30 meters of barbed wire in his backpack. (“Miguelitos” refer to small objects with protruding nails used to puncture the tires of
    vehicles or motorcycles.) The judge, however, ruled there was no evidence to charge Guánchez with any crime, and that he was to be granted liberty.” (P. 53)
  • “The lawyer said she and the other lawyers waited until approximately 7 p.m., but were not allowed to speak with detainees. From the time she arrived, she noticed prosecutors were also present on the military base, and were speaking with guardsmen. She approached a group of prosecutors to ask when the detainees would be brought before a judge. According to the lawyer: “Their answer was that they didn’t know, that they had fulfilled their duties on time, and that the rest was not their responsibility. They also indicated that my presence there was not necessary and didn’t make sense because the [detainees]
    rights had been respected at all times and that ‘clearly they weren’t beaten.’” (P. 65)
  • “At his hearing, which was held at approximately 5 p.m. on March 5, prosecutors accused him of throwing stones at police, and charged him with instigation to public disorder (instagación al desorden público) and resisting authority (resistencia a la autoridad). The only evidence presented against him, he said, were razor wires allegedly found in the area. The judge told him that his conditional freedom would be revoked if he participated in any future protests.” (P. 75)
  • “He was brought before a judge on March 16, together with 13 others that had been detained that day. A prosecutor charged all of them, including Montilla, with public incitement to commit crimes (instigación pública), obstructing public roads (obstaculización de la vía pública), and resisting authority (resistencia a la autoridad). Two of the fourteen were also charged with possessing flammable substances (detención de sustancias incendiarias). Despite the fact that different private lawyers argued that their defendants had been arbitrarily detained or abused, the judge confirmed all charges, and ordered the conditional release of the 14 detainees. (P. 77)
  • “At the February 23 hearing, a prosecutor charged Toval with public incitement to commit crimes (instigación pública), public intimidation (intimidación pública), and association to commit crimes (asociación para delinquir), based on evidence that had been planted on him, including Molotov cocktails and miguelitos, according to his wife. The judge confirmed the charges, but granted him conditional liberty. One of the conditions was that he did not participate in any demonstrations or talk about his case.” (P. 82)
  • “The following morning, a prosecutor arrived at the military facility to interview them. Despite the fact that the detainees told her they had suffered abuses and asked her for help, she did not do anything, according to one of the detainees.” (P. 92)
  • “At 5 p.m. on February 15, 11 detainees were brought before a judge in a hearing that was held inside the military installation where they were detained (the minor was taken before a specialized court). They did not have access to their lawyers during their detention, and only spoke to them five minutes before the hearing. At the hearing the prosecutor presented as key evidence against them a police record of their detention that said they had burnt a truck during the demonstration, according to their lawyers. At 4 a.m. on February 16, the judge rejected all requests by the defense team to reject the evidence presented by the prosecutor and confirmed the charges against all detainees, according to Carrasco and lawyers present at the hearing. They were charged with violent damage to property (daños violentos a la propiedad), interfering with public roads (obstaculización de la vía pública), using adolescents to commit crimes (uso de adolescente para delinquir), public intimidation (intimidación pública), and association to
    commit crimes (asociación para delinquir). The judge ordered home arrest for six of them, and conditional liberty for the rest. Days later, all of them were released on conditional liberty, according to Carrasco.” (P. 92)
  • “Two hours later, a woman who identified herself as a prosecutor entered the bus. The guardsmen stopped abusing detainees, but the prosecutor did not ask them what had happened, according to Ottaviani.” (P. 96)
  • “Sánchez was driven around the city all afternoon. At 5 p.m., he arrived at the courthouse and a prosecutor interviewed him. Despite the fact that Sánchez was limping, and had dried blood and visible marks of abuse on his face, the prosecutor did not ask him what had caused his injuries, he said.” (P. 99)

The pattern described is clear – callous indifference, outright complicity, and most of all, shoddy legal work. Routinely, the evidence presented is so bad, even chavista judges have to let the defendants go – but not without taking away some of their freedoms.

How do prosecutors get away with this type of mediocrity? Because they can. In a normal job, in a normal country, failing to do a good job puts said job at risk. In Venezuela’s Prosecutor General’s Office, the worse you are, it seems, the higher you go. The judicial system, normally in charge of checking on prosecutors, simply accepts most of the things presented before them. There is absolutely no incentive in the Prosecutor General’s office … to do a good job.

Is it any wonder Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, coupled by alarming rates of criminal impunity?

Some day, Venezuelans will have the prosecutors it needs. Sadly, as long as the government is ruled by partial, incompetent hacks such as Luisa Ortega and her band of half-witted minions, that reality will remain a pipe dream.