by Carlos Alberto Montaner
(The Miami Herald) Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni enforced the law and Hugo Chávez sent her to prison.
Afiuni had ruled on a detainee who had spent three years in preventive custody, businessman Eligio Cedeño. The law established a maximum sentence of two years, so she released him, as was her duty. Chávez insulted her and said Bolívar would have had her shot, but he would just send her to a women’s prison, which is something like the Marquis de Sade’s chambers.
In that horrible prison, some guards raped the judge, who became pregnant and lost her child. The lady is almost 50 years old. Then she fell ill with cancer and was operated on. In view of the circumstances, she was sentenced to house arrest. But, just so she wouldn’t forget who’s boss in Venezuela, Chavista goons riddled her home with bullets. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa insists that, because he’s the chief of state, he is also head of the judiciary and the legislative. Nobody ever explained to him that the hallmark of the republican model is the separation of powers, the legal limits of authority and the rule of law. That is why he was neither surprised nor repelled by the fact that the court ruling that favored him in his lawsuit against the newspaper El Universo was written by his own lawyer. Correa owns justice.
Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, installs and removes judges at will. He escaped from charges that he raped his stepdaughter with the complicity of a provisional judge who acted with the speed of a pickpocket. He was absolved and released in an unexpected and swift afternoon. He used the courts to keep former President Arnoldo Alemán at bay and to threaten presidential challenger Eduardo Montealegre.
To Ortega, the judicial power is not an essential branch of government but a tool for political control, threat and punishment. It’s like a stick with which he beats or threatens his adversaries.
Something similar happens in Bolivia. President Evo Morales has (and exercises) the power to appoint judges and magistrates at will. Once, he installed 18 of them in one day, calling his action “a judicial revolution.” Earlier, he had demonstrated what he really thinks of laws and rules when he told his attorneys that it was their job to adapt the rules to the decisions he made. Were they not learned men?
It was up to him to do the cheating and to the attorneys to adapt the laws. That is why, according to a very serious poll by Ipsos, 80 percent of Bolivians do not believe in the possibility of finding justice in court. The Bolivians are good and resigned people, but are no fools.
Cuba is more sincere in this regard. Following Soviet-communist tradition, it doesn’t engage in republican silliness. The Constitution is very clear: the Communist Party is the only legitimate source of authority. The other institutions are sugar-cane mash.
Cuba’s judicial system is controlled from the Ministry of the Interior, especially in any conflict that involves ideology, and the sentences are handed down to satisfy the current political interests. People can be sentenced for the same charges to 30 years, 30 months or 30 days in prison, depending on the interests of the police.
For example, Gen. Arnoldo Ochoa and Col. Antonio de la Guardia were executed in 1989 as part of a strategy intended to relieve Fidel and Raúl Castro from suspicions that drug trafficking had the blessing of the Cuban government. The criminal code established six years’ imprisonment for their alleged crimes, but the bosses’ innocence would be more credible if the underlings were executed. Ochoa and De la Guardia faced a firing squad at dawn.
What is 21st-Century socialism? This might be a good definition: it is a model of state where the judicial power enables rulers to perpetuate themselves in power, to persecute their adversaries and cut off the people’s freedoms.
Those who exercise authority in such brutal and unscrupulous manner seem to ignore that the judges’ independence can become a dangerous boomerang the moment that the wind changes direction.
When judges obey not the law but men, they behave like hunting dogs. The minute the leash changes hands, they attack their former masters.