Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Price of Dissent in Venezuela

Thor Halvorssen has a must read piece at Pajamas Media about a recent attempt to murder a former Venezuelan judge and outspoken critic of Hugo Chavez. The attack on Judge Monica Fernandez occurred on January 4 in Caracas and is described in detail by Halvorssen. The Venezuelan police have labeled the incident a botched robbery. Halvorssen is justifiably skeptical:

Really? The night before she was shot, Judge Fernandez was the target of a television program called “La Hojilla” (The Razor) used by the government as its public pillory. It is on La Hojilla that the party faithful and the media learns who is in and who is out of Chavez’s favor. In a studio adorned with portraits of Lenin, Mao, Marx, Stalin, and Che Guevara, the program’s host, Mario Silva, attacks all of those who disagree or oppose the government’s actions. From Tony Blair to human rights groups like HRF and Freedom House, the government-funded program is ruthless. On January 4, Judge Fernandez was the mark and her image appeared as viewers were reminded that she is an enemy of the state, a coup-plotter, and a fascist.

Judge Fernandez’s troubles with the Venezuelan government began in April of 2002. A criminal court judge, she had avoided most of the politicization affecting the Venezuelan judiciary. She found herself in a political tempest after President Chavez was removed from office by his own defense minister in April of 2002. A group of civilians from the opposition carried out a coup and appointed themselves the new government. In the confusion that gripped Venezuela, Judge Fernandez received a request for a search warrant from a local prosecutor and police department. The neighbors of what was thought to be an abandoned house had reported seeing unusual activities inside the house: they told police they saw a man moving boxes, assault rifles, and bullet proof vests. Judge Fernandez issued the warrant. Inside the house, the police located Ramon Rodriguez, the Chavez government’s Minister of Justice, who had been hiding out during the coup.

Judge Fernandez did not order his arrest but rather sent him to his home with a police escort. The country was in disarray and nobody knew what would happen next. Chavez returned to power several hours later and Rodriguez subsequently resigned. Fernandez, however, was now considered an enemy of the state.

The High Price of Crossing Hugo


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