Cancun, the OAS, and Venezuela’s Prosecutor General


Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who for years unflinchingly supported Venezuela’s government, has since late March become a strong critical voice within chavismo.

In March, the prosecutor general publicly challenged the Supreme Tribunal’s decision to take over legislative functions from the National Assembly

Regardless of her motivations, for the first time she’s fully exercising her powers to challenge the foundations of President Nicolás Maduro’s repressive machinery. This hasn’t changed the situation on the ground, because the courts have long since been captured by the executive. But one important consequence of Ortega’s initiatives and the justice system’s reaction to them has been to create a paper trail of what is probably the heart of today’s institutional crisis in `Venezuela: the absolute lack of judicial independence.

In March, the prosecutor general publicly challenged the Supreme Tribunal’s decision to take over legislative functions from the National Assembly, which she called a “rupture of constitutional order.” The court later partially reversed the decision, but only after President Nicolás Maduro asked it to.

Since nationwide demonstrations and ensuing government crackdowns swept across the country in early April, the prosecutor general has spoken up against the government’s abusive response, including the prosecution of civilians by military courts, and in favor of the right to protest peacefully. She has also published official information regarding ongoing investigations, many of which point to officials’ responsibility for rights violations.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, alleged violations of fundamental rights are a key element in more than half of the more than 1,200 investigations of injuries during the protests. Additionally, in at least 10 of the 67 recorded deaths linked to the protests, there has been enough evidence for her office to charge security agents with killings of demonstrators or bystanders. By unmasking the security forces’ abuses, the Prosecutor General’s Office is creating a record that could be the foundation of prosecutions in the future, when Venezuela has independent courts willing to sanction these violations.

In the last few weeks, the prosecutor general filed five challenges before the Supreme Tribunal to stop the Maduro administration’s attempt to rewrite the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly made up of government allies. The first two she filed have already been rejected by two different chambers.

Yet another powerful move came on June 13: the prosecutor general filed a petition before the Supreme Tribunal to annul the appointments of all Supreme Tribunal justices made by a lame duck National Assembly at the end of December 2015. The Assembly had made the appointments to re-pack the court with Maduro supporters and guarantee an absolute concentration of power, mere days before his party lost control of the legislature.

The Prosecutor General’s Office, under Ortega’s leadership, carried out arbitrary prosecutions of demonstrators and political opponents during the 2014 crackdown on antigovernment protests. But through her more recent actions, in a short period of time the prosecutor general has played an exceptional role, using the power of her office to help expose the abusive practices of the security forces and the lack of independence of the judiciary.

Ortega has shown a willingness and ability to unmask the Venezuelan government. Given the relevance of her contribution, and the degree of exposure she is facing, the regional community should recognize that Ortega is a credible interlocutor. During the upcoming OAS General Assembly meeting in Mexico, OAS states should request an official report from the prosecutor general with information on actions by security forces and armed pro-government groups that may constitute human rights violations, the Supreme Tribunal’s lack of judicial independence, and her arguments against the Constituent Assembly promoted by the government.


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  1. Somewhat to my surprise, I note that El Universal is carrying the story of Luisa Ortega’s petitions – and supporting evidence from Maria Jose Marcano – in a straightforward manner. Does this represent a sea-change, I wonder?

    My understanding is that the TSJ has already rejected the first petition against the judges as being without merit and lacking fundamental requirements. Given this finding, the TSJ has also squashed the request for a precautionary injunction which would have forced recusal. Can anyone help me understand what is happening now?

  2. At the moment, I see Luisa Ortega Díaz as a fellow traveler with whom the Opposition is making common cause. However, I would like to know exactly what happened to cause Luisa Ortega’s change of heart? Up until March, she was every bit the good Chavista soldier. She was behind and ordered the fraudulent prosecutions that put Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos in prison in 2014 as well as others. Unless, or until, we understand what emotional state and logical rationale are guiding her actions now and what happened to cause such a radical change in them, I would remain very wary of her intentions.

