Skip to comments.In Spanish lawsuit, Venezuelan lawyers accuse Hugo Chavez of crimes against humanity
Posted on 01/29/2003 1:05:12 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela - A group of lawyers filed a lawsuit against Hugo Chavez in Spain's highest court accusing the Venezuelan president of crimes against humanity and state terrorism.
Attorney Alfredo Romero, representing 6 Spanish citizens and 24 Venezuelans, told The Associated Press in Caracas Tuesday said the suit argues that Chavez was responsible for disturbances on April 11, 2002.
The violence erupted when pro- and anti-Chavez demonstrators clashed in downtown Caracas - 19 Venezuelans died and hundreds more were wounded, among them one Spaniard who was killed and three injured, he said.
The riots spurred a coup that ousted Chavez for three days, before military loyalists returned the former paratrooper commander to power.
The suit was filed in Madrid, Romero said, because of the Spanish nationals killed in the riots.
As well, he said, Venezuelan officials have been slow to form a commission to investigate the April 11 slayings and he accused Venezuelan courts of being biased toward the government.
Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who is accused in the lawsuit along with Chavez, Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez and other top government officials, downplayed the case.
"The ones who should be brought to trial internationally are others, specifically the terrorists and saboteurs in the oil industry," Rangel said. He referred to dissident oil executives at Venezuela's state-run oil company who have joined a 58-day-old strike against Chavez.
Chavez has been accused of corruption in nearly a dozen cases before Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal and attorney general's office.
"Circles of terror," opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez called them. "There can be no reconciliation until the Bolivarian Circles are disarmed." It's unknown exactly who fired into a massive opposition march April 11, killing at least 16 that day and wounding dozens, if not hundreds. Globovision television captured horrific images of snipers and gunmen firing repeatedly into the throng. Chavez supporters insist opposition gunmen fired, too. Others blame police and troops.
But Caracas police, who have arrested at least three people, say some of the shooters belonged to the circles -- neighborhood committees that were created after Cuban President Fidel Castro urged Chavez's followers to organize themselves to defend Chavez's leftist revolution. Castro made the appeal during a 2000 visit. Reinstated Sunday after the coup, Chavez said the Bolivarian Circles weren't armed groups and that if anyone belonging to them had committed "errors," they would be punished. The circles -- named after South American liberator Simon Bolivar -- bear similarities to Cuba's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, who watch over their neighborhoods and maintain socialist principles.
Chavez says he formed the circles to improve their communities. Despite their country's oil riches, 80 percent of Venezuela's 24 million people live in poverty. Circle members say Chavez is the first leader in memory to show concern for the poor. Circle members pledge "loyalty to the thinking of the Liberator Simon Bolivar." A government pamphlet says the groups are involved in "social and political struggles" and "defend the Bolivarian Revolution to maintain and consolidate its values." ***
Sat Apr 20, 2002 - 2:40 AM ET -Venezuelan Officers Explain Coup - By MARK STEVENSON, AP [Full Text] CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - [ Full Text] Army officers brought to court for their role in the coup against President Hugo Chavez called the decision a humanitarian act to prevent the slaughter of civilians by soldiers acting on Chavez's orders.
Chavez's defenders sharply disputed the account Friday, depicting the coup as a carefully planned plot backed by anti-Chavez interests abroad and headed by opposition leaders willing to kill their own followers to get rid of the president.
The battle of words bodes ill for Venezuela's goal of reconciliation. A poll published Friday suggested Caracas residents believe they'll never know who was responsible for the bloodshed at an April 11 anti-Chavez march hours before the coup.
At least 16 people died that day. In all, more than 100 people died and hundreds more were wounded during subsequent riots and looting.
A military judge on Friday ordered five high-ranking officers to indefinite house arrest pending formal charges of rebellion. The decision could deepen rifts within the armed forces.
"We still consider this to be an illegitimate government," said Rear Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo as he was whisked away by military police. "The armed forces are very beaten down and divided." Tamayo had denounced Chavez in February.
Asked if Chavez was reorganizing the military to his liking, Molina Tamayo replied: "Maybe. But he can't remake the country to his liking."
Gen. Efrain Vasquez Velasco, the army's former second-in-command, greeted reporters with a crisp salute outside the military courtroom. "The general acted out of respect for human rights, respect for the law," Vasquez's lawyer, Rene Buroz, said after a hearing on rebellion and mutiny charges that carry a 30-year maximum sentence.
Defense lawyer Hidalgo Valero said that as many as 3,000 officers supported or participated in the uprising against Chavez. Hundreds of lower-ranking officers have testified before military intelligence officers.
Army Gen. Nestor Gonzalez has defended the coup as "a humanitarian act meant to avoid having the army attack the people and produce a massacre." Gonzalez said generals balked at Chavez's order to activate "Plan Avila," calling out troops to defend the palace by any means necessary during the march by hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Chavez was confronted by his high command after the bloodbath. Asked why the generals didn't grant Chavez's request to flee to Cuba, Gen. Hector Gonzalez said the army was afraid of taking the blame for the dead.
"If the president had been allowed to leave, he would have left all of these deaths and this tremendous conflict for us to clear up, that was implicit," Gonzalez said. "What would society have thought?"
Chavez's chief ideologue - Guillermo Garcia Ponce, whose official title is director of the Revolutionary Political Command - insists that dissident generals, local media and anti-Chavez groups in the United States plotted his overthrow. He claims they even hired sharpshooters to fire on the anti-Chavez demonstrators.
"The most reactionary sectors in the United States were also implicated in the conspiracy," Garcia Ponce told Globovision television on Friday. Asked to explain the April 11 shooting of opposition protesters, purportedly by Chavez's own activists, Garcia Ponce blamed provocateurs.
"The people planning it placed sharpshooters at strategic points to open fire on pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez marches," Garcia Ponce said. "It was a provocation, part of the coup, to create this massacre to justify the coup."
Garcia Ponce did admit that members of the Bolivarian Circles, pro-Chavez neighborhood committees, were sent to newspaper and television offices after the coup to pressure journalists "to tell the truth." With gunfire crackling around their offices, several newspapers failed to publish editions that day.
Comar, a private survey firm, said 56 percent of Caracas residents polled said they'll never know what happened; 33 percent said they will; and 11 percent were uncertain. The poll of 500 people had a 5 percent margin of error and was published by El Universal newspaper.[End]
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