By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz – whose attempt to promote a Media Crimes Law fell apart in the face of Opposition – is now insisting that “all those” who disturb the “tranquillity and public peace” in the country be brought to book in the courts.
Pointing out the disorder which hit an Opposition march against the new Education Law on August 21, Ortega Díaz declared Friday the her office was “not going to allow this to continue.”
She warned that those who work to “produce instability of the institutions, destabilize the government, that go against the democratic system” would find themselves before the courts, including not only those who did so but the “intellectual authors” or instigators who were behind them as well.
Ortega Díaz appeared to overlook the fact that while a small group of students had tried to dismantle a barrier erected by the Metropolitan Police, there was no generalized disorder when the very same police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and deployed a water cannon against the marchers last Saturday.
However, for the Attorney General, the marchers against the Education Law “had no motive.” Speaking on her own program on state radio, she in effect equated opposition to the government to going against the established order.
There were those, she averred, who sought “whatever motive to march, whatever motive to create chaos, whatever it is, what they want is to destabilize, and to them nothing matters, the country doesn’t matter to them, what they want is to destabilize.”
Ortega Díaz is under pressure from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to crack down on his critics. Not so long ago, he publicly warned her that if she wasn’t going to do it, he’d find somebody else who would. Since, then she’s adopted a notably tougher tone, and her latest outburst was no different.
The offences she was talking about, she said, clearly fell within the remit of civil rebellion as defined by the Penal Code, which set prison terms of 12 to 14 years in prison on conviction, she continued. “I would like those people who set themselves in a hostile attitude against a legitimately constituted government know what the consequences are.”
In the wake of her remarks, a court ordered that 11 workers with the Caracas Metropolitan Municipality be held in custody pending trial on charges of wounding and obstructing the public way.
They were arrested last Wednesday by the Metropolitan Police on their way to the Supreme Justice Tribunal. Their intention was to lodge a petition demanding their employment rights be respected by the city government headed by Jacqueline Faría – the “head of government” directly appointed by Chávez over the elected head of Opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma.
However, while the workers were ordered behind bars, there were signs that officials may have felt themselves to be on less firm ground in their case against Ledezma’s Caracas Prefect, Richard Blanco.
For the second day running, Blanco was taken before a court Friday, and again, the hearing was postponed to noon the following day. He faces charges of instigating crime and injuring Johnathan Smith Bermúdez Nuñez, who is said to be a police officer, during the ill-fated march last weekend.Blanco was also arrested on Wednesday, in what had all the appearances of a snatch operation outside a financial center by about 30 heavily armed officers from the scientific and investigative police, CICPC.
From that point on, his whereabouts remained unclear for several hours amid a prolonged silence from the powers that be.
If the authorities have misgivings about making this case stick, it may be because of National Assembly Deputy Ismael García. He is the leader of Podemos, the social democratic party that once sided with Chávez but is now almost the sole voice of dissent in the legislature in the self-imposed absence of the mainstream after they boycotted the last parliamentary elections in 2005.
On Thursday, García had produced what he said was a recording showing that Blanco had not actually done anything wrong. García explained that at 10 o’clock on the day of the march, Bermúdez Nuñez – the “infiltrator” – had been using a camera to film the marchers as they passed by the Centro Lido midway between Chacao and Chacaito.
Some of the marchers had challenged Bermúdez Nuñez, and Blanco had intervened on his behalf and handed him over to the Metropolitan Police to avoid violence, García continued. What Blanco had done, he argued, was to protect the officer and the recording proved he had done so.
The recording purported to be of a conversation in which a police officer told his superior that Bermúdez Nuñez had been “rescued” by Blanco and was “safe and sound.” To this, the superior officer was said to have responded: “OK, everything under control.”
Faced with García’s tape, which he said he was giving to the authorities, Ortega Díaz insisted that Blanco’s arrest had been in order. As to another claim by García – that the government was planning to raid Podemos’office – she said her office had received no denunciation from the party about that.
Amid continuing uncertainty over Blanco’s fate, Ledezma went to the courts to urge that both the prefect and the municipal workers be let free. They had not committed any crimes, and he had raised the case with the Organization of American States (OAS), he said.
Venezuela was under a “state of arrest” and a “curfew dictated by this government,” he declared. The government, he claimed, was “planning the funeral of Venezuelan democracy.”