By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The exact whereabouts of Opposition Leader and Maracaibo Mayor Manuel Rosales, whose trial on corruption charges brought by the government is due to resume next Monday, remain something of mystery.
Earlier this week, a banner headline blared the news that Rosales had gotten out of the country and was in Peru. The report has yet to be confirmed by anyone, but it hasn’t been denied, either.
The report in the newspaper 2001 would have suited the government. Officials have long claimed Rosales was about to flee the country for the United States where the Chavez government claims Rosales owns as many as 13 properties including one described as a “mansion.” Rosales has always denied this and said he would stay to face the music.
Uncertainty about where he is does not mean all has gone silent from the former two-term governor of Zulia state, who failed to dislodge President Hugo Chávez at the elections in 2006 but established himself in the front rank of the Opposition in the process.
Late on Tuesday evening, the media received a lengthy statement purporting to come from Rosales. That it did so was not denied by his supporters, and an activist who knows the mayor well said it sounded like the way he spoke and wrote.
Rosales’ statement did not say where he was, only that his personal safety was being protected by the support of “all the democratic factors” and that he’d been reflecting on recent events in the country.
Chávez, he warned, was leading Venezuela to “the establishment of a totalitarian and autocratic regime that, without doubt, has closed all the democratic spaces.” Chávez, it said, was obsessed with “perpetuating himself at Miraflores,” the presidential palace.
In doing so, the statement continued, Chávez was following in the footsteps of Fidel Castro in Cuba, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, “he who was Saddam Hussein in Iraq” and Omar Al Bashir of Sudan – who faces an international arrest order for human rights crimes, but whom Chávez has invited to make an official visit to Venezuela.
Rosales did not reserve his condemnation for Chávez alone. He also pointed the finger at what he called the “complicit silence” of the Comptroller General – Clodosbaldo Russián, who’s banned over 200 people, mostly from the opposition and including several leading names from running for or holding public office – as well as the Supreme Justice Tribunal, the Public Defender, the National Assembly, and “the privileged ones of the National Armed Forces.”
Chávez’ clear objective in all this was, Rosales claimed, “to liquidate those who oppose his personalist and totalitarian project.” The aim was to do away with dissidence, the method not mattering, and that was why all those state institutions had “to carry out and comply each one with its task.”
While all this was happening, the statement thundered on, Chávez was hiding, on a foreign trip to put distance between himself and “some of these episodes” – and this was characteristic of the president’s personality. That was how he’d been during the failed coup d’etat in February 1992 (which first brought Chávez to public notice) when he didn’t “show the face in combat” and left that to his fellow conspirators.
Rosales turned to the April 2002 crisis which briefly removed Chávez from office, and led last week to three former Metropolitan Police commissioners being jailed for the maximum 30 years for the deaths of three of the 19 people who lost their lives then.
There had, Rosales or at least the statement issued in his name said, been no justice for the men who were seen firing guns at the Puente Llaguno, the focal point of the shooting that started the crisis. Four men caught in the act on camera were later tried by a court in Aragua state, but acquitted on the grounds that they’d opened fire in self-defense.
As to the accusations leveled against himself, Rosales said Chávez had alleged he had bank accounts and properties in England, Spain, the United States and elsewhere, and 13 in his home state of Zulia. “a lie repeated a thousand times, in spite of what Goebbels said, goes on being a lie,” Rosales said. “I challenge Chávez to show that Rosales has properties in another country.”
How was it, the statement asked out loud, that Rosales’ income had been declared to the tax collection agency, Seniat, and accepted and moneys due had been paid, and now the government didn’t accept that?
Zulia had resisted Chávez throughout his 10 years in power, and the president wanted to “liquidate and eliminate me politically and personally to submit Zulia by force, which he has not been able to do electorally.”
“We will continue the struggle to get out from under the most corrupt government in the history of Venezuela, one which has administered more than $900 billion, of which the people have received little or nothing,” the statement said.
“Today more than ever, we need a movement of civil and democratic resistance,” it said, concluding with a lengthy quote from Rómulo Betancourt, the elected president who held office after Venezuela’s last dictator, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, was overthrown in 1958.
One of Rosales’ defense lawyers, Magaly Vásquez, said she didn’t know whether Rosales intended to appear in court on April 20, and was still waiting to find out. “That’s something which the mayor will have to resolve,” she said.