Your article presents a disturbing picture of political freedoms under attack in Venezuela (Chávez accused of turning tyrant as even former allies languish in jail, 13 October). Allegations of a politically driven judicial system are backed up with a quote claiming: «There are 38 people in jail for political reasons disguised as corruption or public disorder offences.»
If true, Venezuela would have political prisoners and such a substantial article into its democratic health would be warranted. But it is not. Among these 38 cited cases are people convicted of the murder of a public prosecutor investigating the 2002 coup; military personnel convicted for placing bombs in the Colombian and Spanish embassies; and police chiefs convicted for ordering gunfire against civilians on peaceful demonstrations with the aim of justifying a military uprising.
The article highlights a number of politicians – including former defence minister Raúl Baduel, prefect of Caracas Richard Blanco, and mayor of Maracaibo Manuel Rosales – who allegedly face persecution. However, they face legal action not because of their views, but due to their involvement in corruption. There is no mention that many former Chávez supporters, including a former minister, three former governors and a prominent political activist, are also being tried for corruption and other crimes.
Claims of a political witch-hunt in Venezuela can only be maintained by a deliberate failure to mention such cases. There is a world of difference between political prisoners, which Venezuela does not have, and politicians who are imprisoned for terrorism or corruption.
An anonymous quote that President Chávez is leading an «authoritarian regime» is justified by claims of «blacklisting opposition candidates». But in Venezuela there are no «black lists». There is the legal separation of powers, and the president has no judicial role. Legally, the comptroller general is empowered to apply penalties to public representatives for crimes they have committed, including disbarring from office for a limited period. Such laws have existed since 1975 and current legislation was adopted in 2002 by a near-unanimous vote, including support from parties opposed to Chávez.
Claims that such sanctions are being applied politically do not hold water. Of the hundreds facing corruption charges, more than half are government supporters. The 2008 annual survey of Latin America, by the respected Latinbarametro, shows Venezuela is the region’s second most satisfied country on the functioning of its democracy. Rather than listening to political opponents charged with corruption and other crimes, surely the best judges of Venezuela’s democracy are the people themselves?
The allegations of tyranny are wide of the mark. Venezuela doesn’t have political prisoners. Nor do we have legal torture, clandestine prisons, extraordinary renditions, death squads or paramilitaries. We don’t «disappear» our citizens, murder trade unionists, ignore international laws, bomb innocent civilians or invade other countries. Surely it is time for a more accurate portrayal?
Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s ambassador to the UK.