Mon | May 22, 2017

Editorial: Maduro’s democratic misfeasance

Published:Wednesday | September 16, 2015 | 9:00 AM

FIVE DAYS after this newspaper urged Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to have a heart-to-heart with Nicolás Maduro about his government’s deepening misfeasance against democracy in Venezuela, a Caracas court declared the opposition leader, Leopold López, guilty of inciting violence and sentenced him to 13 years in jail. Very few people, and fewer outside Venezuela, believe that the judicial process that convicted Mr López was fair.

Rather, the conduct of Mr López’s case, and the continued arrest of other opposition politicians in Venezuela, represents a further narrowing of the democratic space in the South American country, which Jamaica can no longer ignore, and against which this country has a moral obligation to speak. The special relationship between our countries and governments further empowers us so to do.

Before his conviction last week, Mr López, 44, had been in detention for more than a year, following his arrest in February 2014 for allegedly inciting violence during the anti-government demonstrations that left more than 40 people dead. He is not everyone’s cup of tea. He is a former mayor of a wealthy Caracas district who is reviled by the government and many poor Venezuelans, who form the bulk of Mr Maduro’s supporters. He was seen as one of the agitators in the collapsed coup against Mr Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

But whatever may be anyone’s perception of Leopold López, or anyone else, two critical measures of democracies are the freedoms that are allowed to opposition groups, and the fairness and transparency with which they conduct their judicial arrangements. It is not only those who disagree with the Maduro government that the Venezuelan government will have a hard time convincing – including Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights – that Mr Lopez enjoyed due process.

REJECTED EVIDENCE

Indeed, prior to last week’s conviction, the high commissioner had complained about the “prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents” like Mr López and another former mayor, Daniel Ceballos. There were similar expressions of “deep concern” from the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.

Further, defence lawyers say that while the prosecution was able to present nearly 140 witnesses, all but two of theirs were rejected. So, too, were other forms of evidence.

This is not the stuff of a fair legal system or of a democracy of the type recognised by Jamaica. Four decades ago, Jamaica got into the business of detaining opposition, but it was an aberration that was short-lived. Mrs Simpson Miller should explain to Mr Maduro the demerits of the exercise.