    • The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
      If she has the backing of the retired Generals she could be positioning herself to become the next President in an effort to keep Chavismo a political force.
      I can hear her campaign arguing that Chavismo and Socialism were not the reasons for the destruction of Venezuela, it was corruption.
      I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth. Considering her and her office’s past actions and history of support for this regime, I can’t help but distrust her motives.
      She has been sidelined and is relatively powerless. The military prosecutions, refusals of authorities to heed any orders she gives, and the courts ignoring her arguments have left her as a figurehead.
      At this point she has nothing to lose and may just be seeking her pound of flesh from the other tyrants that she long associated with.
      On the other hand, if she has the booty that has been distributed among the regime leaders stashed in US banks, this could be her attempt to keep millions of Dollars from being seized by the US.
      Maduro has issued an order stopping her and her family from transferring any assets.
      The final episode of this poorly written tragedy is going to play soon.
      Then we will know her motivations.

      • This has been my feeling from day 1. There’re still a lot of chavistas (not so many maduristas) that would much rather vote for her as president than for any candidate from the “evil” opposition.

      • Agree with John but doubt she stashed assets in the U.S. Maybe she’s trying to avoid The Hague and a U.S. designation that limits her travel and investments in The Empire to the north.

    • Roy , dont know if it was important or not , but a couple of months before she shifted position there was an humiliating incident when her entourage was stopped in a barquisimeto road block and submitted to the kind of hazing the GNB applies to ordinary travelers , she tried using her position to get them to let them go , and their response was that ‘ they didnt care who she was’…..Im quite sure that this would never have happened to any of the others in the inner circle of power , Inside chavismo they have their differences and rivalries , this incident was a warning to her that she has aligning herlself with the wrong people, before rafael ramirez was publicly demoted from being the 3rd boss in the regime and then to being the foreign affairs minister and then to exile as UN ambassador he was forewarned of what was going to happen to him , someone wanted his place who was close to Cilia ( the guy had a heart attack and the appointement had to be posponed) , maybe something similar was about to happen to LO and she decided she would fight back ….nothing worse than the anger of a woman scorned….., thus somethings that appear unconnectd decide how people will take up positions that no one expects ……

      • Bill Bass, that was an interesting analysis. Unfortunate that you ended it on a sexist note, with reference to the “anger of a woman scorned”. How would you label it if a male in her position did same?

        • Didnt mean it as offensive , its just an old saying , the truth of the matter is that clinical studies show that men are quicker to anger than ladies , who are on the whole more moderate in their responses , the difference is that after time passes men are more willing to forgive and forget while once a woman does get incensed about something she is more prone to remain angry than most men…….!! not sure which response is better than the other !!

          • .
            Oh well.
            Because sexism is not even on the radar of the biggest problems facing those who care about Venezuela … but …

            Someday the story may be told, and someday we may have the opportunity to know what the heck LOD is really up to and about, whether she is the biggest arse of them all or more clever than all of them, or just another chavista trying to save her own neck … but if it turns out to be something to our favor … I suspect if we were talking about a man, we wouldn’t be talking about anger and scorn, rather, how well he played the game or what a good long-term strategy he had … or something besides resorting to discussing stereotypes about women’s emotions.

            Ojalá que, pase lo que pase, sea al favor de un Venezuela libre de castromaduristas.

    • I agree Roy. Are there not more credible sources of information? Others like HRW have been doing the heavy lifting all these years, many at great sacrifice and personal risk, and now LOD should be the voice of the unjustly persecuted in Venezuela to the world?As I’ve said before here, LOD is a chief witness in the history of abuses she so lately has awakened to, and not in a good way. Her road to redemption is more than a little short, a little untimely, and a little oblivious to the victims she is responsible for and still silent about.

      • I don’t want to appear a Pollyanna here, but perhaps the starving children, the clinics empty of medicine, the shuttered schools and the voices of the masses calling for change caused her to reconsider her direction in life. It does happen. I have been following all this from afar, as I have people dear to me in Venezuela, but would never pretend to have any insights equal to those who live Venezuela everyday. Still, the people have hope. This is a fact they demonstrate everyday by going to streets to fight for their future, and that of their children.

        • The people in the streets fighting for Venezuela’s future, the ones who have been speaking out against human rights abuses from this regime (for years), the ones who have been campaigning in opposition to this regime, the ones who have brought cases against the regime to the Courts and fought for human rights against the General Prosecutor’s office, are the heroes. Where this other person and her office fits in is another matter, in my humble opinion.

