The president of the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ – Supreme Court), Ivan Rincon, warned that he would not engage in controversy about every attack he receives while administering justice. “The country has 1,700 judges, I am just one of them, the TST has 20 judges and I am just one vote." He says that he believes in democracy and will fight to keep it.
Rincon told the Panorama daily newspaper that the media that are campaigning against him are seeking to discredit and destroy the judicial power. “I will not argue with any media owner despite what has been said to discredit myself and make people hate me,” said Rincon.
He emphasized “the same people that were speaking out against me, left this Tribunal with 0.5% of credibility, according to the United Nation Development Program. Now we have had between 40% to 59% in the last 4 years”. Rincon also said, “many times politicians from the government and the opposition come here to find allies and not justice.”
Recently, the TSJ fired all of the First Court magistrates after evidence of corruption in the court. The move has been seen by the opposition as benefiting Chavez, as the First Court has ruled in favor of the opposition in recent months. Rincon says he did not participate in the decision.
The TSJ was the center of a scandal last August when a sentence was forged in order to ban President Chavez from participating in elections if his mandate is revoked through a recall referendum.
What follows is an interview by Lolimar Suárez and María Inés Delgado of Panorama.
Criticized by the government and the opposition, Rincon says that a complacent judge ends up being used. He says the modernization process in the judges’ offices satisfies him, nevertheless, he highlighted that the falsification of sentence 2404 became famous not because the trial can be presented in safer places, but because of the topic of the document: the participation or absence of participation of the President if his mandate is revoked.
What is the First Court situation now that the magistrates have been removed?
-Some media say that Ivan Rincon suddenly eliminated the First Court, and this deserves to be clarified because we have nothing to do with this issue, that is false, and they also say that I participated in the decision.
All five members of the judicial commission approved the resolution. There was no abstention and it was decided to create a Second Court. It is not that the First Court was eliminated -it still exists.
But, was this scandal in response to the release of case documents ordered by Judge Perkins Rocha? The material was on the way to a lawyer’s house who was not working on the case anymore -according to your own testimony.
-I cannot tell much on this point because they have an appeal on the grounds of unconstitutionality before the Constitutional instance.
I have seen the statement made; I regret the facts, but during these past days things have happened at the same time - all the issues about the new Court and an administrative-disciplinary procedure.
So, how is the Court composed now? What is going to happen?
-There are 5 substitutes that must be called; otherwise we will proceed to elect them in some way or another. The procedures can be activated in many ways: appointing the Second Court, the substitutes can be called in, substitutes can be appointed or that they win appeals they initiated.
The judicial processes are frozen now as the removed magistrate Ana María Reggieri said?
Without doubts she is right to notice that the documents are frozen until the substitutes assume their duties or some are appointed.
Do you have a proposal for this instance?
-For many years I have thought that four First Courts have to be created, in other words, two in Caracas because there is congestion and leave one for the west and another for the eastern estates. With that it should be possible to speed up the judicial procedures.
When will the new authorities be decided?
-We have to decide next Wednesday (Nov. 12), when the full ordinary meeting is held.
How do you respond to those who think that the changes made in the First Court are retaliation motivated by criticisms made by the government sector, such as the demilitarization of the Metropolitan police?
-Those who accuse us of being pro-government should come and investigate the court. There are 28 decisions against the government and only 14 in favor. The retaliations exist because of the control that they want to have over the judicial power in a determined moment.
-There is a political tendency with the intention of damaging me because I am the president of the Court. Many times the political forces are not interested in the full compliance of the Constitution but to have a judge inclined to the opposition or to the government.
How do you evaluate the attacks on your person?
-I will not argue with any media owner despite what has been said that will discredit me in order to be hated by the people. The country has 1,700 judges, I am just one of them, the TST has 20 judges and I am just one vote.
The media that are inclined to build a campaign against Ivan Rincon are simply seeking to discredit and destroy the judicial power. I do not respond to retaliations nor to political spirit, I do not have those aspirations.
Why do you think that in this phase the tendency exists to put you under question?
