Triple Jeopardy in Venezuela: my representative, Biagio Pilieri, will go on trial for the same offense a THIRD time

Preemptive statement: before you read this post you need to be aware that Biagio Pilieri is not my favorite person in Yaracuy, and that I voted for him last September because he was the unity candidate of the MUD.  And even if I were inclined to vote strictly on personality I would still have voted for him because the PSUV candidatures were way worse that Pilieri e.g.: (Braulio Alvarez, pleaaaaase....)

Thus this post is not in defense of Mr. Pilieri, though he deserves it, it is an illustration on how abject the judicial power of Venezuela has become.

Mr. Pilieri used to be the mayor of Chivacoa and he was defeated 6 years ago in the post recall election landslide when even Lapi, arguably one of the most efficient governors of Venezuela was barely defeated (he is currently living in exile, by the way).  Along Lapi went down the drain a lot of mayors and local elected officials, including Pilieri, who was not such a hot mayor even though he did build a new decent bus station.  In 2008 he failed to recover his seat and even got a lower percentage than in 2004.
In other words, for last September vote Pilieri was not a good candidate for the MUD. But since Yaracuy is such a mess due to the terrible political errors of the divided opposition in 2008 (PJ battling Convergencia)  and since CONVERGENCIA demanded the top of the ticket risking once again a division,  I guess they preferred name recongition even if that name was a drag on the ticket.  Indeed, as I predicted, the MUD fared badly in Yaracuy and got only 1 in 5 seats when "specialists" in Caracas were talking of a sweep for the opposition....  In delayed hindsight I think they probably said that because they knew better and they had decided not to fund the local campaigns and so excused themselves by saying that it was a shoo in, that the local candidates needed no help.   Well, I cannot be any more charitable than that.

Mr. Pilieri was placed on top of the ticket for another reason: he had been accused of some corruption during his tenure as mayor of Chivacoa but the trial had not been able to prove him guilty.  The system declared him innocent but for some technicality they still manged to retain him in jail!  Of course, the reasons were political because he might have been a drag in Chivacoa but elsewhere he was kind of the heir of Lapi.  And the new governor who is absolutely lacking in charisma, and who is doing personal business diligently I have been repeatedly told, certainly does not want any opposition leader to emerge and threaten his hold on the state.

So Mr. Pilieri was one of the famed political prisoners candidates, placed on the lists to gain their release, something that I am also on record in opposing and something for which I have been proved right.  But I digress.

Sure enough, once elected the regime refused to recognize his automatic constitutional immunity and they only accepted to give him "casa por carcel" which means he could not leave home.  And they decided to proceed to a second trial on the same offenses!  Double jeopardy, something that is highly frowned upon in any country where there is a real judicial system.  It is not the fault of the defendant if the prosecution screws up its case and unless buying the judge by the defense is not proven, well, too bad.

We must note here that in Venezuela there is no trial by jury, that only some trials are performed with 2-3 "escabinos" who vote with the judge to decide the verdict.  This is, believe it or not, an improvement, because until 1997 the judge or a panel of judges decided on all cases.  The "escabinos" are kind of a jury, from the people, drawn by lot, and of demonstrable objectivity and capacity to understand the case at hand.  I understand that they can be more active than a mere juror and their vote counts as much as the judge.  The first trial of Pilieri was already with escabinos who voted not guilty!

As the date to seat the newly elected Pilieri was coming the judicial system proceeded on yet another speedy trial, Cuba/Stalinist style, through Christmas, setting up a special court even though normally the judicial system of Venezuela is on holiday for routine trials!  And yet there seems to have been a problem because as last week sentence was about to be handled the judge suddenly claimed to be ill and missing the tribunal without  return date!!!  Rumors were strong that once again Pilieri was about to be declared innocent and that was simply unacceptable by the regime after all the the illegal tricks it used to retain Pilieri in jail.

It is to be noted that it is still very difficult to completely fudge a trial in Venezuela because the accused party can hire its lawyers and they talk to the press.  That does not stop some judges from doing gross miscarriage of justice as the recent case of the other representative on trial from Zulia showed us.  The guy was even dragged to court sedated and the judge allowed anonymous "witnesses" declaring incognito their face hidden by a mask!!!!!  If in that trial it was possible for the judge to get away with it because supposedly it was a murder trial and reprisals were feared (witness protection program Venezuelan style), and administrative trial in Yaracuy is another matter and hooded witness would not do.

So today we just got news that the High Court penal chamber (Sala penal del TSJ) has annulled the second trial and has ordered it to be done again, but this time in a Caracas circuit where it is hoped, I suppose, that more impressionable escabinos will be found.

Triple jeopardy!!!  And even including old workers of Chivacoa town hall who do not have the means to sustain a trial in Caracas!!!


Of course such an aberration must have deep causes and I can only speculate about it.  So, in no particular order:

  • The regime cannot accept that it committed a mistake and thus Pilieri must go to jail and be removed from the national assembly.  The paradox with such a stubborn position is that what was an error from the opposition to nominate Pilieri might turn out to be a gain in the public opinion as making a martyr of Pilieri, even in Chivacoa.
  • Pilieri must have had some powerful enemies in Yaracuy because such a vindictive judicial action can only take place because national and regional political/economic interests are touched.
  • Who might be these enemies?  They can come from the local followers of Maria Lionza cult which happens to be centered outside of Chivacoa.  Maybe during his tenure Pilieri might have crossed some local superstition and those people have long arms, demanding followers in Caracas to avenge them.  Or it can be a political vendetta from the current governor but I do not see it because Julio Leon came into office after Pilieri problems had started.  Such enmity would be of an economical nature as maybe Pilieri trumped a sweet deal of Leon or his family before he became governor?  And we cannot forget that the TSJ head, Luisa Estela Morales is from Yaracuy and she has herself quite a checkered past in this state and Pilieri could well be a reprisal for some past snub.  
  • Awful local politics if you ask me, politics that Pilieri does not even dare to address, kind of omerta style if you ask me....
  • It still seems curious that the trial is sent to Caracas so suddenly and one can suspect that the Yaracuy judge decided not to do the dirty work of Caracas interests and forge an outright fraudulent sentence.  That is, it is one thing to bias the trial on favor of one side, but it is another thing when the bias failed and then you are requested to forge the sentence outright.  Since human rights violations never prescribe the local judge might have decided to bail out and let Caracas do the dirty work.  she just needed to claim sick and take an undetermined leave of absence letting the regime's urgency make its move.


Obviously, this is another example on how the judicial system exists in Venezuela only to serve the regime interests.  

But I would like to add a foot note.  The sentence just published by the TSJ page is very incomplete so we do not know why the decision.  The defense certainly did not ask for the annulment and the defense had no leeway in making that trial fraudulent since the opposition controls nothing of the judicial system.  This is a regime internal problem.

And yet that sentence is signed by only one of the three judges of that TSJ court, the one most closely identified with the regime, Aponte Aponte, author of many questioned and questionable sentences.  In that court there is also judge Marmol de Leon who is the lone critical voice left in the TSJ and she was absent "with an excuse".  I, for one, would love to know why Marmol de Leon was not there to review the case.