          She was doing very well for herself while there were children without food, shuttered schools, clinics empty of medicine, press being muzzled, but forget all of that. She was doing very well for herself when there were: jails with political prisoners, security forces that tortured and held without due process with impunity, and judges who ruled in favour of the Prosecutor General because that’s the way things work.

          Forget what I think. Use an objective measure. What judges look for in assessing the genuineness of a change of heart starts with the following: a full and frank demonstration of personal insight and an acceptance of responsibility.

          It is true, this is a sign of a split within the regime, and that is a good thing. The split, I mean. Nothing wrong with being a Pollyanna with clear eyes.

  3. I am unsure of Ortega’s motivation, like many here. However, in the interests of accuracy, it must be noted that her resistance dates back at least to December 2015 when she refused to endorse the pre-candidate list of judges because no vetting procedure had been completed as mandated by Ley Organica. She was also responsible for stiffening the spine of Maria Jose Marcano to prevent her from signing off on the same document. Her stand on this issue was non-trivial and it has now left Saab’s illegal actions and the illegitimate nature of the TSJ appointments fully exposed for all to see.

    • She’s obviously not happy with the way things are going. This is her exit and she’s trying to do her part while saving her neck from prosecution and designation abroad.

    • How many times did her office appear before the TSJ and NOT dispute its composition, before it did? Dozens? Hundreds? Moreover, she disputed its composition AFTER it ruled against her injunction. What kind of resistance is that? Moreover, what the heck kind of judicial appointment process requires the signature of the Prosecutor General, anyway?

      I’m sorry, but when do we start handing out the Nobel Peace Prize to the agent of a dictatorship who draws the line when its victims can no longer be hidden from the outside world under lies?

        • Yes, but not without a healthy dose of skepticism. She has been playing the game for her own benefit for a long time now. I doubt that she has suddenly gone all altruistic on us. Her play may be to grab the whole enchilada for herself.

      • “How many times did her office appear before the TSJ and NOT dispute its composition, before it did?”
        This is a very good question IMO. I have been trying for several days to access the Gaceta Ministerio Publico_TSJ and failing each time. I don’t know whether it has been deliberately closed. In the normal course of events, I would have thought that the Fiscal General would not plead before the Constitutional and the Electoral chambers of the TSJ very much, if at all. The main interaction of her office would be with the criminal court of the TSJ. I have been trying to access the official record to confirm this.

        In terms of public powers, what she is doing now is arguably beyond the scope of what was foreseen for her office. The public body most likely to Initiate legal actions to protect the people from unconstitutional measures by other state entities (the ombudsman function) should be El Defensor del Pueblo in theory.

        • Where I come from, criminal cases often have to address questions of constitutionally protected rights. It actually did not occur to me that the constitutional chamber of the TSJ would not hear those matters.

  4. A very useful contribution. Thank you.

    As for what turned Ortega Diaz, I have a theory. It was the turn away from civil prosecutions to military ones, thus removing cases f on her jurisdiction, that was the last straw.

    Of course, the use of military prosecutions could have begun because Ortega Diaz was beginning to make herself heard within the secretive halls of the regime, in opposition to Maduro and his policies.

  5. I believe there is only one question to be asked here, just one, a simple one, and a relevant one, standing all alone in the world of questions, a solitary explorer charging boldly into the unknown, towards galaxies far, far away: Can she possibly be worse than Maduro?

    • It’s really hard to imagine anyone worse than Maduro. So the question may just be: How much better than Maduro can she be?

  6. LOD, despite past history, is welcome, as per HRW, in this fight. She, apart from a possible Military rebellion, are the only thumbs in the dike holding Venezuela against major public bloodshed….

  7. She is yet another built in pressure valve. The real power lies at the puppet master level, and they have decided that it’s time to change the plot in the play, sacrifice some and gain praise for others, LOD in this case. Power remains where it is, and most importantly the “kids” are kept hopefuls and entretained(distracted) while time mRches on, people become more desperate, hunger trumps, new exiles are made and the real twist in the play, the ANC continues to unfold as planned….

    Sad to say, but unless she is killed or made useless by the regime, it suggests to me , she is playing willingly ir nit, to their plans.

    Learned hopelessness or being savvy, I hope I’m wrong.


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