June 7, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)—In a surprise announcement, Venezuela’s President Chavez said that the recently implemented law on the National Intelligence System contained several “errors” and would be revised. The law had received much criticism from the opposition and from human rights groups, for violating constitutional guarantees.
Chavez said that after listening to the criticisms about the law from a variety of individuals, he decided to install a commission to review and revise the new law. “I heard criticisms and opinions [about the law] and believe that indeed there are some errors.”
One of the most strongly criticized aspects of the law was article 16, which stated that community groups and individuals could be forced to collaborate with the intelligence services and that if they didn’t, could face prison penalties.
“For example, article 16 of the law, is a mistake and it is not a small mistake,” said Chavez on Saturday, during the swearing-in ceremony for his party’s candidates for the November regional elections. Chavez said the intelligence services cannot oblige someone to inform on someone else. Such an act would be an “overstepping” of the intelligence service’s boundaries. “I assume responsibility” for having made this error, added Chavez.
Chavez continued, “Where we make mistakes, we must accept this and not defend the indefensible… I guarantee to the country, in Venezuela no one will be assaulted [with this law]! And no one will be obliged to say more than they want to say. This is a political fight, not a legal fight.”
Chavez repeated his comments about the intelligence law during his weekly Sunday television program “Alo Presidente,” where he said, “Our Venezuelan state will never attack the freedom of Venezuelans, independently of their political positions. Liberty, liberty! This is one of the slogans of our socialism.”
Opposition groups and human rights groups had criticized the law not only for its article 16, which obliges citizens to collaborate with state intelligence forces, but also for the exceptions it sets up to the requirement for intelligence services to acquire search and wiretap warrants from judicial authorities (article 20). Also heavily criticized was article 21, which allows evidence to be kept secret if classified as such. Article 19 was also questioned, for prohibiting non-state entities from using spy technology.
Last week, following a barrage of criticisms that the new law caused, Interior and Justice Minister Rodriguez Chacín, defended the law in great detail, particularly articles 19, 20, and 21. According to the minister, a defendant would always be able to see the evidence used against him or her, even if it was classified as secret.
Rodriguez Chacín also argued that the current situation in which there is no intelligence law is bad for the rights of Venezuelans because without it Venezuelan intelligence services are not regulated at all. He reminded people that the current service, the DISIP, had its origins in the Digepol, which was established by Venezuela’s last dictator, Marcos Perez Jimenez (1952-1958) and which was an extremely repressive intelligence service.
However, one of Venezuela’s Supreme Court judges, Rosa Blanca Marmol Leon, argued that parts of the new intelligence law are unconstitutional.
Venezuela’s 1999 constitution quite clearly establishes that all trials must be public (article 49) and that all searches and wiretaps require a court warrant (article 48).
Other critics of the law went much further, though, comparing the law to one of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial decrees. The daily newspaper El Universal quoted the Venezuelan political scientist Carlos Figueredo Planchart, who said the intelligence law was similar to the Hitler decree that suspended seven articles of the German constitution in 1933. Unlike Hitler, though, the Venezuelan President cannot suspend articles of the constitution.
The Americas director of the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, also weighed in on the law last week, stating, "This is a government that simply doesn't believe in the separation of powers," adding, “Here you have the president legislating by decree that the country's judges must serve as spies for the government," referring to one of the articles that says that the judicial branch is to cooperate with the intelligence services.