Venezuela’s Supreme Court Says Sumate Leaders Should not be Imprisoned as they Await Trial

The Penal Chamber of Venezuela's Supreme Court decided yesterday that Sumate leaders accused of soliciting foreign funding for influencing domestic politics should not be imprisoned while they await trial.

Caracas, November 17, 2004—The Penal Chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) declared Tuesday afternoon that María Corina Machado and Ricardo Estévez, leaders of the oppositional NGO Súmate, should not be imprisoned during deliberations surrounding their case.

“It is obvious that the citizens under investigation are not dangerous.  Even when Machado was abroad, she returned to Venezuela in order to comply with the authorities.”

This declaration, drawn up by the President of the Chamber, Alegandro Angulo Fontiveros and endorsed by colleagues Blanca Rosa Mármol de León and Julio Elías Mayaudón, overrode concerns expressed by District Attorney Luisa Ortega Díaz, who presumed that if granted their freedom during the proceedings, the Súmate executives would flee the country. 

The Independent Attorney General’s Office charged Machado and Estévez with conspiracy and violation of Article 132 of the Penal Code, in which it is clearly stated that it is illegal to ‘solicit international intervention in international politics’.  They are also charged with setting up a parallel National Electoral Council, which also is illegal according to Venezuelan law.

Súmate is a non-profit organization founded in 2002. Although its stated goals include promoting, defending, facilitating, and supporting the political rights granted by the Venezuelan Constitution, it not only helped to set in motion the recall referendum against President Chavez, it also accepted a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organization that is exclusively funded by the U.S. Congress. Given the severity of the charges, a thorough investigation will be conducted into the exact amount donated by NED, and how Súmate has spent these funds. 

This alleged misuse of funds as well as statements issued by Carl Gershman, the President of NED: “Venezuela is not a democracy or a dictatorship; it falls somewhere in the middle,” prompted Magistrate Angulo Fontiveros to recommend to presiding Judge Pedro Pérez Santoyo that besides interrogating the NED about the Súmate case, he should take advantage of the opportunity to pinpoint which actions specifically denigrate Venezuela’s democracy.