By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – A judge who claims she was harassed to stop handling a court case centered on media executive Guillermo Zuloaga took her complaint to the Executive Directive of the Venezuelan judiciary.
Judge Alicias Torres Rivero says she was pressured by a senior judge, Vennice Blanco, to sign a court order forbidding Zuloaga from leaving the country. Zuloaga, president of Globovisión, an anti-government news channel, faces several charges, among them one of “generic usuary” for allegedly hoarding cars at a residence he owns at a residence in east Caracas.
Jacqueline Sandoval, an attorney representing Torres Rivero, formally denounced Blanco of abuse of power for having submitted her client to undue pressure to sign the court order.
Torres Rivero insists that she did not sign the order and that, after having refused to do so last Thursday, relevant documents disappeared from her office. Sandoval also accused Blanco, who is president of the Penal Judicial Circuit, of “instigating a crime.”
A third judge, Robinson Vásquez Martínez, issued the travel ban against Zuloaga after Torres Rivero relinquished the case. She had claimed that Blanco’s actions had provoked hypertension.
Torrez Rivero also went to the State Prosecutors Office with a formal petition calling on Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz to consider action against Blanco for violating the Anti-Corruption Law by abusing her authority and committing violence against a public official.
The judge was said also to have asked for a meeting with Ortega Díaz, and expressed confidence that she would be heard because there were “good and bad” persons among the judiciary.
In the meantime, uncertainty and contradiction hovered over Torres Rivero’s professional status. One version of events that appeared to stem from those sympathetic to her cause had it that she was on sick leave.
But another, evidently from more hostile quarters, said that she had been removed or at least suspended from the bench by her peers – in other words, that her career as a judge might effectively be over.
For her part, Torres Rivero claimed that she had received support from colleagues, but declined to name them for fear of their facing reprisals. Last Friday, in the immediate wake of her withdrawal or removal from the case, she said she feared for her life.
The man at the center of this judicial storm, Zuloaga, and several others were formally notified Wednesday that they were banned from leaving the country and required to present themselves regularly to the authorities.
“I continue to consider this judicial terrorism,” Zuloaga said afterwards. “We’ll stay here, we’re Venezuelans, and we’re not going anywhere from here.”
There was a footnote from Blanco, albeit via Mayel León, a journalist at Globovisión. The judge was said to have banned media from entering the law courts “until further notice” but for reasons that were not disclosed. Whether this measure applied only to private media, as has been the case in the past, or also to state channels was similarly unclear.