Bolivarian Rule of Lawlessness: A White Paper on Venezuela’s Political Prisoners

At the beginning of the year, when my law firm joined the legal defense effort of the Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeño, we set about making some initial inquiries among decision makers in several different countries about the situation of rule of law, judicial autonomy, and political prisoners in Venezuela.  What we found was a staggering lack of awareness, good information or intelligence, and also the presence of some damaging misinformation.  Many would tell us that they simply weren’t aware that these problems existed, while others shifted to more hostile positions, citing their belief that the government of Hugo Chávez as democratically legitimate while denying the evidence of judicial abuse.

In an effort to correct this knowledge gap, we set about preparing an extensive new White Paper to detail the methodology by which the Chávez regime has gradually turned the courts into a powerful political instrument to punish opponents, all under the guise of illegality.  We argue that the unjust process used to railroad Cedeño is not a single occurence, but represents a set of tactics used to persecute some other 50 individuals we cite.  In preparing the paper, we did extensive research, conducted interviews with persecuted judicial officials and family members of political prisoners, and learned a great amount about another side of Venezuela that rarely makes the headlines.  Today, we are launching the paper to the public, available below.  I owe enormous gratitude to my co-authors, the Venezuelan human rights lawyers Gonzalo Himiob and Antonio Rosich, as well as to the rest of the legal team.
– Robert Amsterdam


White Paper Exposes Pattern of Judicial Abuses in Venezuela; Complaint Filed Before ICJ on Behalf of Cedeño


eligiocedeno.jpgMADRID, JUNE 25, 2009 – A groundbreaking White Paper documenting the case of Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeño was released today by his legal defense team. “Bolivarian Rule of Lawlessness” details the campaign of persecution against Mr. Cedeño and outlines the determined effort of President Hugo Chávez’s government to subvert the judiciary and use the courts as political instruments against opponents. The debut of this report coincides with the filing of a complaint before the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) requesting intercession and censure of judicial officials involved in the unlawful campaign against Cedeño.

“This unique report is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the intentions of the Chávez government,” said Robert Amsterdam, one of the authors of the report along with Venezuelan human rights lawyers Gonzalo Himiob and Antonio Rosich. “We present a collection of facts, original interviews, and previously unreleased information which should leave no doubt among the international community that we must act immediately in support of rule of law in Venezuela, and demand that the Chávez government observe its own laws and international commitments.”

This White Paper points to a pattern of judicial abuses in Venezuela’s recent history, leading up to the current conditions of opponents being imprisoned in violation of human rights and international law. It identifies the typical pattern employed by the pliant judiciary to attack opponents, describing the emblematic case of Eligio Cedeño in detail. Additionally, it contains a long list of individuals who are subject to political persecution by the Chávez government, together with a brief explanation of their circumstances.

Eligio Cedeño, a successful financial executive and philanthropist, became a target of the Chávez government because of his support for key members of the political opposition. He was falsely indicted in 2005 for alleged involvement in a fraudulent currency exchange transaction, incarcerated in 2007, and held illegally without respect for due process for more than two years. When his case was finally allowed to proceed to trial and he demonstrated his innocence, the government illegally suspended the trial proceedings before they could conclude. In February 2009, he completed the maximum allowable term of pretrial detention.

In May 2009, his case was sent back to the pretrial phase, and in June 2009, the court extended the possible length of his pretrial detention by an additional two years.
The White Paper describing Cedeño’s case and many others has been circulated among key decision makers and observers of international affairs, and has received several comments from third parties.

“This document not only contains the best judicial account of the facts surrounding the case of Eligio Cedeño, but also offers a complete radiography of the legal situation of political prisoners in Venezuela,” said Rafael Arráiz Lucca, a Venezuelan historian, author, and professor at the Universidad Metropolitano de Caracas (Unimet).

Rogelio Pérez Perdomo, a scholar on rule of law and Latin American judiciaries, Dean of the Law School at the Unimet, has commented that “this work is a good summary of the cruelest cases” of political prisoners, which the government has pursued in order to “show that the opposition can be costly, and that it is best to remain silent.”

“Hugo Chavez has systematically destroyed the hopes and dreams of the Venezuelan people,” said Congressman Connie Mack, Ranking Member of the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “He has used every tool in his arsenal to quash individual freedoms, imprison and threaten political opponents, corrupt the judicial system, and change the law to be able to rule for life. This important report highlights the current state of Venezuela’s unfair judicial system and the lack of due process for individuals, and it is my hope it will shed a bright light on the need for America to continue to stand with the Venezuelan people.”

“The rule of law is a foundation of any civilized society. The Chavez regime has systematically undermined that foundation,” said Bruce Bagley, the Professor and Chair of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami. “This [white paper] presents the grave and growing dangers to anyone seeking justice in Venezuela.”

The White Paper will be made available in Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. The defense team has announced their intention of seeking political support and raising awareness of Venezuela’s political prisoners in multiple countries. Most recently, lawyer Robert Amsterdam was received by the President of the Brazilian Senate, José Sarney, to discuss the issue. The document is available for download at and