Sun, Jul 02, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asks for foreign protection

AP, CARACAS

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Friday asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protection days after the Venezuelan Supreme Court barred her from leaving the country and ordered her bank accounts frozen.

Tensions between Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration have been steadily escalating since she contested a Supreme Court decision in late March that dissolved the opposition-controlled Venezuelan National Assembly and sparked a deadly wave of unrest.

Since then, she has become one of the few critical voices within the government — other than the sidelined congress — challenging Maduro’s push to rewrite the constitution and pressing charges against officers responsible for deaths during anti-government protests.

On Friday, Ortega Diaz’s office announced it was summoning Gustavo Gonzalez, managing director of the feared Bolivarian Intelligence Service, to appear on suspicion of “committing grave and systemic violations of human rights.”

Prosecutors said they are investigating incidents of illegitimate detentions, arbitrary raids and cases in which people have remained imprisoned, despite court orders that they be freed.

Maduro responded hours later by promoting Gonzalez to head the nation’s army.

He called Gonzalez and Antonio Benavides Torres, another high-ranking official under investigation by the attorney general, “brave patriots.”

“They have defended the peace of the republic and have all my support,” Maduro said.

Gonzalez is the second high-ranking official Maduro has rewarded after being accused of abuses against the opposition this week. On Thursday, he decorated a colonel who was seen forcefully pushing the president of the National Assembly.

The developments capped perhaps the most turbulent week yet in Ortega Diaz’s struggle to assert her office’s authority in a country where nearly every branch of the federal government is filled with Maduro’s allies.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that a number of responsibilities long the exclusive jurisdiction of the attorney general’s office would also be assigned to the pro-government public ombudsman’s office.

“This is yet another step against the democratic institutions and autonomy of the Venezuelan public prosecutor,” UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia Sayan said on Friday.

Ortega Diaz announced on Twitter that she was seeking the protection of the commission for all workers at the attorney general’s office, but provided no further details.

The Washington-based body, an agency of the Organization of American States, is responsible for protecting human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. It did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the past few weeks, Maduro and his allies have stepped up their criticism of Ortega Diaz.

Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on Friday told state broadcaster VTV that Ortega Diaz “acts like a militant for the opposition.”

He said the Supreme Court’s restrictions on her movements were warranted.

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