Sigue la Patria! Venezuela’s Courts the Most Corrupt on the Planet

EspañolThe World Economic Forum (WEF) gave Latin America a red card after reviewing its independent judiciary. The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 published by the Swiss-based organization describes a concerning scenario for this region. It ranks the judicial systems of Venezuela, Paraguay, and Argentina among the worst on the planet.

Global rankings were developed by providing formal surveys to executives and managers on the perceived judiciary independence from other branches of government, companies, and other players outside the court system. The scale goes from one to seven, starting from countries with strongly dependent justice systems, to those with a fully autonomous judicial branch, where neither government nor corporations have significant influence.

The judicial independence ranking is contained within a macro-index that measures the overall competitiveness of countries. To achieve this, WEF analyzed ten pillars of competitiveness: public and private institutions (such as the index of judicial independence), infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, skilled workforce, higher education, market efficiency, financial market growth, the ability to benefit from existing technologies, and finally, the domestic market’s size.

Venezuela comes in last out of the 148 nations surveyed, with a score of just 1.1, making it the country with the least reliable justice system in the world. The report also detects serious economic problems in Venezuela based on three main factors: foreign currency exchange controls, restrictive labor regulations, and inefficient government bureaucracy.

Paraguay follows Venezuela as the second most corrupt justice system in Latin America, ranking 146th in the world with a score of 1.7, right below Haiti (2.0) and Argentina (2.4). In contrast, the best country in the region in terms of judicial independence is Uruguay (5.4) at position 25, followed by Chile (5.3), and Costa Rica (4.8).

Mario Serrafero, professor of Institutional Analysis and researcher at the National Research Council (CONICET) in Argentina, said that justice systems in Latin America have little independence compared to other developed countries and established democracies in the world.

“The problem has been the persistent politicization of justice and, on the other hand, the dominance of the executive over the other branches of government. Furthermore, there is a noticeable difference between the various Latin-American countries, for example, between the greater independence of Chilean courts and Venezuela’s dependent justice system. Latin America’s institutional instability in the 20th century has weakened that independence, which is achieved only with sound and stable public institutions,” said Serrafero.

Since April, the National Assembly of Venezuela has sought to replace 11 judges of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), in a process that depends mostly on the decisions of a Chavista majority in the legislature.

The Politicization of Justice: The Case of Paraguay

The report, released in late 2013, described an alarming trend in certain countries.

In Paraguay, a country ahead of only Venezuela and Burundi on the rankings list, a former Supreme Court judge, José Altamirano, has said that while current Supreme Court judges’ terms have expired, the selection system cannot be trusted.

“I’m sure that there are people with enough expertise and reputation to assume the highest offices. The problem is that these people do not want to participate in the selection mechanisms, because these are not conducted according to the rule of law, but rather according to the particular interests of each political group,” said the judge.

Argentina’s Justice Also Dependent on the Executive

Lawyer Ezequiel Spector, PhD candidate in philosophy of law and professor of general theory of law at the University Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina, told PanAm Post that Supreme Court rulings have been ignored because of the executive branch’s influence.

“In a statement, the National Commission for Protection of Judicial Independence denounced smear campaigns, criminal complaints, and challenges against judges, with the sole purpose of removing a judge from a case. The most recent of such tactics have been attempts to change local laws to the detriment of the stability and independence of the judiciary, following Argentina’s Media Law,” said the professor.

Regarding the trial of José María Campagnoli, a 20-year career prosecutor who had investigated crony businessmen within the ruling party, Spector said: “They want to remove him through a series of vague accusations. Half of the court’s judges have clear ties to the president, plus the nation’s attorney general, who is merely Cristina [Kirchner]’s puppet.”

La Nacion‘s Saturday op-ed sums up Argentina’s dire situation: “It is increasingly clear that we are witnessing an open persecution through an irregular process rarely seen in our country. The victim is an upright and honest justice official, who is being prosecuted with unusual severity. Over the last decade, there have been numerous events that directly affected the judicial independence in our country, but we have never seen something so obscene.”

Translation by Daniel Duarte.

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