In many ways, it was your average office job. You arrived in the morning, had an hour for lunch, you left in the afternoon. There was a WhatsApp group, Christmas parties and planes vacacionales. How is it today? Welcome to the jungle.
“They never asked us to be partisan. That’s part of the manual, to be apolitical. They never asked us to wear red, go to demonstrations or vote a certain way. It’s different from the judiciary branch of the public administration, where judges wear red berets and hang portraits of Chávez in their chambers. We were proud of not being like that.”
For over a decade, Nelson has been a public prosecutor en el interior, the province. He started when Isaías Rodríguez was Prosecutor General, and has remained at his post for the entire tenure of la doctora.
“But now, with Tarek, time will tell.”
From the get-go, it’s pretty clear that Nelson feels admiration for Ortega Díaz. While there’s no doubt she’s chavista, he says at least she’s not “one of them.” He defines her with a word not many would use for someone heading a government institution: “She’s an idealist.”
They no longer fought the Prosecutor General, they fought us all as an institution. And after the Constituyente, all the support turned into silence.
A few months ago, the Prosecutors Office demanded a guideline of procedures from the Ministry of Interior, after several cases of police brutality were recorded during OLP raids. That’s when it started, in Nelson’s take. “We’ve seen the rift for a long time, even if it was invisible from the outside.”
He remembers Luisa’s pronunciamiento very well:
“They took us all to the capital to watch her yearly address. We knew something was up, since our superiors were nervous and one even told me that hard times were coming. But I felt relieved to see her addressing the reality of the nation.”
Chavista hardliners didn’t feel relieved at all, wondering what was going on with the Prosecutor General, even if many were supportive of her stance inside the institution. It was business as usual and, as days went by and Luisa Ortega didn’t back down, things went sour. “We were told not to receive any kind of communications from the judiciary, essentially paralyzing legal processes.”
Courts had already been already ignoring orders from the Prosecutor’s Office, particularly for the release of detained protesters. Like the use of courts-martial on civilians, not releasing political prisoners who had been exonerated by courts violated due process. Days were tense and security was increased at the main gate and corridors of the Prosecutor’s HQ. Employees were advised not to wear shirts or jackets with emblems of the institution; the symbols could become targets.
“The worst was when the Supreme Court sworn in [Katherine] Harrington [as vice-prosecutor general]. It was the moment when they no longer fought the Prosecutor General, they fought us all as an institution. And after the Constituyente, all the support turned into silence.”
Employees were advised not to wear shirts or jackets with emblems of the institution; the symbols could become targets.
Nelson shrugs and finds the idea of working for ANC-appointed Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab, revolting. Barely surprised about how quick the changes among the top brass have been, he can’t stop feeling disgust at the illegality of it all. The future is more uncertain than ever, but he hopes Luisa will bring justice through international courts.
“Even if she’s deposed, they’re still worried. Why do you think they went raided her place? She has the scoop on them, corruption, human rights violations. Crimes with no statute of limitations.”
I look at Nelson, visually uncomfortable with some of my questions. I ask why la fiscal didn’t say anything in the past, knowing so much. He doesn’t know, perhaps by choice. He’s essentially a simple man doing his job to support his family. Aspirations beyond that are luxury.
But he closes the interview catching me off-guard with introspection:
“Look, the Public Ministry is filled with professionals who will continue their work as they’ve always done, no matter who’s in charge. We love what we do and we’ll try our best, given the circumstances.”
In Venezuela, public employees barely do their job as they barely make it by with their quince y último. But people like Nelson, the human face on the cogs of the machine, serve as a reminder that, regardless of your job, we’re way less divided than some would want us to be.