-The Judicial Power is not a sand castle that can be destroyed in a single blow. When we have to respond to someone we will do it but you must understand that we cannot respond to every attack, otherwise we stop administrating justice.
That is something to remain to those who are walking in the street as prophets saying bad things about the current Judicial Power.
What is the reason for the campaign?
-People who believe that with a newspaper headline saying bad things about Ivan Rincon or the Tribunal, we are going to abandon the administration of justice and dedicate to the political game, are wrong. We are not here to answer to those who want a position in the Tribunal and say bad things in order to be sued by us so they can gain something from it.
How is the credibility of the TSJ?
-The same people that were speaking out against me left this Tribunal with 0.5% of credibility, according to the United Nation Development Program. Now we have had between 40% to 59% in the last 4 years.
Is there any interest to influence or to usurp the magistrate attributions?
-It seems that the Constitution can be set aside under the criteria of some people and that they can substitute the branches of government to administer justice in their own ways, and that justice is for a majority issue and not what an individual thinks.
I remember when the so-called “popular tribunals” started to be formed and it was said that the promoter was the government; I said that the only real tribunals were the ones recognized by law. Now, those who criticized that, are the ones that pretend to be the electoral branch, the judicial branch, the executive branch, the legislative branch.
Have you asked to be relieved from the TSJ presidency?. Will you resign if you are reelected?
-I am at the end of my career, I have the right to retire by now, I have gone though all the stages, from first instance judge to President of the Supreme Tribunal and I have no interest in favor of anybody politically. What I can assure people is that I will continue in front of the Judicial Branch until it is necessary in order to preserve the institutions, because I believe in democracy and I will keep fighting to hold it, whether it harms the opposition or the government. I will not forgive myself if Venezuelans lose our democracy because I leave the TSJ.
How was it possible to forge a sentence inside the court? Does it mean vulnerability?
-I am not concerned about vulnerability because that has happened in many places. The important thing is that we detected it on time; our automated system allowed us to fix it.
A foreign journalist asked me if the TSJ is vulnerable, and I told him that despite the fact that the banks have a lot of security there are cases of credit card cloning and fraud.
Who are responsible of those irregularities?
-There have been no sanctions because the office of the Attorney General has not taken any decision on this matter.
The falsification was over the fact that the President could be disqualified to participate in election if his mandate is revoked in the referendum. The scandal has been the result of a political issue. It is a discussion still waiting for a resolution, José Delgado Ocano is the judge in charge, and nonetheless his work is being attacked.
How many times have you met the opposition sectors?
-I meet members of political parties of the government and the opposition. I receive Fedecamaras (chamber of commerce) and Fedenaga (agricultural association) in my office, other institutions, there is no week that people from different sectors do not come to my office and I receive them all.
I meet with owners of national and international media and I will continue to do it as much as necessary because media is one of the institutions of the country.
And with President Chavez?
-We coincide in public meetings. Once I met with the president in charge José Guillermo Andueza in the Rafael Caldera’s government and the media did not make a scandal out of it.
Has the honeymoon with the National Electoral Council ended?
-After the TSJ appointed the CNE members everything calmed down, the opposition and the government clapped… Ivan Rincon was an important protagonist, but then he did not obey political interest.
They wanted and arbiter, now they do not like him. The topic was not men or women for the CNE but the constitutional rights that cannot be up in the air.
Birth date: March 28, 1950
Place: La Cañada.
Graduated from La Universidad del Zulia (LUZ). Doctor of Law
He has been professor of Private International Law, Judicial Practice of Transit, Judicial Clinic of Criminal Law, and Criminal Law II at LUZ from 1981
Judge of the Fifth Court of first instance in criminal issues.
He was President of Zulia’s Judicial Circumscription.
In 1999, he went into Private International Law
Magistrate of the Supreme Court
Second Vice President Magistrate of the Supreme Court
President Magistrate of the Criminal Cassation instance.
He has been president of the Iberian-American Supreme Courts
Panorama can be read at www.panodi.com