[OPE] Absence of political persecution in Venezuela; corruption by Opposition leader

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Fri Apr 03 2009 - 05:03:16 EDT

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Rosales in Hiding to Avoid Corruption Charges
April 2nd 2009, by James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com
 Mérida, April 1st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- In Venezuela, a
controversy has arisen over the unknown whereabouts of a prominent
opposition leader and mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, who faces
corruption charges and is suspected to have fled the country.

National Assembly Legislator Carlos Escarrá, who is also a vice president of
the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said in an interview on the
state television station on Monday that Rosales secretly fled the country to
Panama and may soon re-locate to Miami.

“This person has in a cowardly way fled the country to avoid trial. This
attitude is unforgiveable, from my point of view,” said Escarrá, without
specifying the source of the information.

Rosales participated in the April 2002 coup d’état against President Hugo
Chávez, then ran against Chávez in the 2006 presidential election, which
Chávez won in a landslide. Rosales is also the former governor of Zulia
state, which produces approximately a third of Venezuela’s daily oil exports
and borders Colombia.

Last December, national anti-corruption investigators from the Attorney
General’s Office presented evidence that Rosales had illicitly used public
funds to accumulate private land and fill offshore bank accounts, and
offered and accepted bribes related to public contracts.

The investigation had been prompted by President Chávez’s public declaration
that Rosales should be convicted and put in jail for corruption and aiding
the infiltration of Colombian paramilitary soldiers in Venezuela.

Based on the investigations, Venezuelan prosecutor Katuiska Plaza filed
corruption charges against Rosales two weeks ago in a Zulia state court, and
requested an arrest warrant for Rosales. A hearing has been scheduled for
April 20th during which the court will decide whether to issue the warrant.

The president of Rosales’s political party A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo), Omar
Barboza, said it is “totally false that Rosales has fled the country,” and
that instead Rosales has gone into hiding in “a safe place in Zulia” to
avoid what Barboza called political persecution. “The UNT is taking all
necessary actions to protect and assure the physical and personal safety of
Manuel Rosales,” Barboza added.

According to Barboza, Rosales has been followed by unidentified armed
civilians and national investigators, and several of his private airplane
landing strips have been occupied by government security forces. “It is not
possible for Manuel Rosales to exercise his right to defense in Venezuela,”
said Barboza. “He will not turn himself in to the pack of hounds that is
pursuing him until it is possible for him to defend himself.”

On Wednesday, Venezuela’s top public defense attorney, Gabriela Ramírez,
assured that all of Rosales’s civil rights including due process have been
and will continue to be respected.

The controversy around Rosales comes amidst a broader political clash
between the Chávez administration and a group of opposition governors and
mayors who were elected last November.

In Zulia, the opposition-dominated state legislature, with the support of
Governor Pablo Pérez, declared itself in “rebellion” against the national
government recently in reaction to the transfer of the administration of
strategic transportation hubs to the national government.

Following this, Rosales’s case was transferred to a Caracas court on the
grounds that the political unrest in Zulia would impede a fair trial.

On Wednesday, the president of the National Assembly, Cilia Flores, said the
judicial process established in Venezuela’s Constitution and laws should
proceed as usual with regard to Rosales. “The judicial process should
continue. Security forces should implement a search plan to determine where
he is,” said Flores.

Flores added that if Rosales is absent from his post as mayor of Maracaibo
for more than 90 days, he will be considered to have abandoned the office,
and the people of Maracaibo may elect a new mayor in a popular vote.

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