Seven Months under House Arrest, Still No Hearing for Caracas Mayor
EspañolIt’s been seven months since Venezuelan authorities arrested Antonio Ledezma on charges of conspiring against President Nicolás Maduro, and the Caracas mayor has still yet to see a judge.
Ledezma’s wife, Mitzy Capriles, announced on Tuesday, September 22, that her husband’s preliminary hearing has been pushed back once again, this time until October 21.
The mayor’s defense attorneys say the government’s case is based on forged evidence and have denounced Ledezma’s inability to defend himself in court against the accusations.
“This is a completely baseless case,” Omar Estacio, Ledezma’s defense attorney, said in an interview with local media.
On Monday, the Mayors Association of Venezuela issued a statement demanding Ledezma’s release from prison. They say the Venezuelan judiciary is violating due process and has ignored the mayor’s presumption of innocence, which are both protected under the Venezuelan Constitution.
Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, a retired Supreme Court judge, tells the PanAm Post that she believes the government’s charges against Ledezma are politically motivated and a clear case of “criminalizing dissent.”
In cases like these, she says, judicial authorities “are not interested in clarifying any incidents or establishing responsibility, because the verdict is predetermined,” implying the court could find Ledezma guilty, despite there being a lack of evidence against him.
As for the latest postponement in the mayor’s trial, Mármol de León explains that this is common practice for the Nicolás Maduro government: the accused serves out a de facto prison sentence — seven months so far in Ledezma’s case — without ever stepping foot in court.
Political analyst Jorge Tricás calls the delay “judicial terrorism,” and tells the PanAm Post that this is the way the government exerts its control over the country’s institutions.
He explains that as the mayor of Caracas, chosen by the people, Ledezma is an important symbol of the Venezuelan opposition, and that the Maduro government aims to smash all dissenting opinion, as shown recently in the nearly 14-year prison sentence against Popular Will leader Leopoldo López.
Violations against Due Process
Mármol de León says the state has violated Ledezma’s rights to due process since the very beginning of this case.
“There is talk of some video footage, not accessible to the defense. In addition, rather than the judge holding this evidence, the police are holding it. This violates the defendant’s rights.”
She notes that before the video footage even reached the police, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello had already aired a heavily edited and distorted version during his national television program.
The retired Supreme Court justice explains that when Ledezma was arrested, the authorities did not present an arrest warrant or their credentials. She adds that the state’s only witnesses are anonymous government informants, who originally accused the mayor of plotting a coup against Maduro.
Mármol de León also aruges that given Ledezma’s status as a mayor, he should have the right to appear before a plenary session of the Supreme Court for a preliminary hearing on the merits of the case, rather than be tried in common court.
The government’s mistreatment of Ledezma not only violates his own rights, she says, but the rights of the 700,000 citizens who voted for him in Caracas.
Democracy in Name Only
Tricás tells the PanAm Post that the Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma cases are not the first of this kind and will not be the last.
“Venezuela hasn’t been a democracy for while; it’s just a name stamped on a page. The Constitution is a dead letter, and in Venezuela, we’re living in a democracy in name only. The government aims to dilute our rights and the law with ideology. They are creating a culture of fear and expect people to feel guilty for thinking differently,” he explains.
Tricás says he is alarmed by the indifference that remains among the Venezuelan citizenry while the country is run by a “perverse and relentlessly evil” government.