“We need a mass movement to lead the struggle to demand justice for the crimes of the Pacto de Punto Fijo era (1958-1998),” says parliamentarian Fernando Soto Rojas, one of the main advocates of the Law Against Forgetting and Impunity.
The parliamentarian raised his voice in criticism in November, after one year had passed since the legal instrument whose real name is Law for the Punishment of Crimes of Forced Disappearance, Torture and other Politically-Motivated Human Rights Violations had gone into effect. One of only three years given by the National Assembly to complete the objective had already gone by, and they had not even designated the members of the Truth Commission. “We Bolivarians who have a responsibility in the government and in society have to be self-critical of our actions. One year after having approved the law and we have not moved forward,” says Soto Rojas.
Soto Rojas hopes that with the mobilization of the families of the victims, the designation of the Truth Commission that is stipulated by law will soon be completed.
CLODOVALDO HERNÁNDEZ: How do you explain that a whole year has gone by without the designation of the Truth Commission?
FERNANDO SOTO ROJAS: It is because of the limitations and difficulties that we have inside the Bolivarian process. There is a kind of creative disorder that at times creates delays. On the other hand, there has not been enough mobilization by supporters to push the law forward. We need a more forceful movement, like those that took place in Argentina and Brazil—an important mass movement that demands justice in the struggle against impunity. Since some time ago we are a bit behind in that. We have left everything in the hands of the institutions and that is not enough. This should not depend on the will of the head of some state organ, like the National Assembly, or the Attorney General’s office. There has to be a mass movement pushing it along.
The Attorney General’s office has said there are 122 cases. Is that all that needs to be investigated?
No, there are many more, above all among the poorer sectors and peasants. In just the area surrounding the mountains of El Bachiller there are more than that. The Punto Fijo regime tortured, murdered, and caused the forced disappearance of more people than the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935) and Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1952-1958) combined. Those dictators were child’s play compared to the Punto Fijo regime. That is why some of our colleagues are wrong when they refer to that period as a “democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a criminal regime that committed three kinds of crimes: corruption, handing over our national sovereignty, and repression: torture, massacres and political murders. We still do not have an accurate assessment of the crimes of the Punto Fijo era.
With emblematic cases, like that of Fabricio Ojeda and the Cantaura Massacre, can we get enough support to advance on other less-known cases?
Yes, those cases can help move things along, but there needs to be more enthusiasm and more pressure so that solid investigations can begin in 2013.
Many of those who are allegedly responsible for the political crimes have already died or are very old. Does it make sense to try them?
Not to lock them away in prison, but for a trial of morals, so that their punishment may be political isolation, so that for history’s sake it will be made clear that between 1958 and 1998 there were tortures, murders, and forced disappearances. There are people that have already died, like Carlos Andrés Pérez, but others, like Octavio Lepage (Minister of Domestic Affairs when Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez’s father was murdered) are still alive and have never assumed responsibility. The Spanish empire, when they cut off the head of a [Venezuelan] patriot, said that they did it in the name of God and the King of Spain. The Punto Fijo regime never admitted their crimes, except when Rómulo Betancourt said “shoot first and check later”.
Is the Truth Commission only going to investigate state crimes, or also those committed by insurrectional movements?
Everything, everything, there are even accusations against the guerrilla and everything must be investigated so that in the end the truth is known. The idea is to settle the score with the past, with the 20th century.
And can such an ambitious goal be achieved?
Of course it can. Other countries have done it through more complex processes. We don’t have to invent anything. There are experiences of countries like Argentina that can show us the way. It is not that difficult. It is mainly about opening state archives and there aren’t that many files that need to be reviewed. It’s not like there are millions of files.
There is a possibility that an amnesty could be approved for people who are currently detained. Wouldn’t that go against the direction of the Law Against Forgetting and Impunity?
For starters, there are no political prisoners here. From the time of Jose Antonio Paez to the Punto Fijo era, political prisoners were people who went to jail for their political beliefs, but these people that are in jail or in exile today have committed crimes like corruption, tax evasion, robbery, or speculation. It has nothing to do with politics. Now, the President has the right to review any criminal case. When he won the elections and they asked him about this he said that if they made a proposal he would review it. It would be good if the opposition would make a concrete proposal and say “we defend so and so,” but with concrete arguments for each case. It’s not enough to simply say that they are political prisoners.
Renewing the PSUV
Soto Rojas has the hardly modest aspiration to rewrite the contemporary history of Venezuela. Once he even drew up the project and sought the support from historians to investigate what really happened in the country during the 20th century. More urgent matters have delayed this complex task.
What he did write was a small book, titled Historias de la montaña (Stories from the Mountain), which summarizes the armed struggle and the responsibilities that he had as a combatant and commander. “Long after I die, people will know what it was that the old man Soto did when he was here,” he says.
He is also determined to uncover all the secrets that were kept during the 40 years that the country lived under the parameters of the Pact of Punto Fijo. But don’t get him wrong. Fernando Soto Rojas is not obsessed with the past. He is also interested in reviewing the present and the future: “After we get past these electoral battles we need to analyse and discuss the fundamental elements of the current national and international political conjuncture,” he explains. “We also have to evaluate the results of these last 13 years. We have to make changes to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its political program, and democratically determine the new direction that this movement known as “Chavismo” will take.”
He recognizes that this is a controversial proposal: “One must look beyond their own nose to get a glimpse of the country that this will be in the coming years, at least until 2030,” he said.
Translated by Chris Carlson for Venezuelanalysis.com