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The Venezuelan Judge Who Caved to Chavista Pressure

By: Thabata Molina - Sep 18, 2015, 3:22 pm
At 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 10, 2015, Judge Susana Barreiros, head of the 28th tribunal of Caracas, sentenced political opposition leader Leopoldo López to 13 years, 9 months, nad 7 days in prison. (TSJ)
At 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 10, 2015, Judge Susana Barreiros, head of the 28th Tribunal of Caracas, sentenced Leopoldo López to 13 years, 9 months, and 7 days in prison. (TSJ)

EspañolOn the night of September 10, 2015, Susana Virginia Barreiros Rodríguez, 34, became the executioner the Chavista regime needed to bring the hammer down on opposition leader Leopoldo López.

The young interim judge, presiding over the 28th Trial Court of the Caracas Metropolitan Area, was not able to resist the pressure from the Nicolas Maduro government, which had been looming over her for weeks. So much so, in fact, that she apparently forgot that her main responsibility as a judge is to secure justice.

Only minutes before returning to the courtroom to deliver her sentence, she was receiving calls directly from the Miraflores Palace. Her greatest fear at this point must be the international justice system, because the Maduro administration can only do so much to protect her from the consequences that will stem from this trial.

An image of Susana Barreiro embracing the President of the National Venezuelan Assembly and second most powerful man of the Chavist regime, Diosdado Cabello. (Twitter)
An image of Susana Barreiros embracing the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and second most powerful man of the Chavista regime, Diosdado Cabello. (@CondoritoVE)

Barreiros obtained her law degree from the University of Santa María. The first sign of her loyalty for the Chavista regime emerged in December 2010, when she ruled in favor of Arné Chacón Escamillo, the brother of government minister Jesse Chacón Escamillo.

Arné Chacón had been charged with misappropriation of public funds and improper credit approval during his tenure as head of Banco Real. Barreiros released him.

Barreiros is a small, sour-faced woman, who weeks before abruptly suspending trial hearings, explained to senior government officials that there was no point in continuing to listen to witnesses, because the individuals who the prosecution presented had already come out in López’s defense.

She was referring to a couple teenagers who confessed to having lit police patrol cars on fire on February 12, 2014, having done so on their own accord, and not even knowing López personally.

Susana Barreiros sits provisionally, since August 2010, on the bench previously occupied by her colleague María Lourdes Afiuni, another political prisoner. However, in this case, Judge Afiuni was a victim of the late Hugo Chávez Frías.

Obviously, instead of coming out of the courthouse in handcuffs like her predecessor, Barreiros preferred to play the Chavista‘s game and leave protected by government bodyguards.

In reality, the sentence against the former mayor of the Chacao municipality did not take anyone who was paying attention by surprise. López’s attorneys nevertheless warned throughout the entire judicial process that there was not a single piece of incriminating evidence that proved Leopoldo had engaged in criminal association, public incitement to violence, or arson.

Surely, Leopoldo López will not remain a prisoner until 2029 as the Nicolás Maduro administration would like. However, the ruling Barriero read on September 10 was a faithful reproduction of the accusations presented by prosecutors Franklin Nieves and Narda Sanabria.

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“I was very shocked with the ruling, because it coincided, almost exactly, with the prosecution’s accusations,” Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, Leopoldo López’s defense attorney, said. “This is a major flaw because, as much as the judge may agree with the case presented by the prosecution, the legal statement of facts cannot be the same. This is very serious.”

For now, the defense team must wait for Susana Barreiros to release the full verdict by September 20. Then they will have 10 days to appeal the decision.

“We will not be given a digital copy, only a hard copy by the middle of next week,” the attorney said the night of the ruling. “There are 1,300 pages of trial records that we need to revise for the appeal, but that will begin as soon as the court publishes the ruling.”

Barreiros should remember that the Supreme Court’s Chamber of Appeals has already overturned rulings in which a judge reached a decision not through his own reasoning, but based solely on the accusations put forward by the prosecution.

Meanwhile, a photo of Judge Barreiros hugging the second most powerful Chavista in Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, tells the rest of the world all they need to know about her motivations.

Translated by Rachel Rodriguez.

Thabata Molina Thabata Molina

Thabata Molina is a Venezuelan reporter who focuses on public safety, violence, and penitentiary conflicts. She has contributed to national newspapers such as El Nacional and El Universal for 12 years. Originally from Caracas, she now lives in Panama. Follow @Thabatica.