The Tascón List before the IACHR

After thirteen years of waiting, three victims of political discrimination finally get their day in court. Here's why it amounts to more than just a moral victory.

We’ve witnessed all sorts of abuses of power under the revolution, and they just keep stacking up. These days, 2004’s Lista Tascón, is almost vintage, but its victims are still waiting for justice. Recently, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard a case against the Venezuelan state on this very matter. A decade late is still better than never.

Cast your mind back to 2003. The opposition is going strong, and decides to seek a recall referendum against President Chávez. Chávez already controls de CNE, and Venezuelans have to sign… and sign… and sign…and then “repair” those signatures by signing again.

When the CNE can’t find anything else to object to, the recall election is held in August 15, 2004. Chávez wins with 59% of the votes. It would’ve been all fine and dandy, BUT Chávez now wants the list of voters to be public. He sends a letter to then-CNE board chairman, Francisco Carrasquero, requesting that the information on the signatures to be sent to congressman Luis Tascón, which he does. Tascón publishes the list on his website. Now anyone can check if a person has signed against the government just by using the ID number.

That’s how the Tascón List, a tool for open political discrimination and harassment, was born.

According to Human Rights Watch’s 2008 report, approximately a half million public employees were fired and many others were denied passports or even the all-important cédula (National ID).

The case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is particularly significant because the incidents it alleges happened took place in the National Council of Borders (NCB), right inside Miraflores, and were headed by José Vicente Rangel, the vice-president at the time.

Rocío San Miguel Sosa, Magally Chang Girón, Thais Coromoto Peña and a fourth colleague were allegedly fired from the NCB after signing the referendum petition. The fourth employee was re-hired after withdrawing their signature.

On March 7, 2006, San Miguel and her colleagues sent a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging the violation of articles 5, 8, 13, 23, 24 and 25 of the American Convention. A decade later, on March 8, 2016, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with the name Rocío San Miguel Sosa and others v. Venezuela.

Last month, during the public hearing, the Judges heard witness statements from one alleged victim, Rocío San Miguel, and three expert witnesses: Roberto Saba, Román Duque Corredor  and César Tillero (proposed by the State). Here’s what they had to say.

Rocío San Miguel

San Miguel said the Tascón List was created —the signatures were photocopied— in the Vice-presidency and that José Vicente Rangel himself asked her direct supervisor to fire signatories. She said her supervisor refused at first, but then, during a phone call he confessed “you are signing the petition to recall of the guy who is paying your salary.

Being on that list ruined her life. She stated how she has faced systematic persecution years after the events, not only losing her job at the NCB but also being dismissed from her position as professor in the Advanced Naval War School and the Advanced Air Force Academy. Her husband lost his military career because of his association with her, her brothers have had problems getting jobs and must hide their last name, and being a human rights activist has put her in an even more vulnerable position.

State Agent Larry Devoe kept interrupting her, claiming he “only had 20 minutes to interrogate her” and she replied that she “had waited thirteen years.” Judge Eduardo Mac-Gregor intervened and told Devoe to “let her answer.”

You are signing the petition to recall of the guy who is paying your salary.

San Miguel recalled the attempt on her life in 2008, and the most recent incident in 2015 when a guy in a motorcycle told her they “were going to break her” while she begged not to be killed in front of her daughter. She has also had her personal email hacked; has been followed by unmarked cars; has had her house burglarized; has faced smear campaigns from State TV, and has had personal and private pictures distributed through twitter with defamatory messages attached.

“You know what can happen to me when I arrive back [in Venezuela]. The worst can happen and you know it,” was just one of her replies to State Agent Larry Devoe.

Roberto Saba and Román Duque Corredor

Roberto Saba, an expert witness proposed by the Inter-American Commission, focused on the rule of law: the State cannot terminate a labor contract for political reasons. This blacklist violates freedom of speech and it’s used to punish dissidents.

Duque Corredor, proposed by the victim’s representatives, argued that civil servants must be loyal towards the public administration and the Constitution, not towards a political project. They are forbidden from performing political activism, but that doesn’t exclude the exercise of civil and political rights.

César Tillero

Now it was time for the representative of the State. He argued that there wasn’t a connection between the fact the three women signed the petition for the recall election and the fact that they were fired. The State only applied a contractual clause and claimed that the alleged victims were given the severance package they were entitled to under the law (Rocio claims it was a lie).

He apparently embellished his resume, and struggled to answer the questions the from the alleged victims’ representatives and judges, and admitted he didn’t know some of the facts concerning the case.

“I’m really surprised that you as an expert witness don’t know the proportion public employees within the government who are career civil servants servants instead of contractors […] I believe one teaches and applies the law based on facts. If you come here to talk about [so-and-so] you should know what you are talking about.” (Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi to Tillero after he couldn’t answer Judge Elizabeth Odio’s question)

The Court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of this year.

Who cares? the government won’t follow the ruling anyway…

We all know that if the Court rules in favor of the alleged victims, the Venezuelan State will likely disregard it (though Judge Vio expressly told Devoe that he hoped the government would enforce it). However bleak the chances of an enforceable outcome may seem, this case is truly emblematic, since it is the first case regarding political discrimination that has reached the Inter-American Court.

We asked Rocío San Miguel for comment:

“Just being in the presence of independent and impartial judges is an act of reparation. There is also the moral dimension of being able to relate the events that continue to occur in Venezuela, which is something that helps us construct the truth.

One of the fundamental elements in terms of reparations in the case of human rights violations is that the State is obligated to sit in front of us, to listen to us, to be questioned by the judges and by the Inter-American Commission itself.

And of course, being able to witness how the State tries to disguise its international responsibility with very weak arguments gives us great satisfaction, because it ratifies how political discrimination is part of Venezuelan State policy.”

Here’s hoping for more satisfaction when the Court hands down its ruling.