On Feb. 1, 2007, a Venezuelan judge named Yuri López admitted a complaint from a defendant, denouncing the improper conduct of judicial officials who shared his case materials with third parties, and then later perjured when questioned on the topic under oath. Though she was warned by two of her superiors to dismiss the complaint, the judge saw clear merits in the evidence and admitted the complaint which indicated the illegal conduct of judicial officers. It was a decision that would end her career in the Venezuelan justice system. After being violently threatened in court by one of the named judicial officials, the following day Yuri López was placed on mandatory vacation, and in going to the school to pick up her daughter, she narrowly averted a kidnapping attempt by men she suspects were linked to the political controversy at work. She now lives in Miami under political asylum, and was recently profiled by Casto Ocando in the Nuevo Herald.
The only reason that López lost her job and had her life and her family threatened was the fact that the defendent was one Eligio Cedeño, a political prisoner of the Venezuelan government. The story of this judge and many others who have been caught up in the crossfire of Venezuela’s politically corrupt judicial apparatus are detailed in a new white paper I have published along with my colleagues Gonzalo Himiob and Antonio Rosich.
For some reason I keep coming back to the story of this judge and the attempted kidnapping of her daughter. What possible excuse can be given for this kind of conduct? In debriefing various individuals on the conditions of political prisoners under the Venezuelan authorities, the regime’s supporters argue that such conduct is acceptable because President Hugo Chávez holds regular elections. What is not discussed is the near absolute lack of legislative or judicial autonomy, problems of freedom of the press, or one of the many other ways that Venezuela lacks a level playing field. There are terrible violations of human rights and due process occuring with regularity in Venezuela, and I believe it is a great pity that the political ambiguity achieved by Mr. Chávez is sufficient to have these abuses ignored.
It is hoped that this new report, which gathers together a wealth of information about the many victims of chavista justice, can help contribute to the understanding of the judicial reality in Venezuela, and be useful in moving toward a unified call upon the Venezuelan president to observe his own laws and international commitments.